iOS 7 and the continuing gamification of interface

iOS 7 is not only the most skeuomorphic and liberating version of Apple's mobile operating system to date, it's also potentially the most fun. (I say potentially because it's not finished yet, and we'll likely only know whether Apple truly achieves their vision once it launches this fall.) This idea -- the gamificaton of interface -- isn't new, of course. With iOS 7, Apple's simply, audaciously attempting to take it to the next level.

When the original iPhone launched in 2007, its blisteringly fast animations, smooth transitions, direct manipulations, and emulated behaviors such as elastic banding and inertial scrolling played a huge part in making iOS (then iPhone OS) not only immediately delightful, but persistently engaging. It's also what made it not only accessible, but enjoyable for kids and non-tech savvy people alike.

Apple gamified their operating system in the best sense of the word.

To accomplish the high frame-rate, smooth scrolling, and other elements, Apple implemented technologies that are key to gaming, like OpenGL (and implemented them so well that a year later developers basically got a lot of what they needed to launch the first set of games on the iPhone "for free".) Apple gamified their operating system in the best sense of the word, and everyone from Apple to the first wave of App Store developers, to us, all benefited.

While 6 years is a long time, many of us can probably still remember back to our first days, weeks, and months using the original iPhone. Pinching and zooming through photos and maps and watching details leap out or fall back. Spinning dials, sometimes intentionally too fast, to set numbers for timers. Flicking through lists and watching them accelerate and decelerate, and pulling down well past its limits just to watch it bounce back. (Loren Brichter did the latter so much he ended up creating pull-to-refresh.) And the list goes on.

Apple and other companies had used some of these animations and interactions before, of course, but the sheer quality of the iPhone's interface combined with the intimacy of capacitive touch made the entire experience something more viceral.

Over time Apple added other touches, like page turning in iBooks, sliding -- and in some cases bouncing -- panels in Notification Center and the Lock screen, and more. Again, nothing completely new, but a lot that felt novel when it came to the overall experience.

And now iOS 7.

I misclassified iOS 7 at the beginning of this article. It's less another level and more a sequel to the original (and comes with all the dangers inherent to making a sequel). It takes many of the same interactive elements, blows them out, and makes them the central mechanic for the entire operating system. There's a real (if not real-world) physics engine here, and particle effects, and far more that's been disclosed to developers in the non-public sessions at WWDC 2013. And instead of aping game mechanics for the iOS 7 interface, Apple hired real, renowned game developers to create it.

With iOS 7, screens aren't bouncing because they're keyframe-animated to do so. They're bouncing because the virtual world they exist in has sent them ricochetting off another object. They're not sliding because an image is being moved from one coordinate to another, but because they're rotating around the surface of cylinders. Interface hasn't just gone from traditional animation to 3D, or from element to object, it's been dropped into a full-blown virtual world.

Some of the gamification Apple's doing was shown off in the WWDC 2013 keynote, including the layers that move and shift as the device moves and shifts -- of the interface objectified, of interaction brought to life. Some hasn't been yet, and some is likely still very much a work in progress. (Spoiler: Any screen or app not shown off on Apple's iOS 7 feature pages (opens in new tab) probably isn't done yet.)

I'd like to see even more of it. I'd like to see a more playful way to unlock iOS, like Apple uses for their retail devices, or Google uses for Android. I'd like to see a Stock icon that changes color from red to black to reflect the state of the market. I'd like to tilt to scroll the multitasking cards. I'd like to flick away spam in Mail and pinch in and out of the Calendar. I'd like Reminders to be sortable and stackable. And I'd like all of it, every gesture-based direct manipulation, to be consistent across iOS so I never have to so much as think about what I'm doing. I just have to do it.

Apple might get to some of this, if not far better, sooner or later, but more importantly they've given developers the tools they need to experiment with all sorts of ideas right now.

Interface gamified leads to play which leads to discovery which leads to yet more play.

Interface gamified leads to play which leads to discovery which leads to yet more play. It's a hugely virtuous cycle. That's how iPhone OS began, and that's how iOS is beginning again. The implications are more than a little exciting, and the ramifications are something we won't even start seeing until the fall.

Apple framed iOS 7 as the most important release since the original iPhone OS, and that's absolutely true. Just like iPhone OS 1 set the stage for the first 6 years of the platform, including the amazing apps that came with iPhone OS 2 and the App Store, iOS 7 sets the now much more physical stage for what will certainly be years ahead, and the next generation of apps that feel like living objects in unreal space.

