min read

iOS7 Grows Leaps in One Bound -- But at What Cost to Usability?

by Heather Rakauskas , 03.10.2013

Sometimes we just have to take the good with the bad. Apple’s new iOS7 nailed it on many points, yet still left many die-hard users scratching their heads.  In all its previous iterations, the iOS platform hadn’t changed much; now it has.

It takes some time to get used to the flat effect of the visual design, relearn how to delete items from a list (swipe to the left now), and create a new mental model for how photos are organized. However, quick access to controls, new features such as AirDrop and Moments within Photos, and the improvements in multitasking make it worth the sacrifice of initial intuitiveness. With a vast spectrum of user needs, wants and abilities, Apple chose something for everyone but in some cases ignored the underlying concept of usability. To improve the user experience, Apple would have been wise to turn its attention to three areas in its design: discoverability, accessibility, and customization and control.

Discoverability: Though iOS7 represents a natural progression, users have to work hard to discover all that the upgrade has to offer. An easy-to-access tutorial explaining the changes or helpful on-screen hints (that can be easily turned off) would make the transition and discovery much less frustrating.

Accessibility: Accessibility is more challenging. Calls to action lack affordance: tapping on an obvious button does nothing, but tapping on the faint word next to it gets results. Icons to often-used apps look different. Notes no longer look like notes, with lines indicating paper. The typeface is smaller and fainter, which makes reading the screen trying for some. Long-time users might wonder why these are considered upgrades. Changes in the visual treatment of the interface have left many turning to the accessibility settings to make text and controls easier to see.

Customization and Control: There is agreement among long-time users that the Control Center implementation seems arbitrary. Some may like quick access to the timer, while others would prefer having direct entry to the alarm clock instead. It would make for a better experience if the users could customize the Control Center to fit their individual needs, instead of Apple deciding default settings.

If you put five users in a room, you’ll get five different opinions of what they like and dislike about the changes in iOS7. What they can agree on is that many of the updates have been a long time coming, and that the brief period of initial frustration for users is well worth it. iOS7 has helped the iPhone evolve into what most people expect and want, but the growing pains for users will continue, at least for a while. One person put it this way: “As I use it more and more, I miss the old version less and less.”

Heather Rakauskas is Senior Research Director, User Experience at GfK. Her primary interest lies in the usability of handheld products with limited screen size, especially mobile and medical devices. Contact Heather at heather.rakauskas@gfk.com.