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Summary:

The language that app makers use to communicate actions the users should take — buttons, check boxes, etc. — is a new one for iOS. Some designers say that will mean far more work than ever before to make sure users understand new apps.

iOS 7
photo: Apple

iOS 7 is a big leap forward for design. But is it too large of a leap? As developers spend more time with the drastically upgraded visuals and user interactions, some are realizing just how big the task at hand will be to get their apps ready for the official debut this fall.

The app makers at Entropy Labs in the U.K. published their thoughts on the topic on Tuesday, and while they’re professed fans of the overhaul of iOS, they’re realizing it’s probably even more work than most developers thought it would be. That’s because, “from a classic HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) standpoint, the current iteration of iOS 7 may actually be far too ahead of its time.”

The issue is that the design language that app makers use to communicate actions the users should take — buttons, check boxes, sharing actions, etc — is new one for iOS. Some of the established norms from all previous versions of iOS are now different. “Borderless buttons” are a major component of iOS 7. They first became popular among Android app developers, and came to iOS most noticeably via Google starting in late 2012.

Apple’s embrace of them is indicative of the kind of changes that it feels it can make now that users understand how to use touchscreen devices. We all know a left-pointing arrow without a box around it means “go back,” for instance. But changing something as simple as a button actually has huge implications, especially if you’re dealing with menu titles, Entropy wrote:

When is text a button? When is it a drop-down menu? Is the touch target generous enough for each input – and will users intuitively know what each line of text will invoke before they press it?

It’s something all developers will have to confront. The main issue, according to them, is that this iOS upgrade is going to require far more testing to make sure their users can follow along:

As developers we are entering into a new relationship with our audience – one where both developer and user are forced to communicate with fewer visual cues. The result will no doubt be spending more (not less!) time iterating and testing our designs. Gone are the days when a handful of team members or friends can successfully ‘test’ your App and provide adequate feedback.

  1. Geoff Arnold Tuesday, July 2, 2013

    “But is it too large of a leap?” Skip the “of”. Bad grammar, sounds uneducated. http://grammarguide.copydesk.org/2007/02/27/too-big-a-deal/

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    1. Perhaps it was not the best phrasing.

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    2. Poor punctuation reads poorly ;-)
      As for the article’s substance, I think it is smart for Apple to be peering well into the future of the HCI. The design decisions the company implemented with the first iPhone look dated only five or six years later. I hope the app developers can keep pace!

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    3. Cameron Triplett Wednesday, July 3, 2013

      I disagree wholeheartedly with you!
      Check this out:

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  2. Far too ahead of its time? Please. Ios7 was meant as a ‘catch-up’ os to regain territory lost to Android.

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  3. Safari’s nav buttons have been border less. It’s not as if this is completely new to iOS.

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  4. So lets get this straight, a company that charges a lot of money to make software is saying that it’s now too difficult for smaller companies/individuals to do it themselves? Implying you need to go to bigger more expensive software houses? Who could we go to? Lets see.. Maybe Entropy Labs in the UK?

    The great thing about mobile devices, especially those from apple is that you don’t need to be an expert in UI to know whether something feels right. Your friends are just as good at testing a mobile app’s usability. In fact, well managed they’re probably better than a test team who are doing the same job day in day out.

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  5. John Kneeland Wednesday, July 3, 2013

    If Apple is “ahead of its time” for doing flat design in 2013 I’d love to ask them how forward thinking they’d consider Microsoft to be, seeing as they did this in 2010…

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    1. Wow, I guess you missed the entire point of the article as well as not understanding the differences between ios 7 and w8. Congrats.

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  6. Reading the documentation Apple provides for the transition to iOS 7 is a great place to start. Sometimes us as developers get too excited to dive in and start creating without really trying to understand the big picture.

    In iOS 7, color on UI elements is used sparsely. It is used to imply interactivity. The best place to see this is on the navigation bar, where the color of the right and left bar items tints to the desired color while the title stays the near-black color. This is reinforced by the global tint for a storyboard, where in every view, interactive system elements are automatically tinted the same color.

    It’s definitely a shift in the way of thinking, but borders around button was really some level of skeuomorphism. At this point we don’t need borders to know what we can touch. Color is a very easy way to make the controls stand out.

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  7. Very bad idea iOS 6 was the best look yet and they will loose customers because of the new design it is to far a leap and is to future and not now enough

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  8. I guess I cracked my iCrap when I updated to iOS7. It runs faster, but everything’s in English, and the freaking iCrap is rebooting itself, crashing with Instagram, and just being this crap tool you just want to throw into nearest wall.

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