The 3 iOS 7 themes that could help developers impress Apple

Editor's Corner
Shane Schick

Most app developers will no doubt adopt Apple's iOS 7 operating system. Whether they choose to adopt the iOS 7 design philosophy for themselves is another matter.

Following its launch at Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) Worldwide Developer's Conference in June, there has been considerable discussion about the overall look and feel of iOS 7 and its attempt to offer a more minimalist approach that reflects its approach to the creation of hardware. It's perhaps only natural that, as a next step, Apple tries to encourage the scores of developers who create apps for its devices to take on a similar aesthetic. Why should Apple bother having translucent navigation bars and borderless buttons if developers make app icons and layouts that look more like something out of a Looney Tunes cartoon?

In a transition guide to iOS 7 Apple recently published, it lays out three core themes or principles that developers should keep in mind as they think about how apps look and feel. These include "deference" (a UI should help users understand the content "but never compete with it"), clarity and depth. The latter two are a little more straightforward-- consumers should be able to read what's in front of them, without excess ornamentation, and motion should be used only as truly needed.

Apple's overall message seems to be that less is more, but when is less simply less? A UI design blogger named Rakesh recently offered a thoughtful critique of iOS 7's approach, arguing that in some cases, the navigation has become so subtle that smartphone users may take more time than they'd like to figure out how to press certain buttons or get to areas of an app. This obviously has an impact on user engagement, among other things:

"Deference and Clarity derive directly from basic UI design principles and should be lauded and followed. Sadly, in its current iteration the design of iOS 7 is in conflict with them; Apple itself has yet to fully understand and embrace these themes. Depth is an honest goal but it cannot be achieved with visual layers without compromising the other two themes. Maybe depth helps iOS stand out from the rest of the crowd more than it helps to elevate the user experience," wrote Rakesh.

The takeaway from this could simply be to ignore Apple's transition guide, its UI dogma and continue as before. And yet, as vaguely condescending as it sounds, there's a line in that transition guide that rings true: iOS 7 is "a rare opportunity to revisit the way apps communicate their core purpose and functionality to users."

Here's a challenge for developers: Why not embrace deference, clarity and depth to the fullest, with apps that executive on these principles in ways better than Apple achieved across its entire operating system? Use the three UI pillars as a part of your app marketing campaign to help consumers make sense of the design changes they're about to experience on their iPhones and iPads. Apple will be looking for examples of apps that complement the design objectives of its platform, which might be summarized as, "whatever isn't important should fade into the background." Time for developers to take the initiative necessary to ensure they remain front and center on iOS.--Shane

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