After a few weeks of using iOS 7 on our main carry-iPhones - and as of last week on our primary iPads - one thing has become abundantly clear, we will soon be communicating with our App users using a dramatically new interaction paradigm.
Not only will touch targets become a serious problem for designers and developers adopting the full iOS 7 "borderless button" mantra - but ensuring the implicit understanding of navigation and input elements will now require an entirely new approach to design and user testing.
While the general aesthetic is not being called into question - we have been as glowing as most as to the overall look and feel of the new OS - from a classic HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) standpoint, the current iteration of iOS 7 may actually be far too ahead of its time. Take for example a typical App Store top menu in iOS 7 running on an iPad (screens 1 & 2 to the left).
At first glance what does the text "iPhone Only" even denote? Is it a direct link or a section title? Leaving aside the clutter of the textual "buttons" along the top nav for a moment, it's completely unclear to the user where text becomes a button and (more crucially) where a button becomes a drop-down.
Remaining on the topic of menu clutter, we have found the iPad Mini to exacerbate the traffic jam of text targets even further - as iPad layouts are further squeezed together to accommodate the smaller 7-inch screen. Obviously we are in the early days (Beta 2) of iOS 7 and given the "build specific" release of the Betas to this point (there are multiple OS builds to accommodate each iPhone/iPad model), it is clear Apple is considering the impact of layout and function on each device.
That said, we have a word of warning - early reports that design would be somewhat more "straightforward" using the iOS 7 methodology were greatly exaggerated.
The challenge now facing App designers is one of passive communication. When is text a button? When is it s drop-down menu? Is the touch target generous enough for each input - and will users intuitively know what each line of text will invoke before they press it?
As developers we are entering into a new relationship with our audience - one where both developer and user are forced to communicate with fewer visual cues. The result will no doubt be spending more (not less!) time iterating and testing our designs. Gone are the days when a handful of team members or friends can successfully 'test' your App and provide adequate feedback.
In the iOS 7 world, project plans will need to be radically evolved - expanding in precisely the areas we initially believed they could contract - design and testing. What was already an agile process will need to become even more iterative to establish a common understanding of this new input paradigm. Design assumptions on navigation, user flow, and layout structure will require rigorous user testing, updates, and re-testing.
After all, we are - in effect - about to begin communicating in an entirely new language.