iOS 7 and a second coat of paint

Parts of iOS 7 shown off by Apple during the WWDC Keynote{.nofollow} and on{.nofollow} look like we're still seeing the design briefs or wireframes rather than the final assets. Palettes have been chosen, elements have been put in place, but so far it looks like iOS 7 hasn't been given the level of polish we've come to expect from Apple, even during the beta stage. From icons to interface elements to typography, we seem to be getting a very rare glimpse at a very early work-in-progress, and something that still needs of a second coat of design paint.

Given the realities of iOS 7's development, that makes a certain amount of sense. Whether or not Tim Cook's change in leadership led to a rapid change in direction, whether or not Jony Ive's desire to shake things up led to the marketing design department taking the lead, rather than human interactive department, whether or not iOS 7 is really more of a late stage alpha than an early stage beta, it's absolutely the most audacious interface transformation we've ever seen from Apple, and that type of evolution isn't easy, and certainly not at this pace.

Yet beyond the level of finish, there are certain things that seem... off. For all the amazing new work Apple has put into removing textures, amping up the skeumorphism, and opening up the design potential, and almost entirely objectifying and gamifying the new interface model, certain fundamental elements of design seem missing, and that's generating a lot of feedback from professionals and enthusiasts alike.

Apple mentioned clarity, deference, and depth as the key tenenets of the iOS 7 interface. Deference and depth seem deftly handled. Clarity, however, still seems to be a challenge.

Take contrast, for example. A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to hold something away at a distance and still be able to make out all the important elements. Light vs dark, or vice-versa, is the easiest way to ensure that, but so are textured vs. untextured, focused vs. unfocused, and more. iOS traditionally has done that very well. iOS 7, however, includes a lot of light, flat elements on equally light or flat saturated backgrounds, greatly reducing contrast and usability.

Proportion is another problem area. The grid that's being used doesn't have enough gravity. It should be incredibly difficult for objects to reach towards edges, and almost impossible as a whole. The Safari icon, however, gets its entire circumfrance uncomfortably close to the border. There's a reason why the Apple logo doesn't go from sleeve to sleeve on company t-shirts, or from edge to edge on the top of a Mac Mini.

Just like serif typefaces that need to be visually, not mechanically, aligned to grids, iOS 7 icons need to be visually weighted in their space. (Neven Mrgan explains this brilliantly on his Tumblr.)

Consistency is also an issue. Gradients currently go in different directions, which can confuse the eye and draw attention towards them, rather than the icons, glyphs, and content upon them. (Louie Mantia shared some ideas on normalizing the palette, gradient direction, and icon waiting on Dribbble.)

The typeface, Helvetica Neue Ultrathin, works for small amounts of text set very, very large, but becomes far less legible when used for general interface text. Especially now when un-styled text is being used in lieu of buttons. Perhaps, as Sebastiaan de With has suggested, it's time for a custom typeface optimized for the digital era. If not that, then at least enough weight at each size to be legible at a glance and at a distance.

All of this hampers clarity. Just look at the lock screen, with arrows up and down, Control Center and Camera to drag up, swipe to unlock in text, and only one horizontal direction to go. It's the embodiment of the clash between new and old. Of something unfinished and not yet clear. (And yes, I'll pile on the new signal status indicators as well.)

Apple is almost certainly aware of the issues, of course, of the many of the articles, shots, tweets. Hopefully none of this is news to them; it's the stuff they're already discussing internally and working hard on even as we kvetch and complain.

The architecture -- the springs and struts and planes and movements -- all seem solid. If those were wrong or broken, it would be cause for far greater concern. If Apple hadn't refrained from showing off several iOS apps, not to mention the entire iPad version of iOS, if Apple had given the indication iOS 7 was locked and loaded, it would be cause for far greater concern.

As it is, what we've seen of iOS 7 so far feels more like a sign of just how hard everyone at Apple is working and how fast they're racing towards their fall finish line.

Visual design is where Apple lives, however. They've always had among best and the brightest visual designers on the planet (say what you want about leather or felt, they were rendered beautifully). Hopefully those designers are already hard at work tweaking the palettes, adjusting the grids, evening out the gradients and glyphs, and making the typography shine.

Hopefully they're already hard at work on the polish they do so well, and are already nailing iOS 7's second coat of paint.

