Upgrading to iOS 7 means learning a new language

iOS 7

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.

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