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iOS 7 Rumor Roundup: What we know about Apple’s “black, white, and flat” redesign

rumor roundup apple ios 7 header image copyright_blackpool_creativeThe usually overflowing well of Apple rumors has been oddly quiet when it comes to iOS 7. We have heard a few whispers here and there around development, but we’re in the dark as far as what specific features will make it to the finished product. It would seem that Jony Ive is a much better secret keeper than previous iOS helmer Scott Forstall. With a new version of the OS scheduled to debut in June, it’s high time we try and figure out what might be coming, and what we want from, the next iOS.

(For more Apple talk, check out our WWDC 2013 Rumor Roundup.)

iOS 7 Rumor Roundup

We do know that Apple’s highly-respected and eccentric industrial designer, Jonathan Ive, was recently put in a directorial role for Human Interface development (that means iOS) at the company. He’s known for his hardware design prowess, focusing on simplicity and utility over anything else, leading to the now iconic MacBook Air, iPhone, and iPad, among many other successful Apple products. He’s also known to dislike skeumorphism in software design: the act of making virtual interfaces resemble their physical counterparts (ie: the Game Center app including green felt like in casino). Judging by his design preferences, if nothing else, we can expect to see a more streamlined look coming to iOS.

A flattened, less skeumorphic design

 rumor roundup apple ios 7 podcasts app screenshotOne of the first things that happened under Ive’s new leadership of iOS was a refresh of the almost universally reviled Podcasts app. It received a number of fixes and new features like iCloud-synced stations that can download new episodes automatically, as well as support for on-the-go playlists. The biggest change, however, was a visual one. The faux-tape deck and large, square buttons were trashed for a more cohesive design that was easier to navigate. 

New rumors point toward a “black, white, and flat” look to iOS 7. Jony Ive has scrapped many, if not all, textures and shadowing in exchange for a new, flat interface with many black and white elements. We can expect to see the shininess disappear from icons, the shadow removed from the keyboard, and textures will no longer be present on the navigation and status bars. The lock screen will also be flatter and the clock on it will lose its transparency.

Another cool feature that we may see is a new way to customize devices. Whereas now, users can only upload a portrait-style photo to serve as the background, when iOS 7 debuts, we may be see an introduction of panoramic photos, so that as we scroll horizontally through a sea of apps, we’ll be moving across the length of the image. 

ios-7-9to5mac-artistic-rendition9to5Mac has also posted an artistic rendition of what it claims iOS’s new homescreen will look like. Supposedly, writer Seth Weintraub has seen the new OS and has recreated what he claims it looks like. You can see the homescreen here. If this is the extent of Apple’s changes, we have to wonder: what’s the big fuss about? The only major change appears to be the removal of the heavy gloss from the operating system. Perhaps the changes will appear more substantial in person.

Redesigned Apps

Not only will we be seeing a change to the top-level design, but also additional changes to Apple’s built-in apps. For example, that dreaded yellow lined paper motif in the Notes app will (if there’s any good left in this world) be no more, and a color-coded system will be implemented throughout to make distinguishing various updates that much easier.

But we’re more than likely to see the biggest changes in some of Apple’s most-used apps: camera, Game Center, Newsstand, Safari, and weather. Like the home screen, we’re expecting all the fluffy design to be stripped out, in exchange for the new, flattened, simplified look.

iRadio

Though we don’t know the details, the WSJ confirms that Apple will show off its own music streaming service at WWDC. The new service will likely take on some traits from rivals like Spotify and Pandora, and may even be completely free and ad supported, but it will still promote the purchase of songs and albums from iTunes. 

Airdrop Integration

It’s been attempted – and subsequently scrapped – in the past, but according to 9to5Mac.com, Apple may once again attempt to include Airdrop Wi-Fi-direct file-sharing in the next iOS release. This will make it easier for two iOS users to transfer files from one device to the other, much faster than the standard text or e-mail. But who knows? Pulling a feature prior to the release of iOS 7 is a pretty easy thing to do and, since Apple has done it in the past, it could very well be shelved again. (But let’s hope not.)

Engineers shuffled from OS X to help with iOS 7

According to Daring Fireball’s John Gruber, engineers were pulled from their work on OS X 10.9 to help iOS 7 make its debut on time at the World Wide Developer Conference set to kick off on June 10. All signs point to an announcement for iOS 7 at the conference, but we wouldn’t be surprised if the software’s actual launch waited to tag along with the iPhone 5S (or 6, whatever it is). OS X 10.9, the successor to Mountain Lion, is also expected to make an appearance, though development on iOS 7 could delay its debut.

Top secret operation

While a number of rumors have been leaked, there’s still a chance there’s more to come, because in typical Apple fashion, it appears that bizarre security practices surround Ive’s work on iOS 7. Gruber shared some information recently about the specific measures engineers are required to take while working on the latest mobile software. Apparently those designers with carry privileges (meaning they can take devices off Apple campus – assuming they promise not to leave them in a bar) must have a polarizing filter on the display. What this does is makes it extra difficult for passerby and curious folks to sneak a peek at the unreleased software. This backs up claims of a “significant system-wide UI overhaul,” which would require a way to hide the new look.

Everything we know could be wrong

Of course, while WSJ says that this new, flat iOS is happening, John Gruber says he’s hearing that Apple may unveil something completely different.

“I heard from somebody that, ‘all the leaks are wrong,’ and that’s interesting,” said Gruber. “I have no idea what to make of it.”

