My iOS Thoughts in a Nutshell

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In trying to fix a seemingly unsolvable bug with Diana’s iPhone 4S, I asked if she’d want to upgrade it to iOS 7 — thinking that might help after exhausting all other options. Well, it didn’t help, but the upgrade from iOS 6 to 7 on the 4S did give me a fair amount of insight.

The UI of iOS 7 is almost as fluid on the 4S as it is on the 5 and 5s, which tells me, very clearly, that Apple is optimizing iOS 7 for better performance on the 4S instead of optimizing it for peak performance on its latest products. Clearly. How else could you explain that? I mean, yes, the 4S is substantially slower hardware compared to the 5s, but the UI on the springboard, animations, etc. are fairly close to that of the 5s. Granted, animation jank is less pronounced in spots on the 5s, but not to the point where I’d say the 4S is non-responsive.

I had a gut feeling that iOS 7 wasn’t optimized for latest generation hardware. And, apart from somewhat-better UI performance on a 5s, there’s not too much difference in fluidity all around between the 4S, the 5, and the 5s. Animations take longer to cache (?) on the 4S, but I still see initial skips on the 5s (try pulling spotlight down for the first time in a while and you’ll see a skip on the 5s).

I guess Apple could be commended for optimizing its UI to run as well as possible on older hardware, but it also tells me that the company is not taking advantage of what newer hardware can offer the UI. I should not be seeing skips and jumps and dropped frames in animations on the 5s, period. I do, and I’m not alone.

Forget the the UI/UX sloppiness for a moment (that’s an entirely different subject with entirely different consequences); I’m talking about performance of how a piece of hardware feels. The 5s, apart from speedier processing that surfaces in spots, doesn’t look or feel like it’s 2x as fast as the 5.

And enough of this “It’s v1.0; Apple will fix it.” Yes, it’s 1.0, but it feels and looks rushed. Moreover, you don’t know that Apple’s going to fix anything. I’ve warned you never to buy a product based on what it could be but for what it is. I hesitate to compare it to anything other than previous versions of iOS (because that’s its foundation), but if this is representative of the state of software design at Apple… it could be screwed.

You simply can’t compare iOS 7 to an OS that’s been fleshed out for a while, because it is a new product. But that’s what concerns me most. Apple kept too much of the past intact while trying to move forward, and it seemed to make the wrong compromises. iOS 7 needed to remain familiar, but not to the point where the gimmicks (parallax on the iPhone springboard is sloppy, vs. on the iPad screen, which is fantastic) outweigh the inherent benefits of use.

This isn’t about liking skeuomorphism more (though it never really bothered me), and it’s not about not liking change. Hell, I love change at times — when it’s clearly change for the better. I’m not so sure I see iOS 7 as a change for the better all around, though — from design choices to raw UI performance on new or existing hardware. If this is what Apple worked on for a year, and this is what it thinks is better from a UI perspective, then I’m concerned about the future of iOS.

I’m happy that Federighi and Ive get along swimmingly, but… if this the product of such a camaraderie, then maybe they should have fought more with one another?