Reality Absorption Field: From Passé to Pastels

If tradition and reported rumors prevail, September will likely mark the debut of iOS 7, which Apple characterizes as the biggest revision to its mobile operating system since the its debut. It includes a host of features that range from the nice-to-have (such as iTunes Radio and updates to Notification Center) to features that could make for huge changes in how consumers navigate and use their iPhones and iPads (Control Center, AirDrop and better photo management). There have also been some key gesture changes. For example, on the app launchpad, Control Center is activated with a swipe from the bottom and the search page has been replaced with a swipe down.

And that would all be fine, but what would an Apple product be without something at least a bit polarizing. In this case, it's the aesthetics of iOS 7, with a host of parody Web sites giving the "Jonny Ive" software design makeover to all manner of logos and other artwork. iOS 7 may also introduce some icon inconsistencies between Apple's mobile devices and the Mac; an example is the proposed icon for Safari. But current iOS users will hardly be lost in iOS 7; the icon grid remains intact with no top-level bubbling of app functionality to answer Android widgets or Windows Live Tiles.

The new aesthetic of iOS 7 has a few main characteristics.

  • Simplification and minimal ornamentation. At the introduction of iOS 7, several jokes were made at the expense of current and former releases of Apple operating systems and apps, including the green felt casino game motif of Game Center and the remnant torn paper in OS X's Calendar. Instead, iOS 7 will err on the side of abstract representations. One of the best examples of this kind of change is iOS' Photos app. Today, it features a detailed depiction of a flower. But that's slated to be replaced by eight overlapping color ovals.

  • New typography with a focus on taller fonts with a thinner weight that take advantage of Apple's high-density displays.

  • A new color palette that leans heavily on pastels.

  • Extended use of translucence.

To the extent there is a real risk, however, it is not that consumers will reject the look of iOS 7 so much as that Apple risks losing some differentiation on the look of the OS. This is particularly true when compared with Android, which has also embraced taller, thinner fonts albeit mostly in Google's own apps (on Android and iOS). Windows Phone has also done this to an extent although mostly in the navigation of its "panoramic" navigation at the top of its apps. Skeumorphism brought a bit of levity to the Apple OS experience. Regardless of whether one loved it or hated it, though, it was -- in part due to their competitive reactions -- a contrast from the flatter designs of other phone interfaces.

The new look of iOS 7 is but one of its new features. It may not ease the daily routine -- or even the eyestrain -- of its users, but ultimately it is something of a red herring once the initial visual shock subsides. Most users will probably not think twice about it a few days after acclimating to it. For those whose feelings for green felt were heartfelt, a trip to your friendly Internet poker site may be able to help relive the glory days.

Ross Rubin is principal analyst at Reticle Research, a research and advisory firm focusing on consumer technology adoption. He shares commentary at Techspressive and on Twitter at @rossrubin.