So what will Apple show? The blogger isn’t sure, saying that he hasn’t been this “ignorant of what’s coming” since the first iPhone was unveiled. What he has heard is that Apple may show some “polarizing” innovations. 

What should, but probably won’t be in iOS 7

“The iPhone should do things in the background so I don’t have to stare at every app.”

rumor roundup apple ios 7 spotify app screenshotMuch to my surprise as a Windows Phone / Android user, Apple still hasn’t mastered the art of background tasks. It can consistently throw you back into an app exactly where you left off, but that means the app usually does nothing while you were away. It’s simply frozen and unfrozen. Currently, apps like Spotify, and yes, even the new Podcasts app, need to be open to download new content. So the automatic download feature in the Podcasts app essentially just means new episodes begin downloading as soon as you open the app.

While we’d like to see this fixed in iOS 7, with a nice mix of Android’s free-for-all task management and Windows Phone’s tightly managed, battery-savvy multi-tasking, it doesn’t look like we will be seeing it anytime soon. But maybe if we all keep voicing our desire/need to make this happen, Apple will finally start listening an take a move from other companies’ playbook. With so many others being able to provide multitasking capabilities, at this point, there’s no reason Apple shouldn’t be in the same playing field.

“Notifications are still terrible.”

As a whole, notifications feel a bit like a feature thrown in as a crowd pleaser that Apple couldn’t care less about. Android is ruling the roost in this department with 4.2.2 bringing actionable notifications, meaning you can choose to read or reply to text messages right from the drop-down menu, among other tasks. Apple users want that; everybody wants that. Notifications are one of the most difficult things to manage on a smartphone and they need all the help they can get. Making them swipeable would be a great first step; a more swipeable interface in general would help iOS a lot actually.

The swipe-happy Mailbox app is a good example of the demand for it on iOS, with a long line of people signing up to access the beta. The tiny X that currently only deletes notifications in batches (all emails or none of them) is no longer sufficient. Finally, the alert system could use an overhaul as well. It’s funny that Apple has yet to recognize the usefulness of an LED indicator. All Android phones have one. The current system of completely turning the screen on not once, but two times (assuming you don’t cliick on it first) is barbaric and wasteful of precious battery juice.

Unfortunately, none of this is likely anything we can expect to see with iOS 7. Instead, we’ll more than likely just see a minor facelift, with textures taking flight from the pull-down menu. However, while significant actionability may not be introduced, it’s possible we may see more lively widgets added, like live-streaming news updates. And Apple may make it easier to access commonly used utilities, like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

“iOS needs a bigger overhaul.”

rumor roundup apple ios 7 mailbox app screenshotWe covered this up top in the rumor section, but it bears repeating. Apple’s software is getting tired and it’s being left in the dust as Windows Phone continues to get more attractive and Android keeps getting more powerful. Part of that will happen with Ive’s enforcement of a more cohesive user experience that relies less on gradients and textures, but it needs to go further than that. User experience isn’t judged solely on the software’s look; it’s also based on ease of use. A unified way of handling settings would be a good first step. Currently, a random assortment of app settings are handled in-app with others accessed in the stand-alone Settings app.

Furthermore, we’d like to be able to use the apps we want to use, not the ones Apple is pushing. (And maybe Apple’s apps could be improved?) Most of the built-in apps on iOS suck, not just the mapping system. If someone wants to uninstall the built-in Weather app for instance, and replace it with the Weather Network app then that should be able to happen. And we’re just going to say it, if iOS 7 brought support for widgets – both on the lockscreen and the homescreen – we wouldn’t be upset. We might even be excited.

For those of you that enjoy a good mock-up, there are a couple concept videos that have been making the rounds lately, showing off exactly how beautiful a new and improved iOS could be.

First up is a new take on the multitasking system, a major improvement to the icon-based system currently employed by Apple. Jesse Head is the designer. He’s not affiliated with Apple, but seems to have a good handle on the company’s design philosophy as his concept would like right at home on any iDevice. The most compelling parts of his design are the access to quick settings underneath open apps, as well as live previews, which allow the user to scroll between apps while watching them update live.

The second video is a bit longer and therefore covers more proposed features of iOS. The highlight is probably the Notification Center, which the designer, Agente Apple, shows with grouped notifications including an easy way to clear them all out. There are also widgets on display for things like weather and news, as well as a quick way to access common settings. The design is overcrowded, but the idea is solid. The other major overhaul happens with the lockscreen, which Agente Apple envisions with quick links to settings, a border that can change from black to white to suit your device, and more.

Now that we’ve had our time to vent and speculate, it’s your turn. Where do you see iOS 7 in a few months? What features would you like to see make an appearance?

Updated by Jeffrey Van Camp 6-10-2013: 9to5Mac claims to have seen iOS 7 and has made some artistic renditions of what it will look like. We’ve added the info and screenshot.

Updated by Jeffrey Van Camp 6-10-2013: One new source says iOS 7 may be completely different from everything we’ve heard so far, and the WSJ has confirmed much of the rumors here, and the launch of iRadio.

Updated by Joshua Pramis on 6-6-2013: Added many more details about Jony Ive’s black, white, and flat new iOS design and many other changes.

Updated by Andrew Kalinchuk on 4-30-2013: Added more details in the “A flattened, less skeumorphic design” section. New details have re-affirmed that Apple may indeed give iOS a significant overhaul in design.

Article originally published on 4-29-2013.

(Header and homepage image copyright: Blackpool Creative)