Why I Won’t Make Up My Mind About iOS7

As a UX practitioner in a mobile agency (who comes from a background in visual design), I was itching to get my hands on the first images of iOS7. Outside of work, my new iPhone 5 interface has been looking increasingly quaint next to my partner’s Windows phone.

From yesterday’s WWDC keynote, it appears that Apple have changed all that. On first glance, the new version of iOS seems polished and exciting. The stunning visuals fit much better with the iPhone’s physical appearance and what we’ve come to expect of current digital interfaces. But the glimpse we got of the visuals tell a bigger story.

The new features and visuals within iOS7 are a manifestation of bigger themes Apple has placed in the limelight. A focus on multitasking between apps and between devices brings exciting improvements such as the OS Mavericks Finder app which has been upgraded with tagging and tabs. Hardware and software improvements for better speed help do more things more quickly, and the new iOS7 Control Center keeps important functions close while we focus on other things.

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Photo credit: Apple Insider

Another apparent theme is order. Apple are building a support system for organizing the growing amounts of data users generate. Be it by intelligently grouping photos in the new iOS7 Photos app or by allowing us to tag and better search through documents on the Mac. They have made improvements to handling many tasks with many moving parts while keeping the necessities at hand. The interface changes to iOS7 (with their grids and typography) hint at a stronger call to order visually.

Perhaps the most important focus is on context. Apple’s presentation structure (use case before features) is telling of their strongest ability – enabling the user to complete tasks wherever, however, and whenever they feel is natural. We will now be able to plan journeys on desktop and send maps to the mobile device, see formatting menus based on context in iWork for iCloud, and send iMessage texts while driving with the exciting iOS in the car.

Instead of focusing on a long list of impressive features and specs, Apple always start with the user. This is why it makes sense to see the keynote kicked off by talking about Apple’s principles and how they apply to Apple retail. It’s clear that each feature and detail are part of a bigger system that strives to provide the same great experience to users. This is what makes Apple so hard to copy.

The brief glimpse I caught of the inevitable online reaction was disappointing. I snuck away from dinner to read comments focused mostly on the veneer: mocking the simplicity of the icon design, or questioning the match between the interface colors and that of the hardware. Details that can make a difference but are far from the core of the value Apple introduced at WWDC this year.

iOS7 will be judged by its long-lasting ability to bring joy, usefulness, and convenience to its large pool of users. Sure, the demos and images are exciting, but they’re no measure of a good user experience.

The truth is that we cannot judge the improvements to the user experience of iOS just yet. As Tim Cook mentioned, iPhone users use their devices 50% more than Android uses use theirs. The real test of iOS7 will be in its continued use over time, as kinks get undoubtedly worked out and its truly useful sides emerge from being put in the hands of users.

I can’t wait to get my hands on iOS7 to see how the shiny keynote slides translate to a real-life experience.

Read reactions to the WWDC keynote from my colleagues at Future Workshops in our two part piece about the event.