Reaction To iOS 7

Apple, this week, announced their new iOS 7. And though this has no effect on the design and implementation of Project One, I had a couple of reactions I thought it would be interesting to share.

The first is that it’s good to be in games! Every year, some developer out there ends up “Sherlocked“, which means that Apple took a core concept from their app and integrated into the core of their OS. From the article:

Last year, it was Marco Arment’s Instapaper (now owned by Betaworks) being copied as Apple’s “Reading List” in Safari, and OmniGroup’s task management app OmniFocus getting presented as Apple’s then-new app, Reminders. At the time, both OmniGroup CEO Ken Case and Arment remained optimistic that their apps would continue to serve their users well despite Apple’s “flattery.”

This year, at least two companies saw some of their most prominent features make an appearance in iOS 7, though their reactions to the announcements were mixed.

Dan and I saw and felt something similar when our Android App, GoNotes, was essentially made worthless by advances in mobile OS’. Of course, I guess it was only a matter of time until someone else thought of the idea of geo-located reminders but… oh well…

The advantage for us is that people can try and copy a game but we’ll never end up competing with Apple and have it integrated right into the OS. It also bears repeating that mobile apps is a $10 billion market with games making up $8 billion of that. As Dan is fond of saying, “there’s games and there’s everything else.” And it’s nice that what we do will never have to compete with the device maker itself.

My second reaction was to the removal of skeuomorphism from iOS 7, that is the metaphors to real life objects by software through design. Skeuomorphism is one of those things that can divide families and end friendships, so I’ll tread carefully here by saying that while I think iOS 7′s look is generally a step forward, I’m kind of sad they eliminated all skeuomorphism and afraid they might be throwing the baby out with the bath water.

The iOS lockscreen as we've always known it.

Eliminating skeuomorphism where it doesn’t make sense is always a good idea. Consider the old lock screen. It was functional and not bad looking but it also featured curves and graphical flourishes that aren’t reflected by the way one actually interacts with it. The swipe bar may look textured but what you actually touch is just a flat screen. Also, when people look at the lock screen, they’re either trying to unlock the phone or see what messages have come in at a glance. In either case, the graphics on this screen serve more as a distraction than an addition.

iOS 7 Lock Screen

Contrast this with the new lock screen. Plain, simple, nothing to distract one from their purpose of looking at it. And, it appears, you can now swipe anywhere to unlock, a small change that will have a large effect on people who use the device since sometimes that damned little slider just wouldn’t fully go to one side.

So… one area of great improvement. But… what has me worried is removing all of the general metaphors to real life items. While it’s not always necessary, consider an app like Punk or Metal?!? that Dan and I put together and launched last year as part of our former consultancy business.

At it’s core, Punk or Metal is really just a photo rating app in which the users are given a binary choice, is what they’re looking at “punk” or is it “metal” in terms of theme. Given this, Dan designed something clearly skeuomorphic, using a guitar amp as a metaphor.

Punk or Metal Vote Screen

Notice the font on the “Home” button, the leather feel of the header and vote bar, and the metal tag showing the number of votes and comments the photo has had. All of these were conscious decisions to honor the feeling of a guitar amp because it is an element shared between both the punk and metal genres of rock and roll. And we honor it because it provides a distinct feeling when using the app that where ever you are, as long as you’re in our app, you’re in our world.

Without skeuomorphism, it would just be another generic voting app and the Punk or Metal theme would be lost. Sure, we could keep the animations and the music but, at the end of the day, it just wouldn’t feel like you’re doing something that’s either punk or metal. And this is where I think that some skeuomorphism can be a good thing.

I was having a discussion with another friend of mine at one point and I described skeuomorphism as turning the device into whatever program just launched. Launch the compass app and the iPhone becomes a compass. Launch the map app and it becomes a map. Yes, the device is still a phone and the perfect example of convergence but it’s whatever you want it to be depending upon which app you launched.

With the flat feel of the new iOS 7, and no doubt the design guidelines that will go with it, I worry that this feeling of distinction will go away. That everything will feel like iOS 7 instead of the purpose you’re currently using it for. Right now, that’s what the Android design guidelines suggest. Everything is supposed to feel like Android, with your app merely providing a new utility. That’s all fine and good for someone like Facebook, who want to so integrate into your life that they want you to think about posting to them as easily as dialing the phone but for something like Punk or Metal, I believe something would be lost.

Apple's Podcast App

None of which is to say that I hope these changes significantly improve Apple’s Podcast app, the bane of my existence. They recently changed one of the dumbest examples of skeuomorphism ever, the reel to reel tape deck, as shown to the left, but it’s still an example of skeuomorphism run amok.

Say what you will about leather stitching and green felt but those apps worked and whether you liked the metaphors they were using, they didn’t detract from the usability of the apps in question. The Podcast app, on the other hand, still is one of the buggiest, crashiest apps I’ve ever used and yet someone took the time to design all that reel to reel stuff that hasn’t been used in recording studios for ten years and never really was anything a consumer would know.

Which brings me to my final thought and that is that skeuomorphism is neither inherently good or evil. But if it’s going to be done, at least ensure that the underlying app itself is stable before adding all the bells and whistles. And this is something that does apply to our building of mobile games. We can add all the flash we want to our game but if it’s not stable and fun at its core, then none of the rest even matters.