Apple is set to do a major refresh of iOS and the first public unveiling is expected to be at its Worldwide Developers Conference in June. The key is reducing UI complexity while enhancing UX. With Jony Ivy now leading both hardware and software design efforts for iPhone, iPad, and iPod, Apple is closer to making this happen.
iOS’ overall look and feel hasn’t radically changed much since 2007, though it was both disruptive and immensely appealing when it debuted. Apple has since been in a leadership position in both smartphones and tablets.
The UI and UX of native iOS apps haven’t dramatically changed much over the years. There have been noticeable improvements and interaction between apps has improved greatly. But it’s still the same basic UI shell that has begun to look dated compared to the newer approaches coming out of Android and most recently Windows Phone.
Apple is now trying to turn the page on UI and UX now that younger generations are adopting its device platforms in record numbers. iOS 7 is expected to debut at WDC in June, and after that I expect iterations of various native apps to happen in less major updates over time, in traditional Apple fashion.
Apple Isn’t Broken, Wall Street Is
While Wall Street has punished Apple’s stock price, its customer base remains loyal as both smartphone and tablet markets continue to grow globally. Apple’s revenue growth has slowed but at some point, the world’s most admired company that has consistently exceeded analysts’ expectations each quarter for years, had to grow up. That growth path was not sustainable.
Apple still has an admired business model and their design influence is pervasive. Just look at all of those who have tried to copy it and how their approach has spread to other segments and industries. No it’s Wall Street’s myopic focus on quarterly profits and increasing margins that benefit shareholders — largely institutional investors — that seem to make news headlines these days. It doesn’t matter that a company is wildly profitable, sits on a mountain of cash, continues to delight its customers, and still has the level of customer loyalty that other brands will still die for.
As more of Apple’s growth starts to come out of emerging markets, it will translate to lower margins, as more affordable device solutions will be required for those markets. But Wall Street won’t be happy with that. Steve Jobs has a certain disdain for the street, and that feeling needs to continue with Tim Cook, otherwise your eyes get diverted from the path.
Apple is under increasing pressure to innovate as many see little improvement since the iPhone 4. Though I would argue that hardware design innovation is not enough without considerable improvements in software and UX.
Lately, Samsung and Microsoft have garnered kudos around their new UX and software efforts, so much that the heat is on Apple to keep innovating since it was the UX leader in mobile.
iOS could use some cleaning up as far as reducing the number of steps to do certain tasks. Tighter integration between apps such as email, calendar, and address book is needed too. Apple’s next approach to these basic productivity apps will be based more on pleasing younger generations of customers, especially as they enter the workforce over the next five years. This may bring a fresh new approach.
Apple is moving away from its current skeumorphic or layered design towards a much flatter and less cluttered UI that will scale across even more core apps. Ivy, whose always focused on a “less is more” hardware design is the right person to be leading the UI and UX charge. The overall hardware and software UX need to be even more tightly coupled. Apple will deliver new UX vision.
Going Beyond Screen Gestures
Apple made accelerometers and sensors big. But lately there’s been a movement within mobile to push gesture recognition into new areas, where you don’t have to physically touch the device. Samsung is seen as a pioneer in this space, and there are also developments over in the Windows Mobile camp. So it would be no surprise if Apple showed new gesture controls at WDC that did not involve touching a screen.
While there’s been a lot of buzz around augmented reality on mobile, a lot of the work has not been fully monetized. There’s an increasing amount of focus now around extending UI into three-dimensional space. Off device gesturing is just one way to do that. The next generation of mobile devices are important as they will offer the performance headroom to deliver these new capabilities.
For Apple that will mean getting its more than half a billion installed base of iOS customers onto new designs. While the company has prolonged the life of older iPhone designs, now offering iPhone 4, 4s, and 5 models, we may see this compress in the wake of a totally new approach to UI in iOS 7 that will require more performance capabilities.
A New Analytics Horizon
A completely new UI and UX will also be key for Apple to layer in new tools to understand in more detail how people interact with devices at a deeper level. This includes monitoring not just application usage but also in app tasks, plus some form of body monitoring as gesture control moves to three-dimensional space. Samsung is already experimenting with eye monitoring. This takes analytics to a different level.
Apple has always sported a clean easy-to-use interface but the explosion of native apps as well as those via the app store can easily translate to a cluttered environment. Reducing complexity in native apps and then showing developers how to do the same as they work on iOS7 versions of their apps will be key for the Apple going forward.