Apple released its most significant redesign of the iOS platform at WWDC this week.
The buzzword surrounding the new aesthetic is that it is “flat,” with less shading, texture, and 3D-style effects in the icons and app design.
It also does away with skeuomorphism, a design philosophy that advocates for digital tools to intimate the physical objects they replace.
For example, Apple’s Notes application formerly looked like a paper notebook. Now it’s a non-textured icon that is far more abstract.
But what do all these changes actually mean, practically speaking?
- Aesthetically, the changes are significant enough that developers will have to seriously consider aligning their apps with Apple’s new colour palette and design choices.
- iOS 7 also introduces new styles and concepts for app user interfaces, which will create a lot of work for app developers.
- These changes create a tremendous opportunity for publishers and developers to create iOS 7 apps that are more in sync with the new paradigm and leave legacy apps in the dust.
Matt Gemmell has a good overview of the changes with side-by-side screenshots of the Messages app in iOS 6 and 7.
iOS 7 represents a huge aesthetic evolution. The flattening of the user interface did away with a lot of shadowing. The result is a much brighter colour palette, giving the impression of a cleaner overall design with more open space.
Looking at the side-by-side comparisons in Gemmell’s screenshot above, iOS 6 looks stale and cluttered by comparison.
Not every one is a fan of the new design. Linus Ekenstam called iOS 7 “worst thing Apple has ever made, period.”
Such a big change is bound to produce ripples in Apple’s developer community, and we’re starting to see reactions roll in.
Where Ekenstam sees cataclysm, influential developer Marco Arment sees an opening for the developer community. He writes, “I don’t think we’ve ever had such an opportunity en masse on iOS.”
The crux of Arment’s argument is convincing.
iOS 7 is an enormous break with Apple’s design history, introducing “entirely new navigational and structural standards far beyond the extent of any previous UI changes” (you can read a hands-on rundown here.)
While developers shouldn’t have a hard time bringing their apps functionally up to speed for iOS 7, the new design structures call for a substantial overhaul of their user interface (including new concepts for gestures and animations).
This puts many developers in an awkward position. As Arment explains, most developers with a long trajectory in the App Store need to maintain support for users who will remain on iOS 6 and maybe even iOS 5.
Historically, iOS updates take a few weeks before they are adopted by a user majority. For example, iOS 6 was on 60% of iPhones a couple of weeks after its release in mid-September, according to data from the Chitika ad network.
While that’s impressive, it still leaves millions of users on older versions.
Most developers can’t afford to write two separate interfaces, nor are they eager to blow up their apps and start over. So many will be to some extent attached to their old design and user interface choices.
This, Arment argues, opens up an enormous opportunities for new developers ready to create “iOS 7 native” apps. Even in established categories, newcomers can take advantage of the legacy players’ flat feet and rush into the App Store.
Established developers, in other words, can’t afford to hesitate. They need to go all-in on iOS 7. The dilemma, however, is that even if they do go all-in, they might still be outgunned by a newbie who has better adapted to the new design principles.
But how can they succeed?
The core philosophy driving iOS 7 is a refocus on content. No longer can developers rely on embellishments, colours, and visual effects, Gemmell writes. The iOS 7 style is more stripped-down, and focused on function rather than form.
Apple wants apps to succeed or fail on their core offering — the quality of their content and services.
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