That work and delight like games.

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.

  • After I took a moment to reconsider what Apple has done with iOS7 I realize it sets the stage for iOS8 to be amazing.
  • I agree. While I think ios7 is huge and a great update, I think that ios8 will be a very exciting update, maybe more so in some ways. Ios7 basically unified everything that's been added to ios over the last 6 years and polished up most of the features. It added a few key important ones and basically set the stage for ios8 which I assume will be feature rich and will likely finish polishing the UI. It's sort of like how ice cream sandwich to android to a new level then jelly bean polished it off. (Although I expect many more features from ios as even the smaller updates tend to be bigger than androids updates) I think there's a lot to look forward to on the platform. Honestly, I would like to see more differentiation between the ipad and iPhone as far as functionality and better icloud features and support as well as Siri getting smarter and a customizable control center.
  • Yes indeed. Though I don't know why Rene Ritchie keeps calling it the most skeuomorphic iOS yet. I don't see that. Maybe he's just happy it's not Windows 8 flat.
  • He's using skeuomorphic in the sense of software behaving like physical objects, not to simply refer to realistic textures.
  • But that's not really skeuomorphism, since objects in real life do not behave that way. It's just fantasy behaviour, and I can understand why he calls it gamification, although people usually call gamification the process of rewards, achievements, social media etc. I feel Rene is using skeuomorphism as a literary gimmick, to go against the grain and say iOS 7 is totally skeuomorphic, when everybody else thinks it is not. If he says it enough times people will shift their definition of skeuomorph. I don't think Steve Jobs would agree with him, though, and his definition is the one people usually apply to Apple software. The funny thing is that Rene himself in January described Skeuomorphism as "Skeuomorphism -- the use of real world design in a digital context", so we know what his definition was, and argued that "there are far more important things Apple needs to do in iOS 7 than wiping the world clean of textures, gradients, and curves". No argument with him there. For reference:,news-17093.html
  • But the definition of skeuomorph precludes it from being used in that sense. You can't just use a word in any sense that pleases you. That's what we have other words for! Rene is talking about a physics simulation.
    In order for us to consider the simulated physics a skeuomorph, we would first need to be trying to represent something from the real world in the UI. And secondly, the applied physics environment would need to attempt to replicate the real world physics of the real world object. Maybe it's just the fact that I'm tired of hearing the word skeuomorph and was looking forward to it's death with iOS 7, but I don't think we have either of these prerequisites going on to consider what Rene is talking about a skeuomorph. And don't even get me started on the way he's using "gamification"...
  • This post exemplifies why Rene Ritchie is one of the top 3 or 4 (dare I say first among equals?) commentators in technology today. His delight for the subject is obvious and his enthusiasm for understanding (as opposed to just cheering for) any new technology is most welcome. Rene continually raises the bar for all those others who can't (or are too last) to see past the colours of an icon. We have a long history of such commentators here in Canada; Lister Sinclair, Eleanor Wachtel, Peter Gzowski, Jian Ghomeshi, Rex Murphy, to name a few; and Rene belongs in that rare company. Just sayin' Oh ya, and I can't wait to see what developers do with iOS 7! Cheers, Michael
    @leish2 Sent from the iMore App
  • Agreed!
    Rene has become 'visible' through his commentary (in both words and visually--with his podcasts) on iOS and excellent, seemingly non-biased comparison to competing OS'es. What iOS needs. What's lacking. What we 'should' look forward to and maybe more importantly what we shouldn't get our hopes up for as unrealistic expectations in iOS'es evolutionary updates. I enjoy Rene's insight in each and every column he writes and podcasts he participates in. Rene, in a sense, you've become an iOS 'RockStar'. I'm 42...& consider myself lucky to have lived through the generational technology changes that coincide with the birth of the 8086 processor the same year I was born. As someone that relies solely on technology to pay my mortgage, feed my family....and ultimately 'enjoy' my life, I find Rene's commentary invaluable. Thanks Rene for your contribution to our constantly (r)evolving lives and the technology essential to so many of our lives, how we live them and more importantly, how to 'enjoy' technology. I can't count how many articles I've forwarded to 'mom and dad' @ 63/62 respectively. In two years time....since my brothers and I have bought them an iMac, iPad, and a pair of iPhones....they're as efficient and 'wise' to their pocket computers as any youngster.
