After years of complaints about Apple's cheesy, outdated, and decidedly "skeuomorphic" iPhone software look, the company and its geek design god Jony Ive have unveiled iOS 7 and, well, nobody in the design-geek set really likes it. Well, not nobody: The Wall Street Journal, that arbiter of cool, called it "cool." And the Apple-obsessed blogger John Gruber wrote a whole post praising Ive's new vision for the iPhone. But even he admits "iOS 7 is not perfect," justifying his conclusion because "this new design framework will evolve and improve over time." Not everyone was so forgiving. Here's why not.
Yes, Apple's icons have a "flatter" look, as promised. Some would even say the phone has "depth." But it's almost as if Apple got the memo about ditching skeuomorphism — many a joke was made during Monday's Worldwide Developers Confference keynote about faux leather and felt — but didn't pay any attention to the other gripes. "Inconsistent" is a word that comes up a lot in the early discussions of the new software. "I was surprised when the screenshots started showing up. Inconsistent look and feel. Harsh colors. No harmony. No core theme," writes The Verge's Joshua Topolsky in a scathing review. To give one example, Ryan Katkov, a designer for Life 360, points us to the new icons for Safari and Mail. "Safari's icon — what were they thinking? The gradient goes from light to dark. Contrast that to Mail's icon, which goes from dark to light, and also sits on a filled background. Why?"
These gradient inconsistencies bother a lot of others, too.
The Icons Don't Match
"Am I alone in thinking the iOS 7 home screen icons look ugly, poorly balanced, and of an unattractive color palate (sic)?" asks Circa CEO Matt Galligan. No, he's not. But beyond a little shading, the app icons just don't go together. "Game Center is now a collection of 3D globs, rendered together against a white background, while the Camera icon recalls something more like clip-art — an icon that seems to want to be more abstract than it is, set against a rudimentary gray gradient," writes Topolsky. In general, the new iPhone home screen icons, pictured at right, don't really match each other, as you can see. Like Topolsky says, Photos and Game Center kind of have a thing going on with their overlapping colors, though even those two don't quite match with slightly different shading. But then everything else just goes in a candy-colored kaleidoscopic direction. The Safari icon just went for ugly.
What Is This Frosted Glass Look?
We have to agree with Life 360's Katkov on this: "I just hate looking at this screen. The frosted glass effect combined with ambiguous icons." Really:
Oh, And Everything Is Stolen
Perhaps even less admissible than Apple's poor design choices is the reality that Ive took a lot of his ideas from other companies. The lovely new weather app, for example, looks a lot like Yahoo's beloved new weather app. (It turns out Apple maybe also stole that from a former designer who no longer works there, he alleges in this Medium post.) The user interface looks a lot like Microsoft's tiled look. The gestures in Mail mimic both the very well designed BlackBerry mail app as well as the popular Mailbox app. Those "delightful animations" ... "will be familiar to HTC users," says the Telegraph's Matt Warman.
Does It Matter?
Apple apologists say no: "The result shows that in some ways Apple’s software design has gotten better, because it was Jobs (and Forstall) who had a penchant for exuberant textures and gimmickry," writes Gruber. The harshest critics say yes: "I believe Ive did exactly what Google did. Relied on data instead of instincts, because he didn’t trust his own design instincts," writes Katkov. "His hallmark is product design. You can't apply product design principles to human interface design, they're two different paradigms entirely." But it's Apple, so, you know, back in reality, the consumers will decide when iOS 7 is widely available "this fall."