So I also updated my iPad 2 and spent the weekend playing with iOS 7 on both phone and tablet, and the experience reinforced my initial impressions. For the phone form factor, the new OS is definitely harder to read and harder to navigate. The thin font is harder to read, both in menus and on the apps. As I mentioned before, the new flat icons with a low contrast, limited color palette throw away a lot of identifying information, and make it harder to identify the app you’re looking for. With such a high resolution screen, why have such low information density? The icon labels are also hard to see against most backgrounds, and some of the graphics are really confusing. The Safari app, for example actually now looks like a clock, rather than a web navigational tool. And Settings looks like a Wankel rotary engine crossed with a grey biohazard sign. Weather looks like two pieces of candy. Inside the apps, some of the primary blue and red colored menu lettering is quite distracting compared to the previous use of subtle colors and plain and bold text. And there’s a lot of wasted white space for such a small screen. Another paradigm seems to be the use of more menu and interface items that change depending on the context. Like the gosh-awful Microsoft Office ribbon, such variability in an interface actually slows you down as your brain struggles for a fraction of a second to reorient itself when the layout changes.
Interestingly (with the exception of the flat icons), the interface does look somewhat better on the larger screen of the iPad. Menus and labels are easier to read and navigate, and the greater amount of screen real estate allows more information to be displayed. As a consequence, Notes, Reminders and Contacts all work much better on the iPad. The stylish design sacrifices less functionality when there’s a lot more screen real estate.
Still, there are some head scratching features on both platforms. Double-clicking the home button to view active apps now shows a double row of content windows above app icons. When swiped side to side, the icons and the content windows move at slightly different rates, such that only one content window is in full view at any one time, but three or four icons are displayed below. This display looks particularly weird on the iPad, with a LOT of empty space left between the three lonely icons displayed across the bottom of the screen, and it takes forever to scroll through a long line of apps. I miss the old close-packed string of icons, which could be swiped quickly to find the app you wanted to access. The new card-like display of open web pages in Safari is also rather confusing, compared to the previous OS. Finally, the use of round portholes photos of people in the contact list is also a weird step backwards — when compared to a conventional square image, a round portrait throws away content (shoulders & surrounding environment), and makes it harder to identify the person at a glance.
I’m still left flat. Style has reduced function, unfortunately. For a company that used to set THE standard for user interfaces, that’s surprising.