Apple softer look

MacBH928

macrumors 601
Original poster
May 17, 2008
4,177
1,552
So I couldnt help notice that in Windows and Android and maybe Linux the GUI is razor sharp in high resolution, and while you think sharper is better I find that Apple's GUI for MacOS and iOS has a “softer” look more eye pleasing, I found GNOME DE for linux to carry same look. Can someone explain to me what is going on here and how Apple GUI although high resolution still looks soft. Also is there a name for the art style for Apple gui like icons, I remember it follows a specific form
 

buttongerald

macrumors regular
Jan 29, 2016
192
289
St. John's, Newfoundland
When it comes to the "softer" look, it's all in the shading and texture choices used for the UI.. macOS uses a lot of softer grey and white hues, and what accents do feature color aren't reliant on the highest possible shade. What you get is something that blends together nicely.

I'll be brutally honest though, I miss the brushed metal style that we had in early releases of the OS. I loved that. I know nostalgia is a fickle thing, but I created a virtual machine many moons back and went into Tiger and I loved just as much as I did when it launched.
 
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MacBH928

macrumors 601
Original poster
May 17, 2008
4,177
1,552
When it comes to the "softer" look, it's all in the shading and texture choices used for the UI.. macOS uses a lot of softer grey and white hues, and what accents do feature color aren't reliant on the highest possible shade. What you get is something that blends together nicely.

I'll be brutally honest though, I miss the brushed metal style that we had in early releases of the OS. I loved that. I know nostalgia is a fickle thing, but I created a virtual machine many moons back and went into Tiger and I loved just as much as I did when it launched.

so thats all there is to it just gradients? But its not just the icons its the whole OS, the edge of the icons, the scroll bars, windows...etc etc even the fonts look softer. The one thing I find sharp is the cursors.

I found a good image to illustrate my point

You can see how the android apps are sharper and more straight while iOS looks soft.

As for the brushed metal look, it was good for its time but very 90s looking. I feel the current gradient grey makes a perfect substitute. The upcoming white and translucent menus is horrible. Feels like its something from from a Sci-Fi movie to make it look "futuristic and advanced" than practical.
 

Herbert123

macrumors member
Mar 19, 2009
42
34
It's really quite simple when comparing the two screens side by side: the Android screen has far more contrast.

Do this little test: walk away from the screen; perhaps a few meters, and examine the image once more. Notice how the icons on the left remain individually visible, while the iOS screen becomes mush/noise.

A couple of obvious visual reasons for this effect and the "softer" less constrast-rich look:
  • Android uses a dark, almost black, background. iOS in this example a mid-range to high range bright background.
  • The icons in Android have far more visual contrast when put on an almost black background, compared to some of the icons in iOS almost blending with the background colour.
  • iOS background includes fuzzy blurry circles. "soft"
  • icons in iOS all have fuzzy blurred dropshadows. More "soft". This dropshadow is required to increase the contrast between the light background and the icons, because otherwise they would blend in too much. The dropshadows visually contribute to a "floaty" feel as well.
  • icons in iOS all sport rounded corners, while the Android icons have no such uniform framing. Round is "softer" again.
  • The icons in the Android version are far more visually distinct compared to the iOS brethren. Each icon's outline is unique. The iOS icon's outlines are completely uniform instead. Imagine converting each to a black and white filled outlined version (no greys): icons in the Android version would still be identifiable, while the iOS icons would all turn into rounded rectangles with no identifiable shapes to differentiate between them.
  • the icon labels use white text in both cases, but because of the brighter background in iOS, the lack of contrast hurts the readability. The lack of contrast in the iOS version further enhances the "soft" look.
  • Black does not compete or blend much with the icons in the Android version. The light blue/purplish tints in the iOS version are shared by a number of icons, however, further reducing contrast, and enhancing the overall "soft" feel.
Let's compare the histograms of both:

curves.png


The Android version's background is clearly distinguishable and defined (left). Dark values take up the bottom 10% dark values, leaving a lot of space for the icons and text labels to "live in" without blending into the background.

In contrast, the iOS screen is far less controlled, and the icons and background share the same value range. Which explains again why it looks "softer", but at the expense of far less readability and a visually more uniform yet noisy vague screen.

In the end a convincing case could be made that Android's esthetic visual design choices assist the user in distinguishing and identifying icons and clear readability of text labels, while on the other hand the iOS version is rather distinctly lacking in this area, sacrificing visual contrast for the sake of a "softer look".

