iOS 7: the app developer's guide

Now the fuss has died down over Apple's new operating system, what do those designing for the platform need to know? WWDC attendee Tammy Coron offers some pointers.

This month was a huge one for Apple, which launched a radically redesigned new operating system, iOS 7, at its worldwide developer's conference (WWDC).

But while most of the world only got to see a few screenshots via the videocast of the keynote, there was plenty more detailed information available to those who had attended the event in person - including iOS developer and regular Creative Bloq contributor Tammy Coron.

Here Tammy tells us what designers need to know about iOS 7, Apple's new direction and the future of app design....

01. We've got our work cut out

The launch of iOS 7 at WWDC was followed by a series of sessions on how to design for the new OS - and videos are now available

Designers, get ready to embark on a long journey. We have a lot of work ahead of us. The good news is, there were many sessions at WWDC covering design, and you can watch the videos online here.

Many of the design sessions stress how iOS 7 brings clarity, deference, and depth to the device. Jony Ive, in a video which played at more than one session (see it here* by clicking on 'Watch the iOS7 video'), sums it up by saying the following things:

  • design defines so much of our experience
  • true simplicity is derived from so much more
  • it's about bringing order to complexity

So what does Ive mean by all of that? Let's take a look at each of the points Apple drove home during WWDC.

* This is the extended video; a shorter version was presented at WWDC.

02. It's all about clarity

Apple redesigned iOS 7 from the ground up. They are trying to make it easier for the user to distinguish the difference between controls and content, while making it obvious that functionality should come first.

Having said that, iOS 7 introduces a new, brighter colour pallete, along with a new lightweight font: Helvetica Neue Ultra Light.

In my opinion, this font is way too thin, especially when viewed against a solid, vibrant background. I suspect this will be the first time I'll need to rely on Accessibility options in order to use my device.

On the plus side, Apple adds font consistency by using dynamic type. Dynamic Type lets designers and developers use a huge range of sizes without compromising readability. It does this by adjusting the font-weight depending on the chosen font size. Essentially, the smaller the font size, the heavier the weight; the larger the font size, the lighter the weight. It also helps with letter-spacing and leading. All in all, this dynamic type helps with legibility at all sizes.

03. Deference is key

The focus for designers should be on functionality and content

During many of the sessions at WWDC, the topic of deference was discussed. Once again, the focus here is on functionality and content, rather than design overload.

By removing much of the heavy ornamentation, like the heavy borders, the dark shading, the bezels, the solid backgrounds, and the "shine", so to speak, Apple has managed to maximize the screen size and deliver what's most important to the user: their content.

While I'm not wild about the overall look of iOS 7 myself, I'm impressed with how Apple has managed to deliver on this idea of bringing content to the forefront. I also love the idea of apps extending their content to the edge of the screen.

Furthermore, Apple has, in many cases, reduced the line weights from two pixels to one. It was explained that their reasons for this change was to take advantage of the Retina displays, and again, to allow more room for content.

04. iOS 7 adds depth

The new 'Slide to Lock' screen is one of many innovations aimed at making things more user-friendly

While you can argue all day about the new colour pallete and the icons (which, incidentally, look as if they were quickly done in MS Paint), one thing is obvious: Apple wanted more than just a new look; they always wanted a new user experience that brings depth and fluidity to the device.

Apple has, though the use of layering, added a wicked cool parallax effect to the device. Icons and alert views seem to hover over the content. But, the depth and fluidity doesn't stop there. A whole new myriad of animations has been added. From the slide to unlock screen to the way applications launch-almost every animation was tweaked. It's as if the icons and the apps are alive.

Come to think of it, the Clock icon, which was forever stuck in time at 10:15, now shows the current time. That's right! Our icons are alive. Well, some of them anyway. It seems the Weather App is still stuck at Partly Cloudy. The question now, at least for me is: will they allow developers to create dynamic icons?

05. Get ready for some wicked-cool APIs

Non-disclosure agreements at WWDC mean developers can't talk about the new APIs yet

Just as designers will have their work cut out for them, the developers will too. I suspect many of us will spend countless hours updating our apps so they will continue to look great on iOS 7. However, I suspect many more of us will be scrambling to implement the new features available with this latest set of APIs. Due to NDA, I'm not able to go into greater detail about the APIs, but what I can tell you is that there are more than 1500 new APIs, and they're fantastic!

The new APIs represent an excellent opportunity for developers, and I encourage you to review the developer-centric session videos. Although I found some of them to be a bit dry, there were a handful that left me wanting more. One such session covered the UIScrollView. While there wasn't too much new about it, this session was an awesome one to watch, and I highly recommend it.

I also recommend watching the sessions on Sprite Kit, UIKit Dynamics, and Text Kit. These are, quite possibly, my favourite new frameworks!

Looking to the future

Do you actually want to design for iOS 7?

Hopefully I've provided a few useful pointers as to think about designing for iOS 7. But there remains a further, important question - do you actually want to?

As you've probably gathered by now, I'm personally not bowled over by iOS 7. On the one hand, the developer in me is excited about the incredible new APIs. On the other hand, the designer in me wants to run from the room screaming, "My eyes! My eyes! Make the burning stop!"

After only playing with iOS 7 for a couple of weeks, I'm already missing the old look. While I'm fully in favour of the minimalistic approach, I think it's a little too over the top; the font is too thin, the colours too bright, and the contrast almost non-existent. What were you thinking, Jony? Someone really needs to take away your box of crayons and give you a time out.

Will I continue to be an iOS developer? Absolutely. Will I ever fall in love with the design? Meh. Probably not. But, I can overlook a lot in favour of the coolness and technical advances in iOS 7. And, I can also tell you that my game development is about to get a much-needed boost.

Now, go watch those videos!

Words: Tammy Coron

Tammy Coron is an iOS developer, backend developer, web developer, writer, and illustrator. She blogs at Just Write Code.

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