Raw thoughts from Alex Dong

iOS 7 new design: Feels 1.0 and that might be ok.

(If you are looking for polarized rants as a confirmation bias, this is not for you.)

I love Apple. Before Apple, design was a luxury item that quite often was left to the last stage of product development. After Apple, it has become a top priority. As an engineer with 15 years training in calligraphy, I feel grateful that Apple has lifted the public’s taste for good design. I don’t think I am an Apple fanboy. I am just someone who gets a bit too easily annoyed by bad designs.

Having said that, I have to say I am a bit let down by the new iOS 71. Yes, it is a totally new direction for iOS. Apple needs a few iterations to consolidate and refine the design language. Yes, each product needs time to catch up with the new direction. And yes, it takes efforts and compromises to provide a smooth migration path between the old and the new. There are many reasons I can use to justify why Apple released these products at the current stage. However deep in my heart I worry that I might lose yet another company I love and respect 2.

To get started, there are some very well designed apps. Like Clock, Weather3 and Compass. These designs have nothing loose or left unsettled. Whitespace ample and balanced. Functions laid out clearly. No surprise. No guess work. Everything is where they should be.

Well designed apps

Do keep in mind though that there are little design-tech-feature tensions here though. The feature sets of these apps are well defined so it’s mainly a design exercise. So these are the easy ones.

Once we get over simple ones, I start to see inconsistent metaphors. For example, here are 3 apps all offering the ability to select media from a library. I am particularly perplexed by the newsstand app. On one hand, its “store” sits on the bottom “frosted glass” toolbar, which is kind of new metaphor. On the other hand, it seems to carry with it the old skeuomorphism of a physical magazine stand.

Newsstand's new design

Here is another example. There are 2 ways to select from a range of screens. The left is the new “look-down” view on a list of open tabs in Safari. Flip up-and-down to navigation, click the small x on top right corner to delete. The right one is the new screen manager. Flip left-to-right to navigate, swipe to the top to close one. I’m not sure why Apple releases two totally new yet visually so different ways for the same task.

Tab selection metaphor

Besides the inconsistent metaphors, I have to admit that I feel the new “simplified” interface maybe have gone a bit too far in some apps.

The logos feel a bit “too simple”. They feel like the Apple logo without the bite. The naughtiness has disappeared. Checkout the logos on the right of the “Contact detail” page and the ones in Safari browser’s toolbar. I am sure we’ll have no problem finding and using those buttons to perform the tasks but somehow I am left to want a bit more. I want “that bite”. I want some personality. Something beyond a sleek and minimal design.

Newsstand's new design

The two answer incoming call interfaces below left wondering whether the “slide to answer” new design is a bit too clever. One the left, the green square is clearly a button. Click to answer. On the right though, the same green square requires a “slide”. It looks like a light will slide across the surface to indicate an affordance to “slide”, but maybe it is a bit too subtle?

Slide to answer

I genuinely hope that all these shortcomings are either deliberate design compromises4 or Apple is well on its path to fix them, as in all 1.0 products. The next year or two will be crucial. The best case scenario is the company lifts itself to a new solid ground for another 5-10 years solid growth. The worst case is that the company fails to consolidate and the gaps get wider and scarier. We’ll have to wait and see.


  1. Now since I’m looking at these logos out of their designed context, I might feel different when I use the physical device. There are just too many steps we can project our own thoughts into screenshots.

  2. Microsoft and Google are the two companies I used to like and respect. Microsoft has being enjoying a quiet long death whereas Google has become a destroyer of ecosystems.

  3. There are some words being said about the contrast of the app. I’ll have to wait to see the screen on a real device to give my own judgement here.

  4. At the end of the day, Jonny is the one who has done so many amazing designs. Based on pure probability, I have a higher chance to be proven wrong.