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.

  • Sorry Apple hasn't always had the best visual design and prior to WWDC and iOS 7 there were lots of complaints about iOS interface looking old, ugly unnecessary skeuomorphism, inconsistency between apps, etc. Now it's as if people are forgetting that (or the fans of Forstall's skeuomorphism are whining the loudest). We need to remember that iOS was basically redesigned in 6 months or so. That's nuts. Maybe Ive and Federighi bit off more than they could chew, but had iOS 7 looked like iOS 6 (even with some of the skeuomorphism removed). People would've still been whining and complaining wondering what Apple has been doing the last 6 months. iOS 7 is clearly an unfinished product that needs more polish but I don't think Apple could afford to wait until 2014 to do this. I'm sure Apple is getting a lot of good feedback and working overtime to finish things that are unfinished. The frothing at the mouth by some, especially designers who seem to be going way overboard with their concerns is ridiculous. iOS 7 isn't being released tomorrow. Most likely we'll see a much more polished product come September or October. I think we need to follow Jim Dalrymple's advice: take a deep breath and relax.
  • Then when Apple changes it, you'll say you never liked the beta and the new design is the "best ever"!
  • Re: "iOS 7 is clearly an unfinished product that needs more polish but I don't think Apple could afford to wait until 2014 to do this." Agree completely. Same thing happened with OS X in 2002 when 10.1 "Puma" came pre-installed on all Macs. It really felt like a quantum leap forward, but it also felt unfinished and it required an adjustment period. Especially for developers who wanted to build native OS X apps.
  • Good point. Everyone seems so alarmist with everything concerning Apple.
  • It's a beta. Listen to the beard:
  • You beat me to it! I just picked up the top of the line Macbook Air 13" and am currently installing all my Video/Photo apps. My main goal is to see how far this "portable consumer" notebook has come. I hope to answer the following: Can it handle a travelling Videographer's needs?
    Can it replace a Macbook Pro as far as an IN-THE-FIELD computer while on the go?
    Can it be everything i need when i'm not at a main editing station?
    Will i still have to buy the rMBP 15" Haswell when it comes out? STAY TUNED
  • I was asking the same thing last night. So I searched for some Youtube videos showing FCPX and Premiere Pro on a Macbook Air. Most of the videos were the 2012 models... and they seemed to do fine. So the 2013 Macbook Air should be even better. Granted... the Macbook Air isn't a powerful rendering machine... so don't expect it to be. But for doing some cuts before you get home to your big machine... I don't see why the Macbook Air can't be a videographer's lightweight travelling companion. I've got my eye on the new Macbook Air just for that reason :)
  • Being a new bandwagon jumper I know that Apple will bring it as close to bug free as possible upon release so there's no worries like the usual ill wait till others work out the problems before I update my devices that's the usual norm found on other major releases Sent from the iMore App
  • Unfortunately the palette is set and that bothers me cause I'm not a huge fan of those colors . I have hope that the icons, typography, and various other issues can be ironed out by the fall.
  • You'll get used to it. I did.. and now when I look at iOS redesigns I get confused why they made because it all looks boring and just like everything else.
  • For the most part I agree with your points here Rene, but you keep saying "at a distance". This and that should look good at a distance. How far are you holding your phone away from your face? At most for me is 2 or 3 feet. Unless you're like Shaquille O'Neil who has a 7 foot wingspan, you're not holding your phone farther than that. I don't have any problems reading the buttons or small text, and my eyesight is crappy. There are four icons I would change in iOS 7: Safari, Mail, Weather, and Settings. The rest seem fine to me. Even after saying that, I think everyone will get used to this design if nothing changes between now and release. I think it will be like Windows 8. At first you hate it, then after using it for a while you get used to it. Also I think we have to remember that Apple's main market isn't us. This is aimed at the regular consumer, who isn't as design conscious as the rest of us.
  • Distance and speed are interchangeable on some levels. Contrast is needed both when looking far away, and at a distance.
  • "Both far away, and at a distance" ???
  • Hi, Renee ~
    Is there any way to alter the text/icon contrast in ios 7? We are both in our late 40's and are unable to read much of the new lighter type.
    Thinking of reverting back to 6.
    Kevin in Sacramento
  • You can make the text bold by going to Settings > General > Accessibility > Then turn the item that says "Bold Text" to the on position (the button will turn green).
  • Found it! Thanks.
