Apple's June preview of a huge redesign for iOS — its first since launching in 2007 — drew a fair amount of criticism. Designers took to sites like Dribbble and Behance to show off their "improved" versions of iOS 7, with common complaints including typography, iconography, and transparency. Three months and six betas later, Apple is gearing up to ship a pair of new iPhones with the new OS, as well as preparing to push iOS 7 to all iPhones and iPads dating back to the iPhone 4 and the second-generation iPad. Although at first glance it might appear that little has changed since June, Apple has actually spent the past three months making adjustments. So what's new? And is it an improvement over what we saw at WWDC?
A lot of small changes have occurred since June 10th.
One of the most noticeable changes you'll see compared to both iOS 6 and the initial version of iOS 7 Apple unveiled in June is in the system's font. At the moment, anyone with an iPhone 3GS or older sees Helvetica as the default font across iOS, while newer devices use Helvetica Neue. For the launch of iOS 7, Apple moved to an extremely thin font, Helvetica Neue Ultra Light, which was rightly maligned for being difficult to read. Those complaints were clearly heard, as Apple has switched the default font back to the regular Helvetica Neue. It's more legible than in June, and due to a shift to larger fonts it’s definitely more attractive in places. But the font is still harder to read than iOS 6's, particularly on the home screen; Apple previously used bold type, most likely to improve legibility. Apple has, for the first time, included the option for the user to set bold fonts in the accessibility menu.
Apple backtracked on a major font change
Why is a font so important? Because it plays a larger part in Apple's design language than ever before. Many interface elements that used to have icons — such as the "answer" and "decline" buttons you're presented with when receiving an incoming call — are now entirely text. It's especially noticeable in applications, which since the first iPhone have placed text inside buttons to give you an idea of where they'll take you. Pressing the arrow button up top has always taken you back, whether it says "Inbox," "Settings," or something else. With iOS 7, buttons are gone. Everything is flat, with the button arrangement replaced by a "less than" symbol, followed by plain text.
Both the signal and battery indicators are now oversized on the lock screen.
That's not to say there aren't icons in iOS 7 — the home screen is still full of them. Every single icon has been redesigned for the new OS, and, far from being out, the jury delivered a damning verdict in record time. The designers we spoke with immediately following the June unveil were generally dismayed by Apple's new approach to iconography, and very little has changed since then. The clock icon is now animated, but the weather icon is just as unflinchingly sunny as it's always been — there aren’t any widgets here. There have been some improvements to icons in the settings menu, but if you hated the icons back in June, chances are you'll still dislike them now.
While Apple has stuck to its guns with iconography, it has made quite a few changes to the new lock screen, which was reviled by commentators for being confusing. The culprit? An upward-facing arrow that sat beneath the familiar "slide to unlock" instruction. At first glance, it appeared to many that Apple was changing the orientation of its unlock swipe from horizontal to vertical. Not true — the upward arrow was in fact pointing to Apple's new Control Center. Jony Ive and co. rectified this visual confusion during the beta phase, and there's now a flat grabber indicating the presence of the Control Center, and a "greater than" symbol before the "slide to unlock" text.
Apple added a simple arrow, and removed the Control Center arrow, to avoid lock screen confusion.
While you're on the lock screen, you'll also notice that the signal and battery indicators are now oversized — presumably a move that makes it easier to check on such things at a glance. The incoming call screen has changed slightly as well; initially a totally flat, squared-off design, it's been given some character in the final version of iOS 7, with distinct buttons with rounded corners. Control Center has also seen a visual rework, with a few minor spacing adjustments and a big shift in transparency effects. Essentially, the Control Center is much darker now, which makes its white text far more legible.
The list of changes goes on: with the addition of background updates for all your apps, Apple has rethought the graphics since iOS 7 was announced. You'll know now when an app is updating thanks to a circular dial animation that replaces the old progress bar. Once it’s updated, the app is given a neat little blue dot to indicate there's new stuff waiting for you inside. This replaces the blue-ribbon indicator from iOS 6.
Yet another change is happening behind the scenes, and it’s one you probably haven't heard about: Text Kit. This developer tool gives app-makers access to powerful text layout features like kerning, ligatures, dynamic resizing, and more, without the need to dig around in the depths of Apple’s SDK for solutions. It should lead to some beautiful typography in apps from third-party developers.
Despite the huge visual change, it's still the same iOS underneath
Of course, reviewing iOS 7 without spending time with a final version is impossible, but it's safe to anticipate that some people will initially be upset with the changes; a vocal minority can always prove problematic. The additions are welcome — if visually divisive — but iOS 7 still represents more of a coat of paint than a dramatic reimagining of how you should navigate around your phone.