Coding Range

Thoughts on iOS 7

June 12th, 2013

New Macbooks Air. Sneak peek of the next generation of Mac Pro. iOS 7. OS X ran-out-of-cat-names Mavericks. All typical announcements for a WWDC keynote, but these seem to indicate another transition for Apple.

If there’s one thing Apple loves, it’s big changes. Transitions. Carbon to Cocoa. PowerPC to Intel. OS X to iOS (sort of, at least OS X-only to OS X+iOS). Whilst I was too young and out of the loop to know almost anything about Carbon to Cocoa at the time, the last few have not been a cutover. Apple have never gone “Sorry folks, that’s it. New stuff from here on, leave your old crap at the door.”

Consider PowerPC to Intel. OS X stayed the same. iLife stayed the same. Applications needed to be recompiled and tweaked, but they stayed the same. The only big change was the processor architecture all the way down at the very deepest level of software.

OS X to iOS was the exact opposite. Apple kept Mach, Darwin, Core Foundation, Foundation and the other system libraries, but entirely revamped the user interface for a mobile touchscreen device. Gone was the mouse and physical keyboard, you now had a device with extremely limited screen real-estate that could only be operated through fingers. Same core OS, completely different interface.

iOS 7 seems like another such change, but is much less drastic because the interaction style remains the same. iOS 7 keeps the same core as OS X and iOS 6 - Mach, Darwin, GCD, OpenCL, OpenGL, Foundation, etc. - but it’s a new userland. The principles are the same, but things have now moved, gestures changed, glyphs and icons redesigned. The familiar has once again become the unfamiliar, something Apple have no qualms about doing. Many of the design patterns from iOS 6 have stayed, but many more have been replaced.

iOS 7 is what happens when you look at the userland in iOS 6. At features that have been crammed in on top of their predecessors because there wasn’t much room. At visual styles that try too hard to replicate the familiar that they become repulsive. At concepts like skeuomorphism where the word itself just looks repulsive. When you take a look at that, and you go “nope, let’s try that again,” you land up with such a drastic redesign.

People are kneejerk-complaining, but if you consider that what we’ve seen so far is around 7 months of work, it’s extremely impressive. The time limitation does show - the homescreen icons feel like a rush job and there’s no iPad seed yet - but given some more time (such as the few months remaining before Gold Master and public release) it looks to be wonderful.