  • New to IOS, A few things I hope they change, in notifications, that small delete (x), way too small and hard to hit with my large hands. In multi tasking there is still no way to delete all folders at once, you still have to flick each one separately to delete them. Third party keyboard or just introduce the Swiftkey version of Swipe, IMO the best keyboard period, You can Swipe or if you choose pluck away. I find the appstore very slow. I have very fast data speeds and sometimes the apps or even the updates just take forever to download. These are just a few things I hope changes.
  • You can actually close at best three multitasking apps at once with iOS 7. Swipe with your three fingers or two fingers(if you have that big hands..) to close the background apps. Multiple apps can just be closed by doing so.
    I know that you still have to close each apps, but isn't that be a bit of time reduction?
  • Thank you for that multiple apps at once comment. I had not even thought to try it! :)
  • Finally a reasonable take on this design strategy. First, for all the people saying this is a beta and just wait for the second revision etc.... thats not what Apple usually does. Typically design flaws like the ones Rene is pointing out shouldn't even make it into the beta. They are definite no no's and it's puzzling where they originated from, and who OK'd them is a little worrisome to me. Second, revamping something very quickly is not an excuse for shirking practical design concepts. They have not only a lot of work to do, but IMO they have alot to prove after this. Steve
  • "From icons to interface elements to typography, we seem to be getting a very rare glimpse at a very early work-in-progress, and something that still needs of a second coat of design paint." Which is very worrying, considering how late in the year we already are. The fact that Apple need to show alpha-quality UI in June bespeaks of the crisis to which the company's software development has been driven by poor management. Too many easy years have grown them fat and lazy, I guess. Now that the organization needs to run again -- realizing competitors are only growing pace -- they can only jog. This is all quite worrying indeed.
  • But the ones to blame for that - Steve Jobs and Scott Forstsll are gone. I think Tim Cook does recognize this. iOS 7 is just the beginning but it is a step in the right direction. Al this frothing at mouth over aesthetics is silly. All these design critics need to take a deep breath and relax.
  • Eh, blame for what, for providing some of the most beautiful and recognizable design languages available in any OS, mobile or not? Bad Jobs, bad Forstall.
  • Hahahaha, I'm betting iOS will look just it did in the preview when it comes out in the fall. Apple has shown time and time again, it doesn't care what anyone thinks and there are plenty of ilemmings that will lap it up, warts and all.
  • I think so, too. I don't expect any dramatic changes; they listen at times, but if their corporate culture believes in a product looking a certain way, they'll go with it.
  • I agree as well. The Jobs legacy is to tell us what we want, rather than responding to requests. If that were not the case, Apple would have long ago responded to the most consistently recurring "wish list" items on websites like this. Too many of them are still missing. I don't like the look of ios 7, but I hold out little hope of it changing.
  • I fully agree with the first part of your statement. That is one of their strengths, we as consumers really don't know what we want and will complain regardless. As far as iOS 7 is concerned, I like what I've seen a lot and look forward to changing. Am I 100% in, but the direction they are headed makes a lot of sense to me and resolves far more issues than it creates. The biggest thing I want is being able to attach a location reminder to an entire reminders list instead of just an entry.
  • I am not a developer so I am not familiar with the portal or how to give feedback.
    I would encourage anyone and everyone to give feedback on likes and dislikes.
    Non developers can do so at When expressing likes and dislikes, please be open minded. We don't want iOS 6 back.
    We want a new exciting iOS experience. Change is good.
  • Here's a rational article from Tuaw which falls under the relax theme.
  • There's a reason why the Apple logo doesn't go from sleeve to sleeve on company t-shits. I think u mean to say t-shirts right.
  • Ah! Funny! Sent from the iMore App
  • Great read as always!!
  • While it's true that objects shouldn't get dangerously close to their borders, I don't think the Mac Mini is an appropriate analogy. The top of the Mac Mini is not something you have to look for amidst a field of objects and single out. The Safari icon, on the other hand, is. That analogy is essentially saying that smartphones need built-in stands like desktop monitors; but the two things don't have the same purpose.
  • I noticed that also. As an "icon" the Mac mini looks bad with the larger Apple extending towards the corners, but the way it is in actuality, would ALSO make a very bad icon. It's just not a good example either way.
