Published September 17, 2013
Apple’s task in renovating its mobile platform with iOS 7 could not have been more difficult. In every sense of the phrase, it would be a balancing act. iOS is one of the most popular computing platforms in the world and when it comes to revamped operating systems, users are beyond finicky.
It’s far too easy for companies to fail.
On one hand, you have something like Windows 8, which was too new. Longtime Windows users didn’t know what to make of the new tile-based Start screen and they panicked. As a result, Windows 8 went nowhere fast.
On the other hand, you have a platform like BlackBerry 10, which was far too now. BlackBerry’s latest mobile software indeed features a fresh coat of paint, but it doesn’t really add any compelling new features that rival platforms are lacking.
So with iOS 7, Apple’s tremendously difficult job was to create the perfect balance of new and now.
There is no question that iOS was getting a little boring for longtime users. Loyalists might have been afraid to admit it until Apple unveiled iOS’s new look this past summer, but once Apple’s cards were on the table, most seemed to happily confess that the platform was due for an overhaul.
Apple first debuted its mobile OS in January 2007 — more than six years ago. Since that point in time, the look of iOS hadn’t really changed at all until now. Six and a half years is a long, long time, especially in the smartphone and tablet markets where everything moves at breakneck speed.
It was definitely time for a change.
The problem, though, is that change is scary. When you have a platform being used by hundreds of millions of people around the world, big changes are a gamble. Push the envelope too far and users panic. Don’t push it far enough and users get bored. Just ask Microsoft how difficult it is to strike the perfect balance.
I think Apple has managed to come as close as any company can to perfectly balancing new — an exciting new look that recaptures users’ interest — and now — enough familiarity that panic will be kept to a minimum.
Make no mistake, there will be panic. But it will subside quickly as users see that there’s really nothing new to learn in order to use iOS 7. It looks different, very different in fact, but at the same time it’s quite familiar.
Interestingly, the first thing many users will notice when they upgrade to iOS 7 just so happens to be my least favorite thing about Apple’s iOS update, visually: the icons.
I have joked about the icons on BGR and on my Twitter account as well, but in all seriousness, most of Apple’s iOS 7 icons are shockingly bad. Some are just kind of ugly while others are downright embarrassing. I’m really not sure how this could have happened.
It seems trivial, but it’s unbelievable to think that a company known for its designs created these "Adult Swim"-looking monstrosities. Reminders, Game Center and Newsstand are particularly atrocious.
Moving on, the iOS user interface has been completely overhauled in iOS 7 from top to bottom. Nothing was left untouched. All of the realistic textures that mimicked materials such as leather and paper have been stripped. What’s left is a flat, minimalistic interface that will absolutely be jarring to longtime iOS users at first.
But once the initial shock wears off, the user makes an important realization: the iOS 7 interface is actually just as familiar as it is fresh.
The look of the operating system has indeed undergone some major changes, as has every single Apple-built application. The look is flatter, the colors are brighter and many shapes have been smoothed out. The layouts of Apple’s various apps have for the most part remained unchanged, however, which means there is almost no learning curve for a user who is already familiar with iOS.
This is huge.
For one thing, Apple device owners update quickly — more than 100 million iOS devices were updated to iOS 6 within a week of its release last year. For another, iPhone owners are more loyal than any other smartphone users by a healthy margin. This means scores of users with old Apple devices that might not be compatible with iOS 7 will likely be updating to the iPhone 5s or iPhone 5c in the coming weeks and months. When they do, even if they have never seen iOS 7 before, they will be met with a brand new look that will be far easier to adapt to considering layouts, logic and workflows remain largely unchanged.
Refreshing, yet familiar — another remarkably difficult balance that Apple has managed to strike.
For the full review of Apple iOS 7, see BGR.com.