Forget icons and typefaces, iOS 7 is the birth of dynamic interface

I've been watching the iOS 7 video over and over again since WWDC 2013. Part of that is because I'm writing our iOS 7 preview series, and part of it is because there's just so much to unpack about what we were shown, it's implications and ramifications. From the moment Tim Cook debuted it on the keynote stage, and the audience's breath caught at the parallax and their smiles intensified at the collisions, it should have been apparent there was a lot more going on at the code level than the pixel level. It was fundamental change, and not of style but of substance.

I mentioned that I was expecting something next the night before, but even that didn't prepare me for the reality of seeing it. Even after the keynote it took me a couple days to get my thoughts together before I could even begin to discuss the objectification and gamification of operating system that Apple had just introduced.

I keep linking to those pieces again and again because, to me, it's such a new language that it needs to be contextualized each and every time it's approached. Here's the gist, though: Apple has built a complete, robust physics and particle engine for iOS 7. Elements don't just go from point A to point B, they move through a "real" world. They react to the accelerometer and gyroscope, they collide and bounce off each other and with the edges of the display, and they can change color according to the environment around them. They behave like objects in space, and interact like objects in a game.

It's not pixels painted so much anymore as particles placed, and not areas touched so much as directly manipulated.

Now iOS 7 beta 3 has been released, and I find myself watching the video again and again, again. The physics is one thing, but it goes beyond that as well. Where everything in iPhone OS 1 to iOS 6 looked rendered, everything on iOS 7 looks on-the-fly. Animation, interaction, color, type, control, everything. To beat the irony out of a dead horse, Apple has made iOS dynamic. They've made it come alive.

If you've paid attention to OS X, iTunes, and even some aspects of iOS over the last few years, some of what we're seeing now looks familiar in part. Taken together and expanded in whole, and made system level, it's something else entirely. Once again, obvious in hindsight because it was hidden in plain sight.

It's almost a shame the issues with icon weighting and rendering, with type thinness and nakedness are are dominating some of the design conversations. Pastels, flatness, minimalism, are trends. They're skins. They're static. They can be fixed or gotten used to. iOS 7's change is in the bones and the dynamics.

I'm gushing about it now and again not as a fan of Apple, but as a fan of interface and of computing, who's seen the world move from punch cards to command lines to windows, and begin to play with natural language and gestures. To interact with voice and touch, to bring data to where ever the user is, whenever they need it, interface has to transcend being a rendering and become a thing. It's what I've been clamoring for on damn nearly every episode of Iterate when the topic of the future has come up.

It's a radical change, but what really starts messing with the mind is that it's probably only the first step, the foundation. What can be built upon a live, dynamic interface engine is... beyond exciting. How long until everything is dynamic? Until interface stops being "pull" and starts being "push" and whatever we want to do appears wherever and whenever we want to do it? Even trying to imagine next year's Apple Design Award winners, never mind those two, three, five years from now...

iOS 7 was going to be divisive. There's no way to change something used by not only the most discerning developers and designers on the planet, but hundreds of millions of mainstream people without inviting push back and risking confusion. The alternative is stagnation. The only viable, sustainable solution becomes, when you decide to make a change, to really make a change. To leap ahead.

Whether it ultimately works or not, and takes off with the mainstream or not, is a question for this fall. Apple has been at the forefront of mainstreaming command lines, windows, and multitouch, and now they're right there again with dynamics. And the more I see of iOS 7, the more I hope Apple nails the landing, and the greater my anticipation as I look up to the sky and wait for developers to take their turns on the launch pad.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.