  • Whether you like it or not, the fact is this......neon colors are hot right now. And iOS 7 definitely reflects this trend. Go into any sporting goods store......Under Armour, Nike, Reebok have a slew of neon colors in their sportswear. Beats - neon colored headphones, and the Beats Pil is also coming out in multiple neon colors. Not saying I like it, but that is what is hot in retail right now.
  • Hopefully Apple doesn't follow some hideous fashion trends just because they are popular amongst the tasteless yuppies out there..
  • Companies that don't either recognize the trends and capitalize in them, or help create them, are usually on the outside looking in.
  • Apple has always been a leader, not a follower, that is what has set them apart, the day they start doing what every other company is doing is the day they stop being Apple. Let Samsung chase the latest trends and biggest sales numbers..
  • I agree with most of this but I want to point out one error since it seems to be repeated endlessly. There is NOTHING WRONG with the gradients going in two different directions and those who criticise it just don't understand the reason. The reason is as follows. Dark at the bottom and light at the top is the typical way gradients are done as it adds "weight" to the image and otherwise looks "top heavy." The icons that have the gradient "reversed" from this expectation do so because they are representations of THE SKY. The sky is always dark at the top and lighter towards the horizon. The weather icon would look ridiculous if the gradient was reversed, as would to a lesser degree the Mail icon. Both would look "wrong" because both are actually "sky" backgrounds as they are on the iOS 6 versions. Whether one has particularly ever noticed it, we all instinctually know that the sky is darker above and lighter at the horizon. So. Most icons are going to be top to bottom light to dark gradients, but these two are going to be reversed and they would look "wrong" any other way, especially the weather icon. Because the mail icon has lost all the details that makes it read as "sky" it's possible they could switch that one around but the weather icon should NEVER be reversed.
  • You're right about the sky, but conflicting backgrounds side by side still look ugly and awkward and they are fair game to criticize. If you must show a gradient on a icon, how about not showing one on the icon beside it? Why Messages next to Weather and Phone next to Mail? Let's remember that all this was polished and carefully analized before being shown at a WWDC, this is not an internal presentation.
  • Well one can move the icons around of course, but I get you're point. The other thing that occurs is that the alternative to the gradient going two ways is to have some heavy handed rule that all icons from any source must always have the dark at the bottom and the light at the top, and that really isn't likely to work. Apple isn't in control of the design of all the icons. At some point, a user will experience "reverse" gradients side-by-side. The more I see it, what bothers me more about iOS 7 is the symbology and the typography, (although the intense ugliness of a few icons still stands out.) the fact that perfectly good buttons and symbols are being replaced with things that are less identifiable, and less readable is really unforgivable. If I was to sum up overall "what they did wrong" with iOS 7 is that it seems to me that they applied the principles of *graphic* design to each of it's "layers" when in fact a lot of the basic principles of graphic design layout don't really apply to UI and interactivity design. It's almost as if Ive said "You programmers handle how the layers work," and then gave the design of the actual icons and typography to the people that make the posters and adverts.
  • My thoughts exactly when i started reading all the criticism about the gradients. The one thing i do think is off is the saturation levels between for example mail and weather icon 'blue'. This becomes more apparent when looking icons with similar hue: Safari, Weather and App store.
  • Never cared for taste of New Coke, it's hard to beat a classic! IOS 7 icons are hard for me to swallow. I think Ives should just freshen the classic icons not completely replace. I do however love the updates to the OS such as Multitasking etc. Sent from the iMore App
  • Agreed.
  • Apple is sure making it harder for people with less than perfect eyesight, with light colors and light text. I just don't understand this. A tiny screen AND unreadable text is unacceptable.
    It seems that Apple is becoming smaller and smaller in Android's rearview mirror, and that is a shame, as I really do like iPhones. But I have to go with what I can use. Maybe someday they will come out with a "S4" size screen, and make it easier for a large section of people to use. Here's hoping.
  • I love the new look and the new features, it looks so happy, like Fairies and Sprites.
  • People are more worried about icon colors than functionality. Most people will change the default background and dim the screen anyway LOL.
