If I were prone to beating dead horses, I’m sure I could hammer out a handful of wordy editorials about how iOS is boring, dated, and in dire need of a face-lift. But I don’t like beating anything, especially not something as futile and helpless as a horse that’s already dead.
Let’s look at the situation from another perspective for a minute, shall we?
It’s no secret. The interface has grown very long in the tooth and reeks of UI design of years past. In regards to iOS, there’s little to get excited over anymore. That’s evidenced by the fact that despite nearing one million applications in App Store, even iOS fans are beginning to twiddle their thumbs in anticipation of something truly new.
There are only so many ways you can explain how deserving of an interface refresh iOS is. But it’s a point that can’t be iterated enough.
Think about it. There are few, if any, operating systems period – not just mobile platforms, but Mac OS, Windows, Linux – that have gone practically unchanged as long as iOS. Apple’s mobile OS will soon turn six-years-old (since its official launch in June 2007, not the reveal in January). In that six-year span, how drastic have the improvements to the interface been?
Not very. The extent of the changes are: Notification Center and notification pop-ups, wallpapers, folders, the app switcher, and slight color changes in the status bar. Some skeuomorphism was (distastefully) added, as well. And that just about covers everything.
In less than five years, Android has undergone at least five major UI overhauls (From Donut to Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb/Ice Cream Sandwich, and Jelly Bean). The interface has been gradually improving once per year since 2008. Windows Mobile even had its fair share of UI changes over the years. Windows Phone, although still quite young, has had UI refinements and changes. And BlackBerry has experienced fairly drastic UI changes countless times since 2004.
Of course, there are two sides to each story. Constant, drastic changes can alienate less proficient users who may not be able to keep up with the contextual changes and different settings that jump around. It’s even a problem for guys like us from time to time. Take Samsung’s Settings app, for example. It has changed a couple of times in the past two years, and when reviewing the Galaxy S 4, Michael and I both struggled with finding settings that Google intentionally made front and center.
On the flip side, if an OS goes on too long without changes and improvements, things begin to get boring rather quickly.
This stagnation has not only affected the appearance of iOS, however. It has also affected the functionality. While competing platforms are excelling in various areas, the functionality of iOS has remained effectively the same and hinges on its app ecosystem.
What’s my point in all of this?
WWDC kicks-off on June 10, where we will almost certainly see a new iOS. Jonathan Ive and Tim Cook have been dropping tidbits of information here and there – albeit nothing too revealing – to help drum up some hype. And the closer WWDC gets, the greater the anticipation for the new iOS version will become.
But over the years, every iOS announcement has been, more or less, disappointing. We’ve become jaded. And even though we know iOS will be cleaner, more flat, and more simple, we’ve learned not to get our hopes up for anything dramatic, exciting, or mind-blowing.
Apple has the tendency to blow everyone away a time or two, then slowly slip out of the limelight as they build up – for years at a time – to do it all over again. While iPads have brought some oohs and ahhs in the last three years, there has been very little on the software front to get worked up over.
Apple has been overly conservative with iOS for entirely too long now, to the point we’re seeing resemblances to how slow BlackBerry was to adapt to the changing of the times.
And that’s exactly why iOS 7 is destined to appease us all.
The antiquated interface is really one of the few things holding iOS back. It was designed in an entirely different time in smartphone history, and all the competition has surpassed it, in one way or another. And its expansive application offerings are quite possibly the only thing that has kept it afloat, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s wonderful. It takes a lot of pressure off Apple.
Let’s be honest. Apple could throw in all sorts of major improvements to iOS – better multitasking, a better (and actually useful) Notification Center, a smarter keyboard, more built-in camera features, etc. – and it would still be bittersweet if the UI were not updated. But now that we know the interface is being given a long-overdue face-lift, there really isn’t much that could ruin the announcement.
This year’s iOS update is destined to please (almost) everyone. I’m sure some one will have something to say, either way. But that’s the nature of this business.
The fact of the matter is, the clunky, cluttered, overdone, outdated, inept interface is one of two major problems with iOS – the other being Apple’s penchant for control and not opening up sharing APIs.
Let’s just hope Jony isn’t spending all this time perfectly crafting icons and flat UI element and is spending some time re-thinking the home screen and Notification Center. It’s time iOS drops the “wall of icons” baggage.