(Warning: The following is an incredibly nitpicky article about design, but it’s written by a guy who believes that tiny details can drastically color people’s experiences with everyday objects. You’ve been warned.)
Every interaction in iOS7 is animated. When you unlock your device, the icons fly in from the side. When you open an app, its icon grows and fills the screen. When you open a folder, the folder slides smoothly into the center of the screen. These animations give iOS7 its Vaseline-smooth feel, but there’s a catch:
The animations are slow, intrusive, and they make the entire OS feel unresponsive.
The Unlocking Animation: A Case Study
I’m going to use the screen unlocking animation as an example, but this problem has infiltrated every corner of the OS (including folder interaction and the multitasking screen). I’ve embedded some videos, but if you have an iOS device feel free to play along at home.
Here’s the unlocking animation in iOS7 (1.5 seconds)
Here’s the unlocking animation in iOS6 (0.5 seconds)
It doesn’t look too remarkable. In fact the new animation looks pretty good. But the new animation is three times as long as the old one, which exposes some pretty notable flaws.
1) You cannot progress until the animation finishes.
If you attempt to open an app during the animation, it delays. If you attempt to swipe to another screen… you just can’t. You are required to wait until the animation ends. User progress is impeded for the sake of visual flair. There is a wall of time between you and your productivity. That doesn’t sit well with me at all.
2) It’s impossible to know exactly when the animation is complete.
Keeping in mind that I am being asked to wait until the animation finishes, it would be nice to know when, exactly, that happens. The icons fall into place one at a time (which is absolutely lovely), but it means that I have no clear visual indication that the “cutscene” is complete.
On top of that, the icons slow down as they approach their destination for added smoothness. This means that I might think the animation is done when, in fact, one of the icons is a pixel away from its destination, which means my swipe will be ignored.
3) 1.5 seconds is a long time to wait for something that should be invisible.
Neither of the problems listed above would actually be problems if the animation was faster. Simple as that.
iOS6 proves this because (fun fact) it is just as animated as iOS7. The animations in 6 are as omnipresent as in 71, but you don’t notice them because they get out of your way.
I’ve noticed a lot of people complaining that iOS7 is sluggish on their older devices, but I would not be surprised if a significant portion of those complaints are solely based on the fact that the animations are three times slower.2
There’s three possible ways this could be improved:
Speed up all the animations. This is definitely my preference. The OS would lose some of its “liquidy” feel, but it would be a pleasure to use again. This would refocus the experience to be more about the apps and less about the operating system.
Add an option to skip animations. This, somehow, seems the least likely option. In the past Apple has preferred to solve problems universally, instead of letting users tweak little nit-picky settings like this.
Allow the animations to be interrupted. If drawing attention to the animations and the liquid feel of the OS is a priority (which I can imagine it is), then at least let me get them out of the way when I need to do things fast. Let me swipe or tap out in the middle of them.
This problem feels superficial (probably because it is superficial), but honestly I feel like it epitomizes a deeper truth about iOS7’s design philosophies.
During the moments that I’m forced to wait and watch my device be pretty, I can’t help but think that Apple is trying to tell me how much they love their design more than they love their users.
I don’t believe for a second that anyone at Apple thinks that way, but that’s definitely the message I’m receiving.