Is Apple falling behind when it comes to UI/UX design?

alco

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Original poster
Sep 18, 2014
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This year (and late last year) have been really exciting on the technology front, especially in my career field of design. (Note: this is not a rant thread, we're here to have a discussion).

Microsoft detailed last fall a new design language known as "Fluent Design" - it takes the approach of having slightly glassy effects while also heavily relying on depth and motion to give apps and the OS a unique feel and interface hierarchy. This past week, Microsoft took the next step in this language's evolution by detailing several updates at its Build conference.

Meanwhile, down near Mountain View, Big G has been working on Material Design 2 (a refresh, less blocky, less Roboto version of their design language). It has a lighter and more playful look to it. Google also took steps to redesign things like the Volume HUD, enhance notifications, and adopt iPhone X-esque gestures across the OS.

Both of these updates are incredibly nice looking. Microsoft has finally shrugged off its Metro language (that is really only partially adopted) and Google is on a redesign spree with Android, Gmail, GDrive, etc.

Apple, on the other hand, seems to have lost focus. Apple's design language since iOS 7 really hasn't evolved to overcome some of the most basic frustrations (I'm looking at you, Volume HUD that blocks everything I view). Sure, there have been tweaks to fonts (San Francisco and the new BOLD text), but I haven't seen that iterative improvement like Microsoft and Google have detailed. We've got this mix of boldly flat and bright colors that somehow cross with a frosted glass effect. There's part of the OS that wants to be taken super seriously (like the Camera, Compass, and Stocks) and then there's other apps (like Notes and Reminders) that are content being faux-realistic with bright white background and poorly contrasted interface elements. Beyond that, we've seen a slight shift to a more bubbly interface language (lock screen notifications are a prime example), but this hasn't ventured much further than the lock screen and widget area.

Apple doesn't feel like it has a direction, it doesn't seem to understand where it wants to go. There's not a discernible refinement that's been occurring - sure there have been changes, but you can't (at least I can't) see how they were much beyond personal preferences rather than true improvements.

Again, this isn't a rant thread (there are plenty of problems with iOS and its design but this isn't the place for them). Do you think Apple has fallen behind in interface/UX design?
 

ApfelKuchen

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I'm not a graphic designer, so my apologies in advance. When I do get involved in design, it's on the functional end (though I feel fine kibitzing the work of the graphic designers with whom I've collaborated). From my perspective, much of what you're talking about is what I consider the eye candy side of design - refreshing the look, but not necessarily extending functionality (I'm entertained by Apple's motion effect, but I don't see how it improved device function). Yeah, you're asking for some cleanup (Volume HUD), and some greater consistency between apps (Camera vs. Notes), but that doesn't require a new design language.

In my somewhat cynical view, a new design language would make your job more interesting/challenging, but there's no guarantee it'll improve usability.

I guess it's nice to read that Microsoft is doing something good with its UI. Considering some of the disasters in their fairly recent past, I'd say anything they're doing now is necessary to make up for those spectacular messes.

Amidst the claims that Apple hasn't done much lately, you say (emphasis added):
Google also took steps to redesign things like the Volume HUD, enhance notifications, and adopt iPhone X-esque gestures across the OS.
Who, then, is leading who?

Arguably (it's all arguable), the elimination of the Home button, the addition of 3D sensing (of which Face ID is just the tip of the UI iceberg), AI Kit, the MacBook Pro's Touch Bar, and the like are driving real UI change - the manner in which users interact with the machine. Yeah, Apple's graphic design language has been undergoing tweaks rather than a wholesale redesign. My suspicion is that Apple will keep on tweaking until shifts in underlying technology justify a more far-reaching change.

As to the notion of "falling behind" - this has always seemed a see-saw battle, rather than a linear footrace to me.
 

NoBoMac

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Jul 1, 2014
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Well, seeing that Apple has not had their developers conference yet, a little early to be throwing Apple under the bus. Not that I expect anything new this year.

From the sound of things, Apple will be addressing quality/bugs vs. lots of new features and pretty stuff this next OS cycle. OK by me as there are lots of things that need to be fixed that just make things work correctly. I just want things to work, and never really care about specific UI/UX choices, paradigms. Sure, do come across choices that were made that make me scratch my head, but still comes down to "it is what it is" to me.

