iOS 7 Controversy, so if you’ve spent a decent amount of time in the online tech community. You’ve probably heard people say things like, “iOS 6 was the best version,”. Or, “everything has gone downhill since iOS 6.”. And that’s actually a fairly common sentiment among people who believe that iOS 7 was a misstep by Apple. That they’ve never recovered from. It’s worth exploring why iOS 7 received so much criticism. And how it became the most controversial iOS release in history.
Which was released in 2012 and featured what’s called a skeuomorphic user interface. Meaning elements of the operating system were designed to resemble real-life objects. For example, in the Notes app, you would type on a virtual notepad. Complete with yellow lined paper bound by brown leather. And in the Newsstand app, which was replaced by the News app in iOS 9. You’d find a virtual bookshelf finished in a light brown wood texture.
Now skeuomorphic design elements like these had been around since the very first iPhone in 2007. So it became a quintessential part of what defined the iPhone. And at the time, the person in charge of iOS development was Scott Forstall. He joined Apple in the late 90’s and had been with the company ever since. And when iOS 6 was released, he was in charge of its biggest new feature, Apple Maps. Which replaced the native Google Maps app that the iPhone previously had. And if you remember all of the problems users had with Apple Maps from inaccurate data to unreliable directions, you’ll understand why Scott Forstall received a lot of flack from other leaders at Apple.
Because their Maps app was probably the biggest failure Apple experienced since MobileMe. And because of how poorly the app performed, Apple CEO Tim Cook issued an open letter of apology, saying, “At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.”
Apple Maps Controversy
Now you might be thinking, it doesn’t make much sense for Tim Cook to apology for Apple Maps when Scott Forstall was the person responsible for its development. And Cook agreed, because he actually asked Forstall to sign the apology letter, but he refused. Forstall argued that Apple didn’t need to apologize, and he compared the situation to the antenna issue with the iPhone 4 nicknamed Antennagate. Because in that situation, Steve Jobs held a press conference and essentially argued that the antenna system on the iPhone 4 wasn’t flawed.
And Forstall felt the same way about Apple Maps. According to him, the problems users were having weren’t as widespread as it may have seemed, and therefore Apple Maps didn’t deserve the level of criticism it was receiving. But Cook disagreed, and Forstall’s refusal to sign the Apple Maps apology letter was likely the straw that broke the camels back, since he was let go from Apple just one month later.
Now Scott Forstall’s departure from Apple was already pretty controversial. There were people comparing it to Steve Jobs departure in 1985, and how one day Forstall might also be back to save Apple. Tim Cook received a lot of heat for the decision, being called a poor leader since they thought he wasn’t able to manage his executive team effectively. But I think there were things going on behind closed doors that none of us knew about, and Cooks decision was ultimately the best for the future of Apple.
Jonathan Ive’s Entry
Now with Forestalls departure, it was obvious that his old position at Apple needed to be filled by someone, but who would it be? Would Apple hire from outside the company or would they promote someone from within? Well, it turned out to be neither. Because Cook ended up giving the responsibilities of iOS development to head designer Jonathan And the responsibilities of macOS development was passed to Craig Federighi.
Now giving Jonathan Ive control of iOS development was a surprise to most people, since he had always worked in hardware, not software. And some people began to worry. Nervous about what changes Ive would make to iOS, one of the most popular smartphone operating systems in the world. But if you knew anything about the arguments Ive had with Forstall, you’d get an idea of his vision for software. Because While Forstall was a big proponent of skeuomorphism, Jonathan Ive was not. Ive believed software shouldn’t be tied down by the legacy of physical items.
And he actually thought the realism element of iOS 6, with the shadows, reflections, and skeuomorphism, made the operating system feel bulky, slow, and uninspired. So when he took the reins of iOS, he was finally able to execute his vision for how a smartphone operating system should look and work. But I don’t think anyone was prepared for the radical design changes they saw on June 10th 2013 when iOS 7 was revealed.
It was a completely new take on every single native app the iPhone ran. Almost every skeuomorphic embellishment of iOS was removed and replaced by minimalistic, uncluttered design that put the users content at the center of everything. Just take the Notes app that I mentioned before, its legal pad paper and leather was removed, and in its place was simply nothing. Just a blank area for users to type notes. And Ive said these changes were an effort to shift focus from the operating system itself, to the users content.
Complete new look
But eliminating skeuomorphism wasn’t the only big change made to iOS 7. Its design went from very three-dimensional to very flat. And this was a shock for most iPhone users, who had become used to shiny, shadowed, reflective icons. And because of this flat design, different dimensions in the interface were lost. Because in iOS 6, the shadows and reflections made it clear that icons sat above the background. But with no shadows or lighting effects, everything appeared to be on the same plane. So in order to establish depth, something called parallax was introduced, which used the iPhone’s accelerometer and gyroscope to track your hand movement and adjust the icons and background accordingly, adding movement that suggested a foreground and background.
And this was implemented across the entire operating system, from control center to notification center. So it’s easy to see how radical of a change iOS 7 really was. And whenever big changes are made to any operating system, it’s bound to cause some controversy. And that’s exactly what happened with iOS 7. It caused a division in the Apple community, with one side arguing iOS 7 was the future of the iPhone, and the other side arguing it was the wrong direction to take. So let me cover the differing opinions in more detail. People who loved the new design felt it made the user experience much simpler and actually more enjoyable.
Because by removing the skeuomorphic embellishments in iOS 6, it made the operating system feel more clean and less busy. Therefore eliminating unnecessary distractions that might complicate the user experience. Also, they felt the minimalistic software design matched perfectly with the minimalistic hardware design. And this made iOS feel much more seamlessly integrated with the iPhone it was running. And when you consider the Apple Watch, you understand how important it was for Apple to begin creating software that flowed seamlessly into the hardware, essentially becoming indistinguishable.
Criticism of iOS 7
But the criticism of iOS 7 was undeniable. Many people felt the new set of icons looked embarrassingly bad. In fact, there was a popular video of someone actually recreating each iOS 7 icon in Windows Paint. Suggesting their designs were amateur and too simplistic. But that was only the beginning. The gradients and colors used across the system were criticized for being too saturated. The parallax effect caused some users to feel motion sick, and the removal of defined buttons caused confusion regarding what was tappable and what wasn’t.
Now as with most Apple releases, the initial backlash came on particularly strong after its introduction. It was very easy to hate on iOS 7, not only because it was so new and different. But because of the story behind it. iOS 7 represented Scott Forestalls departure from Apple. And Jonathan Ive’s control over his position. And if you believed it was a mistake for Apple to dismiss Forstall. You were prepared to criticize iOS 7 before you even saw it.
Because those people were sure Scott Forestalls vision was the right one. Also, if you believed Jonathan Ive wasn’t fit to design software, you would also be more likely to feel bitterness toward iOS 7. Not because it was a bad operating system, but because of what it represented. So it’s almost like all the events leading up to iOS 7’s introduction created the perfect storm for people to vent their frustrations with Apple or Tim Cook.
And because iOS 7 was so radical, it was an easy target for criticism. But the people hating on iOS 7 was definitely a minority, because when users were actually able to upgrade to iOS 7. And use it for themselves, a lot of the drama died down. And by the time iOS 8 was released a year later, everyone either loved the new flat design aesthetic, or learned to accept it.