iOS 7: It's Not About the Icons


Yesterday was a big, big day for Apple. Not only did they announce a new version of OS X and preview a crazy new Mac Pro design, both of which look amazing, but they completely overhauled iOS for the upcoming 7.0 release.


I mean, wow. There is simply no overstating how much is different here. Some things are absolutely fantastic, others...not so much. Of course, the internet has been awash with complaints and design opinions in the last 24 hours, and I would be dishonest if I said I could exclude myself from that camp.

In fact, I actually started writing a huge article last night describing why I liked or disliked every little new thing throughout the OS, ranging from the icons and typography to the app UIs and animations. After about 1,000 words into the piece though, I became bored of my own tedious nitpicking and I scrapped the whole thing.

Why would I do that? Because I realized it's easy to sit around and armchair-design an entire operating system, to tear down what people having been working very hard on for several months. Do I really want to be that guy? I don't think it would make me any better than all the designers who suddenly materialized with a Photoshop mockup on Dribbble, intending to critique Apple's work. No, that's a slippery slope I'd rather not be on.

The thing is, what we've seen thus far is merely the beta version of what will release to the public later this year — it's simply not ready to be fully judged as-is. Besides, think about how they managed to get all that work done in only seven months — the time since Jony Ive began heading up the software design group. It may be imperfect, but I'm extremely impressed by what they've accomplished in that relatively short amount of time.

Forget about the icons for a second, and think about all the underlying functionality that managed to make it into the beta: the "parallax" effect seen on the SpringBoard; Control Center; notification sync; automatic background updates for apps; AirDrop; a revamped Siri with all-new voices; the redesign of every single app (not just their icons)...I mean, this is a huge update.

It's not that my nitpicks have gone away, not by a long shot, but it's important to understand that this is only the beginning of Apple's next paradigm shift. I think they're designing an OS for the future, one that can hold up over the next decade, rather than trying to please the naysayers of today.

This certainly wouldn't be the first time Apple has unveiled something that received a lot of immediate negative feedback, then gradually became a product we wouldn't want to live without. Like the others, we need to give iOS 7 time to breathe, to evolve a little.

I also think there is a much more profound point to be made here, despite anyone's opinion on the new look: that Apple has shown a newfound (or perhaps a regained) willingness to experiment, to let their guard down, and most importantly, to have fun.

I can't say for sure that it had anything to do with the absence of Steve Jobs, but something definitely felt different about yesterday's keynote to me. Some observations:

  • The new OS X has been named "Mavericks" after the famous Californian surf spot. I'm not entirely sold on the name, but it does evoke a certain sense of carefreeness.
  • Apple decided to give us a sneak peek of something they're still working on, which was the new Mac Pro. A surprising move, considering how secretive they usually are.
  • Craig Federighi was up there cracking jokes and seemingly having a grand ol' time. And my goodness, that hair.
  • Phil Schiller likely gave the most brazen and memorable quote of the day: "Can't innovate anymore, my ass."

Apple has always been a supremely confident company, but yesterday they displayed a different, more lighthearted kind of confidence. There was an exciting energy surrounding the entire presentation that really resonated with me. They seemed reinvigorated somehow, and it was contagious.

I think we may be seeing the beginning of Apple's next great era, and I'm definitely looking forward to what happens next.