With iOS 7 Apple has tossed 30 years of progress out the window

September 20, 2013

With iOS 7, Apple has brought back the era of the hideously ugly, monochromatic 1982 UI. And it's worse than an IBM PC. Instead of a soft green color palette, iOS uses garish, florescent colors against harsh white backgrounds.

This is so wrong.

Steve Jobs had a deep and rich vision in 1981 for how user interfaces could work. If nontechnical users were going to do highly complex tasks on a computer with no training, he felt that Apple would need to make the technology disappear and the operations be utterly intuitive to nontechnical people.

The iPhone was the highest realization of Steve's vision. Unlike PC applications, iPhone apps were not merely software programs; they transformed the phone into familiar physical objects. The notepad looked like a notepad; the calendar was like holding a calendar; the clock looked like a clock.

In iOS 7, all of that is gone. Apps are now controlled with cryptic little florescent symbols that are interspersed across the screen. Everything looks the same. No more notepad; no more dials for making selections. It's all just dull software; black letters on white.

Even the blue tint that helped you see if the keyboard shift key was pressed has been eliminated.

Is that a document or a control?

The worst thing about iOS 7 is that the distinction between documents and controls is gone.

The iPhone always had a feeling like a well-engineered European sports car, with simple, purposeful buttons and dials to control the device. These controls were clearly and substantively distinct from user documents and workspaces. Now it's all blurred together, so you can't tell any more which things are controls and which aren't.

It reminds me of the days when you had to read a manual to learn how to use a piece of application software.

(App development and strategy will be among the key topics discussed at the TabletBiz conference & expo in New York on November 13. Register today)

Graphic design gone amuck

The designers of iOS 7 forgot that consumers buy Apple products because they want simple, elegant devices to make their lives easier. But it appears to me as if the goal of iOS 7's designers was to look cool and hip, no matter the impact on users.

The new icons are garish, distracting, and less intuitive than the old ones. The new graphical flourishes–like making the lock screen photo go blurry and displaying bizarre voice waves when you talk to Siri–are gratuitous, useless and distracting.

I think this is far and away the worst thing Apple has ever done. Not only did the company throw away 30 years of progress, they have pulled all the major app makers down with them.

The new Facebook app, for example, seems to go 10 steps backward from the old one. And unlike New Coke, it would be extraordinarily difficult for Apple to switch quietly back to the quality product that customers liked, due to the compatibility challenges.

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Visionary hardware

I think Apple has done some great things on the hardware front. I believe, for example, that the new fingerprint scanner and iBeacon in the iPhone 5s are the most visionary steps ever taken toward smartphones being able to replace cash and credit cards.

But Apple has made a giant mess with iOS 7. It's hard to imagine the Apple design people owning up to what they did any time soon.

It pains me to say it, but I think Apple has given its loyal customers good reason to start looking at Android and other options.

(Jonathan Rotenberg is a management consultant and executive coach. Back at the dawn of the personal computer era, he created and ran the influential Boston Computer Society and was personally recruited by Steve Jobs to come work for Apple – which he declined).


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