Wednesday, June 12, 2013

iOS 7: Borrowed or natural evolution?

In the last few days, since iOS 7 announcement from Apple, you can read everywhere that the new look and the news features were basically stolen or borrowed from competitors. That may be true or that may be simply a natural technical evolution in the world of mobile devices. I personally think that it's a mix of both.

A smartphone, as it is currently designed, is a device that let's you access apps using a list of icons, displayed in a grid. iOS, Android, BB10 and Windows 8 are all inspired by this basic interface.

Starting from this interface, composed of touchable icons, you will eventually generate new concepts that will overlap in design and features. Take a 1000 designers and ask them to make the best looking interface based on this kind of display. There is a good chance that all good designs will look similar in one way or another, even if these 1000 designers never knew what the others were working on. A good idea will always be a good idea. Is it impossible that two persons may have the same idea at the same time? Definitely!

Of course, designers are human can be influenced by external factors. Fashion trends may influence the colour palette to use. An old 3D look will eventually be transformed into a flat one, until it gets old again and revert back to a brand new 3D look. Customers asking the same things over and over again will eventually provide some inspiration. You know, with time, trends come back...

- Flat is now good looking. We seen 3D looking GUI for so many years now that anything else looks better. Remember when people wanted 3D everywhere, even on a 2D display? Flat is now "THE THING"!

- Moving background, basically borrowed from Android. Not exactly. In Android, you can have a moving wallpaper. iOS 7 is providing a way of having contextual moving background. The weather app is using this feature perfectly, creating a visual effect that is amazing. Moving background have been existing for many years, on Windows or on Linux. The idea is not new, but having contextual moving background is quite amazing.

- Notification Center and Control Panel, also borrowed from Android. Have users been asking for a long time for a way to control their iPhone without having to go into settings? Jailbroken devices have had some solutions and Android devices have had that features for a long time. So what should Apple do? Never implement it and be accused of not listening to their users or create their own implementation and be accused of borrowing? This one is easy to answer...

- Look and Feel looks like Windows 8. Not at all. Apple followed the new trend: flat, colourful, simple. As Microsoft did, as Google did, as Blackberry did (?). In a few years, the new trend will be 3D, dark with less graphics elements, or whatever...

Some features were borrowed, others were asked by users and many were planned years ago, before any bloggers started ranting about who cheated the most. Do you really think that Apple, Google and Microsoft released a new design that was created just a few weeks ago after seeing a screenshot leaked on the Internet from a competitor? Those designs were planned for many years and they probably all had the same vision of what would be great based on what has been available for a long time. After 3D, there is Flat. After Flat, 3D will come back.

I'm currently working on I'm not much of a designer but thought that having a semi-transparent panel over a colourful background would look nice, different. I did that design a few weeks ago, a few weeks before the release of iOS 7. While watching the WWDC, I realized that Apple did the same thing, having a transparency on the display "to give a sense of depth". Was I influenced by a leaked screen capture? I don't think so as I don't recall having seen this concept from them.

I simply came up with the idea by looking at my iPhone display and realizing that the background wallpaper was hidden completely by the panels and icons in my interface. I'm pretty sure that Apple had planned that design way before me. They didn't borrow from me (I surely hope) and I didn't borrow from them. I just had the same idea, the same vision just by thinking about it and trying to see how to make it different.

The only thing that is worth talking about is how each company is implementing a concept. Shouting that the concept was borrowed, stolen or copied doesn't make the original the best... In the end, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Blackberry are trying to provide the best to their users. If they don't, they'll disappear!

Patrick Balleux