iOS 7: A Week Later

The initial reaction to Apple’s iOS 7 has ranged from thoughtful and provocative to trite and absurd — as you might expect anytime Apple does anything moderately interesting. I consider myself in the “give them time, they’ll probably get it right” camp. And, a week later, I’m still very excited to help design a relatively complex new app for iOS 7 and beyond.

A few more things, now that I’ve had a week to think about it.

The big-picture reality is that iOS 7 really isn’t very different. This is actually what we were told to expect: Some superficial changes, but nothing drastic. And that was correct. Feel free to gush about or criticize Apple’s new “design language” in iOS 7. For some people, that’s important. But for most iPhone users, once they get used to the new look — which is, obviously, a work in progress — their phone is going to work pretty much the same way it did before: Screens of squarish icons for apps that don’t really talk to each other very much. No complex desktop “widgets” or 2-up-app split-screens, or anything like that. (Yet?) The trickiest thing at first will probably be learning about some of the new, hidden gesture controls.

And now, some irresponsible speculation about future hardware. That is, after all, the big thing with Apple: Hardware and software in perfect harmony. Moreso now — in theory — that one man, Jony Ive, is leading design of both.

  • Those app icons with big-ass circles in them? The App Store and iTunes Store logos that go almost too close to the edges? The seemingly unbalanced “grid” system? Is that, perhaps, telling us something about the design balance for future hardware devices? The iPad mini and iPhone 5 already have some pretty thin bezels, especially on the sides. But could we perhaps see screens going all the way to the edge soon, where there are almost no borders and the content is everything? That might be neat.
  • That parallax tilting effect on the homescreen? You know, “seeing behind” your icons? My sense is that it’s going to get old pretty quickly — or at least you’ll forget about it. Unless! Unless there’s something very cool to do with it. Perhaps some new sort of camera technology, where multiple lenses and parallax scrolling actually make some really interesting visual effects? (3D-ish Vines and Instagrams someday?)
  • One size fits all? I mentioned this briefly in the last post, but something about iOS 7 feels like it’d be more flexible for a more diverse lineup of iOS device sizes. At least I hope that’s something they’re thinking about — making it feel more appropriate on the iPad, for example, and maybe even a really small screen, too. The shift away from a discrete status bar at the top and moving more navigation elements into the content — something app makers have been doing for a while, actually — seems like it’d better fit a wider selection of gadgets.

iOS 7: Beyond The Flatness

Yes, Apple’s new mobile operating system looks different. Now what?

iOS 7

  1. I actually like the way Apple’s new iOS 7 looks. I don’t immediately prefer it to what it’s replacing — the original iPhone OS was one of the most beautiful interfaces ever imagined. But much like American Airlines’ new paint job, I think I’ll like it more when it’s mine. It certainly fits the times better — including, no doubt, some influence from competitors. And it resets the consistent iOS look to its current feature set. Too many of the mistakes in iOS came with the add-ons, and now there’s a new set of cues to start from — at least for built-in apps, and developers who play along.
  2. Key phrase, there: “Developers who play along.” It will be interesting to see how many of the top firms — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Path, Foursquare, Google — adopt Apple’s new-school design. On one hand, it’s nice when key apps resemble the system they’re part of. On the other, these companies have put a lot of work into developing their own unique looks, and many use them to visually bridge their iOS and Android apps together. My hunch is that we’ll gradually see the iOS 6 “linen” look phased out from most big apps — good riddance. But I’d be surprised if most redid everything to look just like Apple’s stock apps.
  3. One of my throwaway one-liners about iOS 7 was that Apple “basically traded Lufthansa for Virgin Atlantic.” But I do feel that away. Until now, iOS felt very continental European, including Swiss railway clocks, back buttons that resemble European highway signs, and beaucoup de Helvetica Bold. Like the classic Lufthansa look. Now it feels more modern and skinny, slightly ironic, and trendy, like the new Virgin Atlantic look, and other contemporary British design I’ve seen. Yes, Jony Ive has been in California for a long time now. But that’s how it feels.
  4. Is this the first iOS designed to look better on a white iPhone than a black one? I haven’t used it yet, but all the white icons might make it pop better. And so far I’ve only seen it demonstrated on white iPhone 5s. Under the current (old?) rules, developers aren’t even supposed to use white-iPhone photos to promote their apps. I wonder if that’ll change now. (And if I’ll use this opportunity to buy my first white Apple portable since my first iPod? Probably not, but who knows.)
  5. Ok. Beneath the surface. Design is how it works, remember? Is this an improvement? I think so. The basic stuff — being able to turn on Airplane Mode and Bluetooth from the new Control Center — is actually useful. Perhaps it will blend the iPhone and iPad experiences together a bit more? Not having to manually update apps will be good for everyone. The new photo management features look great. AirDrop — transfer files with someone nearby — is something I’d actually use, instead of e-mailing photos to my wife sitting next to me on the couch. The new theft-deterrent activation lock feature sounds like it might actually benefit the planet. There are still some basic, obvious places for improvement in iOS — how various apps can talk to each other, or how two apps could share the screen, or how two people could share an iPad better, for example — but iOS 7 doesn’t just seem like an art project.
  6. Back to the Mac? It was fitting that Apple showed off the new Mac OS X on Monday before the new iOS, because once again, they look completely different. I wonder if Apple will try bridging them together again more next year, or if that’s a pointless exercise. Anyway, the new OS X looks fine. (Although I was a little surprised that relatively few Mac owners — 35% or something? — have updated to Mountain Lion. Yes, that’s better than ~5% for Windows, but it’s nowhere near 90%+ for iOS.)
  7. The Cook Offensive. The bigger-picture mission, as highlighted by two motivational videos, including Apple’s new TV commercial, is that the company isn’t just sitting around, trying to figure out what Steve Jobs would have liked everyone to work on. (Actually, you could argue that Jobs might have disliked the iOS 7 look. We’ll never know.) Instead, the message was: Apple is self-aware and it’s playing offense. This leads us to the natural question: Ok, what’s next? Apple’s big thing is the happy marriage of hardware and software, and increasingly, services. This time, we saw a bunch of good-looking mobile software and a few decent-looking services. (Not nearly enough to say that Apple’s out of its “cloud” trouble, but a start.) As usual, “this fall,” I expect we’ll see the new hardware. It may just be the S versions of the iPhone and iPad mini, and a catch-up edition of the big iPad. iOS 7 would certainly run nice enough on those. But maybe there’s something else, something more? That would be a much better way of showing — not just telling — that Apple is moving faster and doing bigger things than ever.

