On Discipline

Several points are repeatedly brought up against my iOS 7 posts, I'll try and address them here.

First of all, Apple is my favorite company in the whole wide world (apart from Squarespace). I love Apple. They have singlehandedly brought humane computing to the world at large in ways that most of their competitors have only dreamt of. And they have done this with measured discipline and often quite conservative design decisions, to the ultimate benefit of the end-user.

And iOS is the summation of their work; an operating system so simple, yet powerful, that babies, the elderly and even cats can use it. It is amazing.

iOS 7 is a radical departure, and it feels to me not so much measured and thoughtful as it does in reaction to, for lack of a better grouping, the tech press. Whatever the reason, Apple felt it necessary not to roll, but to radicalize.

I prefer rolling, but I can understand the need to mix things up a bit. And do I like certain things about the look of iOS 7, while I dislike other things. I completely concur with Khoi on the back button for instance; I'll sorely miss that.

However, when we're talking about iOS, which in my mind is nothing less than the single most important OS in the world right now, it is of critical importance that you understand what you're doing as you're changing things. Style does not trump substance. And interface design is often deceptively hard.

Now, it's very possible, as many people keep pointing out, that the beta simply isn't a representation of the final product, and that the interface will see radical changes before we get our hands on it, presumably in the fall.

However, when I look at a beta I see anti-patterns and basic mistakes that should have been caught on the whiteboard before anyone even began thinking about coding it. I get scared. This isn't a matter of 'oh, it's a little glitchy now and then'; these are things that from the looks of it seem simply like poor design decisions. The bottom of the lock screen, with it's three competing drag areas and strange mixed messages is a prime example. Yes, it's easy to fix, but how did it make it this far?

Most importantly, these are things that work really well in iOS 6. Again, we're talking about the best, most sturdy, understandable set of interface patterns ever put together in an OS. And it is that way because of a level of restraint the likes of which most software never gets to see. A level of discipline willing to actually say no to thousands of things for every yes (regrettably rich Corinthian leather wasn't one of them). The new lock screen alone has four gesture-based functions on it now. How is that saying no?

Again, it might change. But how did it make it this far?

You could chalk it up to experimentation, as some do, but it's like experimenting with triangular tires. We know it doesn't work, there's no need for us to repeat that particular experiment.

Also, some people criticize me (and others) for talking about these issues public, and not simply through bug reports to Apple. But I counter that this is how we all learn. By discussing short comings in interface or visual design (skeuomorphism anyone?), we learn and get better. If designers at Apple read this, I hope they either think I'm repeating things they already know (we all have deadlines, and iOS is one hell of a job to redesign), or take away what they feel they can use.

I love iOS; it's amazing. I want it to be good. But I'm scared of what I perceive as a loss of the discipline, not only in terms of saying no, but also in terms of interface design as a discipline. If iOS succumbs to power-userisms and form over function, it will be an immense loss, and it keeps me up at night.