  • Yet another post with a skewed, against the grain, views on skeuomorphism and gamification. Please Rene, explain to us why you think phony physics effects, which have no correspondence with any objects in real life, are an example of skeuomprphism, so we can all share your definition and move along.
    Just to dabble on the origins of the word, "skeuo" in Greek means vessel, and morph means shape. So skeuomorph would be something that resembles a vessel but is not. iOS 7 removed most skeuomorphisms from iOS and Joni Yve has spoken against skeuomprphisms several times, so why insist he has amped it up?
  • The hubbub about the design reflects an undercurrent of wariness about Apple from us, their fans. For years, what separated Apple from the Gateways, the Sonys, and the HTCs of the world was that they rarely showcased lab products, and never promoted vaporware. When they announced a product, it was shipping soon -- often that day. When they showed off upcoming software, it was fundamentally complete, pending some optimizations and bug fixes. Sure, Apple has failed in the past (MobileMe, Pippin), but they failed with complete products. They never showed us the sausage factory floor, and that gave them a mystique other makers envied. In the past few years, however, Apple has forgotten what gave them that mystique. Siri suffered embarrassing capacity problems at launch, and nearly 2 years later, still lists it as a "Beta" software. Maps launch (and ongoing) problems have been discussed ad nauseam. After three years of silence on the Mac Pro, Apple shows off a new housing, and says "this is coming, someday." They unveil a new design, and even backers like Rene and Gruber call it "unfinished" or a "work in progress." Apple has a long way to go before they earn the Microsoftian reputation of taking 3 revisions to get something right, but these "unfinished" events have been chipping away at their "magical" credibility bit by bit over the past years.
  • "...however, includes a lot of light, flat elements on equally light or flat saturated backgrounds, greatly reducing contrast and usability." To me this is the money statement. Rene has finally articulated my feelings. I have been referring to it as cartoonish, but it is the contrast and pop that seems to be missing. Layering doesn't necessarily increase depth and in this case the patina has lost its richness.
  • It's one thing to read what experts like Rene say about iOS 7. It's another thing to look at 2-dimensional screencaps and videos of iOS 7. But until you've actually used iOS 7 on an actual device, all you're doing here is commenting on comments. Fine. Free country and all. But remember that iOS 7 is still in beta and will most likely be refined ad nauseam before the release version. Yes, "beta" usually means "feature complete and testable," but as we all know, design is all about iteration. And design iteration can continue right up to release.
  • I've seen iOS 7 in person. I hope you are right on the refinement. To some extent the look can suck monkey eggs from a beaver's butt as it is the overall experience that pulls me to Apple products. I don't see that experience suffering too drastically from the current icon changes. I just don't feel it is quite there yet. And really my complaint is based on a comparison of richness between 6 & 7. I actually like much of what they have done 7 in cleaning the icons.
  • You do realize that's the first time fans like you are having to rally around Apple to defend its design, right?
  • "Perhaps, as Sebastiaan de With has suggested, it's time for a custom typeface optimized for the digital era..." I thought that's what Verdana and Georgia were designed for?? Of all the changes that have been shown in iOS 7, it's the skinny text that bothers me the most.
  • I'm surprised that Apple used some of the icons in iOS 7 and I hope they don't make it to the final release. An ex Apple designer easily improved on many of the icons in just a few days, hopefully Apple make improvements to them as well. Otherwise, I like many of the new features and UI elements. I'm also a little disappointed they didn't have the iPad iOS 7 beta ready in time for WWDC. ------------------
  • I hate hate F hate the icons they have taken away the amazing beauty of the icons how detail they were in retina display How they related to. The beatiful icons in my Mac. This icons are shit horrible not Even shity old androd icons look that f bad. I was in line every year for iPhone for 6 years. And now I think this is my las one and it break my heart . I have pay more at times for apple because they were different. They were eye candy like a. Ferrari. Just amazing to look at and be proud. There is nothing of that in ios7 looks like android half ass and. Windows. Phone Hateeeeee it. This can be the beginning of the end of apple what's next a cheaper iPhone. Cheaper Mac. And the fuckin hell with it.
  • I personally think that by the time it reaches the public ios 7 will look considerably different to what it does now.
  • OMG, the icons on the new Apple business site are even worse:
    Even if most of these are not app icons, they are so fugly.
    Those colors... my eyes are bleeding!