I notice my own eyes jumping between icons much more in the iOS screen as well (anecdotal: an eye tracking test would probably confirm this based on my usability testing experience), because everything is very, very uniformly shaped, while the Android version is easier for our visual system to "understand". Basically, less noise in the Android version. All the design decisions in the iOS version to create a "softer" visual look also contribute to a far less contrast-rich and distinguishable GUI.

Please note that the question of which version would be preferred from an esthetic point of view is a personal one. User research has pointed out to us that nice looking esthetics fools the user into believing that the actual usability is better too - which is not the case.

- - Post merged: - -

PS I asked my wife to locate the Maps icon in both versions and tap it, while I timed it.

Android: 1 second.
iOS: 22 seconds. Her eyes were darting around like crazy, and her finger floating all over the image.
 
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MacBH928

macrumors 601
Original poster
May 17, 2008
4,177
1,552
It's really quite simple when comparing the two screens side by side: the Android screen has far more contrast.

Do this little test: walk away from the screen; perhaps a few meters, and examine the image once more. Notice how the icons on the left remain individually visible, while the iOS screen becomes mush/noise.

A couple of obvious visual reasons for this effect and the "softer" less constrast-rich look:
  • Android uses a dark, almost black, background. iOS in this example a mid-range to high range bright background.
  • The icons in Android have far more visual contrast when put on an almost black background, compared to some of the icons in iOS almost blending with the background colour.
  • iOS background includes fuzzy blurry circles. "soft"
  • icons in iOS all have fuzzy blurred dropshadows. More "soft". This dropshadow is required to increase the contrast between the light background and the icons, because otherwise they would blend in too much. The dropshadows visually contribute to a "floaty" feel as well.
  • icons in iOS all sport rounded corners, while the Android icons have no such uniform framing. Round is "softer" again.
  • The icons in the Android version are far more visually distinct compared to the iOS brethren. Each icon's outline is unique. The iOS icon's outlines are completely uniform instead. Imagine converting each to a black and white filled outlined version (no greys): icons in the Android version would still be identifiable, while the iOS icons would all turn into rounded rectangles with no identifiable shapes to differentiate between them.
  • the icon labels use white text in both cases, but because of the brighter background in iOS, the lack of contrast hurts the readability. The lack of contrast in the iOS version further enhances the "soft" look.
  • Black does not compete or blend much with the icons in the Android version. The light blue/purplish tints in the iOS version are shared by a number of icons, however, further reducing contrast, and enhancing the overall "soft" feel.
Let's compare the histograms of both:

View attachment 928098

The Android version's background is clearly distinguishable and defined (left). Dark values take up the bottom 10% dark values, leaving a lot of space for the icons and text labels to "live in" without blending into the background.

In contrast, the iOS screen is far less controlled, and the icons and background share the same value range. Which explains again why it looks "softer", but at the expense of far less readability and a visually more uniform yet noisy vague screen.

In the end a convincing case could be made that Android's esthetic visual design choices assist the user in distinguishing and identifying icons and clear readability of text labels, while on the other hand the iOS version is rather distinctly lacking in this area, sacrificing visual contrast for the sake of a "softer look".

I notice my own eyes jumping between icons much more in the iOS screen as well (anecdotal: an eye tracking test would probably confirm this based on my usability testing experience), because everything is very, very uniformly shaped, while the Android version is easier for our visual system to "understand". Basically, less noise in the Android version. All the design decisions in the iOS version to create a "softer" visual look also contribute to a far less contrast-rich and distinguishable GUI.

Please note that the question of which version would be preferred from an esthetic point of view is a personal one. User research has pointed out to us that nice looking esthetics fools the user into believing that the actual usability is better too - which is not the case.

- - Post merged: - -

PS I asked my wife to locate the Maps icon in both versions and tap it, while I timed it.

Android: 1 second.
iOS: 22 seconds. Her eyes were darting around like crazy, and her finger floating all over the image.
I highly appreciate the effort you put into reply to this post. Are you a UX designer?

As for the icon identification, I too found the Android one faster, but I think it has a lot to do with identifying the famous Google Maps icon and the the skeuomorph of the folding map. People were so upset with skeuomorph on previous iOS versions.

While I accept and agree(I guess) with all your points I still find the softer more attractive and pleasing to use than Android's more "serious" and "enterprise" looking GUI.
 
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