    Thanks Rene for all you do. Keep it up...while many will agree, others will disagree, your points made and way you 'put into words' the world we live in tech-wise and it's evolution is absolutely Top notch. I'm in Alaska...and very much consider Canada as much a part of America. I, for one, look forward to your in depth knowledge, commentary and timely coverage here @ iMore, hanging out on TWiT, or tweets from conventions in 140 characters 'or less' :-)
    Thanks Man
    Big Fan up north
  • it still sucks sorry ... I like leather, I like wood ... I loved the icons you wanted to 'lick' ... the OS have always been more natural and humanly than Android and Windows Phone .... but Baskin Robins inspired iOS 7 with blinding gradient is not pleasant. Sir Jony Ive should have been making hardware... Software is not his realm ...
  • Yeah, because that's what the post was about, and all.
  • Re: "Apple gamified their operating system in the best sense of the word..." It really truly sounds like you wrote this story weeks in advance, before you'd even seen iOS 7. A canned response. With generalities so it would "work" no matter what Apple did, especially since it was a 99.995% certainty that Apple wouldn't remove animation and "gravity" and other physics-based reactions from the iOS UI. "Gamification" can mean almost anything you want it to mean, as long as you spend a paragraph or two explaining your specific meaning. Which you did. Which leaves lots of wiggle room to handle whatever Apple eventually releases as iOS 7.0. (Remember: it's not nearly done yet.)
  • It comes across as non-specific because Rene has to make sure he doesn't violate the NDA that all beta users agree to.
  • I still prefer the old icons. I'm fine with doing away with green felt (looked bad), but i like the shine on icons and the depth they had. And not fond at all of the "flattened look." Love the added features but i'm not very fond of the look. I hope a jailbreak skin comes out or something
  • That video is making me rabid for iOS7, and for the newest phone.
  • I can't believe people are so focused on GD icons! Sheesh!
  • it's what i see most. But there are other things. here is a great side by side showing the changes. i simply would have made different choices
  • When that's ALL you see on your home screens, it's kinda hard not to have an opinion about them. I also don't like the "zoom in/out" animations when opening an app. That, to me, looks like a bad Android custom UI.
  • Multitasking cards sure look a lot like WebOS...
  • John 12:24 :)
  • I listened intently to Johnny Ive. After that I turned off the video. too bad that that Johnny I've does not get up on stage. He can sell water to a drowning man. Sent from the iMore App
  • Agree entirely
  • Ah, another post referencing the skeuomorphism thing, so by the time you write the fouth or fifth one people will just accept your definition and go along quietly. Genious. OpenGL is 20 years old and widely used by everybody, and you write as if Apple has just invented this cool new tech. Screens ARE bouncing because they are keyframed to do so, and they ARE sliding because they are being moved from one coordinate to another, that's just what OpenGL has been doing for the past 20 years in countless applications and games, why this seems new baffles me. There is no virtual 3d world, just 2D transformations, and they are as old as computer graphics, why and how is this new to you? How is this bouncing conceptually different from what iOS6 does, just because it was written by people who write games? Does this qualifies as gamification and taking it to another level?
  • I think the argument here is that previously, each one of these things was programmed in isolation. Each animation fit in its own little compartment and was regulated there. Now, in the current system, there is a universal physics system. This means that all the elements can share consistent interactions and animations. And, more importantly, this physics system is an API that other app designers can use. There is an API called UI Dynamics, I think, that provides this consistent experience. Also, I imagine they built some type of physics engine that is running this and is probably the same physics engine that is used in the Sprite Kit APIs. Just speculating, maybe this whole physics processing API is extensible into all types of games and situations and can be accelerated in a special processing unit in a future A series chip. This could be why it is a big deal.
  • I see, its a layer on top of OpenGL to optimise it make it easier to use, like Elflight. OpenGL can be a little dry.
  • +1
  • How is the iPhone blue thats not a case so can you tell me what you did PLEASE!!!!!
  • I believe it is (they can colorize your iPhone 5).
  • Well done to Rene and all at iMore, you too have evolved over the last few years and are now getting the recognition you deserve. Roll on autumn.
  • Rene, heard you on TWIT yesterday. Thanks for trying to Macalope TWIT; it must be exhausting trying to cram real live facts into the absolute spew.
  • I still have spots left under my developer account for anyone who would like to be registered to install the iOS7 betas! I only as for a small donation. Message me at nalakrub1 at Google if interested.