People are whining about iOS 7 because people always whine about new designs

September 20, 2013

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Most Apple users are just becoming acquainted with iOS 7 this week. But some developers and digital designers were given access to the latest version of Apple's mobile operating system weeks ago so that they could get their products ready for the new system.

One of those was Joey Marburger. As the The Washington Post's director of digital products and design, Marburger plays a key role in The Post's mobile products. On Friday, he shared his thoughts on the direction Apple has taken with the iOS redesign, why users are resistant to change, and how iOS compares with its major rival, Android. The transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Timothy B. Lee: There's been a lot of criticism of the new iOS design. Is that a bad sign, or is this kind of backlash par for the course?

Joey Marburger: A redesign of this magnitude is extremely hard to do. When you completely reimagine something, more or less from scratch, it's tough to please everybody. As much as people maybe like to say they like change, people are creatures of habit. They don't like when things are suddenly vastly different.

I recently tweeted that people who complain about Facebook design changes must be fuming about iOS 7. But the next thing you know, people are just using it more. [Users complained about] changes to the Facebook timeline and Twitter's apps. Any product with a pretty vocal following is going to have that initial reaction.

Heck, even when we redesigned our own iPad app, we had a lot of initial backlash. Now we've had really great adoption. When we redesigned our print edition, we got backlash from that, too.

What did Apple get right with this redesign?

iOS 7 is a drastic departure from the bubbly, gradient, skeuomorphic design of iOS 6. What they did is that they unraveled the interface. All content in the apps themselves, photos, colors, you name it, is at the forefront. It's not about the interface; it's about the content.

By researching what users are actually using, Apple knows what paths users want to take, so they can take unnecessary stuff out of the way. They realize the interface shouldn't be the star of the show.

The colors are another big thing for Apple. In iOS 7, there's a cohesive color palette. Colors are bright when they need to be bright and subtle where they need to be subtle.

Apps are a little more reactive to touch. You can achieve certain tasks faster, such as the streamlined control center and the streamlined notification center. Also they've reorganized the information architecture around settings to give the user the power to toggle things on and off without it feeling like work.

They've also done little things like having infinite folders, being able to add as many apps as you want. I like that they have a transparent background so you can still kind of see where you were without having to close the app.

How do you compare the major mobile OSes right now?

Apple's interface always feels more human. Google's feels a little more programmatic. Microsoft's is usually a disaster. Windows 8 was a nice kick in the pants for them, but they're vastly behind.

I think if Android wasn't so fragmented, it would be one of the best interfaces. If you took all the pieces of the best versions of Android and put them together, and it wasn't such a pain to develop for, it would be doing a lot better than it is now. Once people got over the redesign shock hurdle, it would be widely accepted as beautiful.

Apple has always taken the best things and made them better, whereas Android has always taken the best things and then found new best things. They don't always get it perfect. Now they're trying to kind of do that. I think Android has a lot still to get in terms of audience and user experience, whereas Apple really knows its users.

Google hasn't gotten to where Apple is in terms of unification across platforms. They're still catching up on that, especially in the tablet space. Where I see most of Android's struggles is more in hardware adoption development space rather than the actual software space, whereas Microsoft has problems in both. It's harder to build things for Android. It's getting a lot better. I see it growing in leaps and bounds.

Do you see places where Apple is playing catch-up with Android?

They've done things like having a singular search box in Safari. Google Chrome did that a long time ago. iOS 7 has a streamlined notification center that's more like Google Now.

Double-tapping to see all the apps that are running, that's very much an Adroid feature. The Control Center is an Android feature. None of these are ... exactly one-to-one, but the concept is very much the same. Even the Notification Center in general was an Android feature. Even little things like animated backgrounds. It seems like a little bit of a gimmick, but Android has been doing that forever.

But I've never really viewed iOS as behind. I've always viewed them as just right. They took on as much as they could, or thought they needed to take on at a time. From a hardware perspective, that's a whole other thing with the new iPhone 5s. They found ways that the software enhanced the hardware and vice versa. For example, they focused on the display getting better so thin fonts would render better.

That cross-collaboration is kind of lost in Android. Android OS, whatever flavor it is, could be running on a Nexus or a Samsung. They have tons of different screen sizes, so it's a little harder to really dial in that experience of the device in your hand, whereas the iPhone 5, they made it that size to be better for the hand.

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