City Notes San Francisco Is Here

Just in time for WWDC, with a special $0.99 launch price.

City Notes San Francisco

A quick update about City Notes, my local/travel guides startup. We’re going on a summer blitz of new releases, starting with today’s launch of our new San Francisco travel guide. If you’re in SF this week for WWDC, or will be visiting this year, grab it now at a special introductory price of 99 cents.

The idea, again, is to highlight the best and most interesting places in a city, not the most famous. This guide includes a great-looking, new coffee-and-toast-shop called The Mill, one of my favorite design shops in the world, Park Life, and an excellent cocktail bar close to downtown. Plus some amazing food and breathtaking outdoor views. (On a personal note, I haven’t been to San Francisco in several months, but researching this guide with some friends made me very eager to visit as soon as possible.) Anyway: 99 cents for iPhone, for a limited time.

We’re also using this opportunity to give our New York travel guide a little late-spring push with a special price, $1.99, down from $2.99. Check it out for our favorite Manhattan pizza place, a great bourbon bar, and more. With both apps, you’ll be in line for free future updates.

Next, we’ve recently redesigned our website, where we’ll be posting about gear we love, neat travel artifacts we’ve picked up around the world, and an interview series — coming soon! — with our favorite creators, much like SplatF’s beloved series. Please bookmark, add to your reader, follow us on Twitter or Tumblr, and stay tuned for more fun stuff.

Lastly, we’re now working on more guides and more cities: Paris, Brooklyn, Chicago, and Tokyo, to name a few. We’re also looking for people to get involved for future products, so sign up and get in touch if you like what we’re doing and want to play a role.

And let us know where you’re going if you’d like some help researching your next trip. I’m personally around on Twitter most of the time, and am happy to help you whenever I can. Thanks again for your attention!

“The switch to Android first hasn’t happened yet, but at least based on conversations I’ve had with entrepreneurs, it seems likely to happen in the next year or two.”

Chris Dixon has some interesting thoughts on mobile. We’ll have to check on this in a year or so — I’ll set a reminder in my, uh, Google calendar.

“The Veronica Mars and Zach Braff projects have brought tens of thousands of new people to Kickstarter. 63% of those people had never backed a project before. Thousands of them have since gone on to back other projects, with more than $400,000 pledged to 2,200 projects so far.”

— Kickstarter’s recent success with Hollywood celebrities reminds me of Twitter’s four years ago. Although I wonder how many of Ashton Kutcher’s first million Twitter followers are still active users today.

AOL vs. Netflix: The Entire Internet In One Simple Chart

Dialup out, broadband in. It doesn’t get more clear than this.

AOL Netflix chart

At the end of March, almost 2.7 million people still subscribed to AOL service, the company reported this morning. That’s about where Netflix stood at the end of 2004.

Since then, Netflix’s subscriber base has grown — 29 million at the end of March — and AOL’s has declined at a remarkably parallel rate. But that makes perfect sense: Nothing says “dialup” more than AOL, and few services have benefited more from the growth of broadband than Netflix. (The paths cross in early 2008, just as Netflix’s streaming video service was starting to take off.)

  • Worth noting: Netflix now has more subscribers than AOL ever had. (The distinction changed hands late last year.) This makes sense, given the rise of mobile devices, cheaper computers, connected videogame consoles/TVs, and just the increasing popularity of the Internet, thanks to broadband.
  • Worth pondering: What will eventually cause Netflix’s decline? Missing the next era of Internet technology? (Something mobile-first or mobile-only?) Internal crumbling? Or are Netflix’s best years just getting started?

Also: Microsoft’s Mobile Comeback Isn’t Happening