As for holding up Google as an example, have never been a fan of their apps and their cards-like paradigm. Their apps, at least to/for me, are even more hobbled than Apple's. I have them on my iOS devices, and only pull one of them up every couple of months to do one thing (eg. report an email as Spam or not, since Apple's Mail app does not report that back to Google).

In my somewhat cynical view, a new design language would make your job more interesting/challenging, but there's no guarantee it'll improve usability.
This.

I have worked in the engineering world my entire life, and you see a similar type of thing quite often. Engineers want to use the latest tech, not because it will improve the product, but because they want to play with the new shiny toys and put another checkbox on the resume. I remember reading a "Harvard Business Review" article years ago by a VP of a company that spelled out how their latest re-imagined version of their software got lost down a rabbit of hole of going from improving the software to support the next wave of tech that the tools needed to target/support to getting massive scope-creep of "let's add this, 'cause it would be neat/fun for us to do, even if no value-add for the customer".
 
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az431

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Apple doesn't feel like it has a direction, it doesn't seem to understand where it wants to go. There's not a discernible refinement that's been occurring - sure there have been changes, but you can't (at least I can't) see how they were much beyond personal preferences rather than true improvements.
Disagree. Every iteration of iOS has brought changes that for the most part were significant improvements, and iOS 11 is one of the best, particularly with respect to multi-tasking.

Again, this isn't a rant thread (there are plenty of problems with iOS and its design but this isn't the place for them). Do you think Apple has fallen behind in interface/UX design?
Your post is a rant. If you have suggestions pass them on to Apple. Debating this issue with strangers who are unaffiliated with Apple serves no purpose; ie., a rant.

In addition, you don’t offer any objective analysis or constructive suggestions. You basically disagree with color schemes and visual design elements, which are subjective traits that people will view differently. UX is about making things intuitive and easy to use, and Apple’s products have always led the way in that regard.
 
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pika2000

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Jun 22, 2007
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These kind of threads usually end up with people claiming lack of UI/UX design just because they want something to look different. Change for the sake of change. I mean look at Google, they cannot even stick with one set of theme for Android settings page (going from dark theme, white theme, monotone, and then colored icons, all just to show it’s different on every new Android version). Change for the sake of change.
 

GIZBUG

macrumors 68020
Oct 28, 2006
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Do you think Apple has fallen behind in interface/UX design?
Yes. Design / layout is becoming stale. People are forced to jailbreak to see something different. Only option for non-jailbreakers is changing wallpaper, and that just doesn't do justice.
Don't plan on a design change anytime. We were suppose to see a UI overhaul on iTunes, and that was announced YEARS ago. Anything change UI wise? Nope. Not a priority.
 

bluecoast

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I’d just like to see Apple be consistent with their UI.

iOS 11 apps sometimes have the new bold headings and the use of thicker fonts throughout for sub-headings:

Music
News
Mail
Settings

And sometimes not:

Calendar (practically unchanged since iOS 7
Watch & Health (which have more or less looked the same since iOS 8-9), Stocks
Find my iPhone
etc.

Music even has iOS 8 era UI existing alongside iOS 11.

Go to the area in your account in Apple Music where you pick artists to personalise the service for you and you’ll see a series of screens with the super thin fonts of iOS 8.

And then we have the textures and ‘letterpress’ look of Notes & Tasks (which were always an anomaly in the minimalistic iOS 7).

Talking of iOS 7, whether you loved it or hated it, it was the last time that iOS felt consistent.

Nowadays iOS looks like a collection of design experiments from the different eras since 7.

Moreover, it’s very obvious which apps Apple is paying attention to:

App Store, News, Music

And where Apple has more or less forgotten that they exist:

Weather, Calender, Find my iPhone

I don’t think that we need another huge redesign similar to iOS 7 but I do hope that at WWDC we see the design language of iOS tightened up much more.

Finally, in the age of ‘Time Well Spent’ and bright vivid OLED (and LED) screens it would be great to see the design language emphasising de-saturated colours more and a little less dazzling white space - I don’t own an iPhone X but I feel like putting on some sunglasses whenever I use one! :cool:
 

partsofspeech

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Apr 6, 2018
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I just hope if Apple is going to modify UI/UX of iOS, Cupertino will not copy Google’s design like they did with the flat one. I would like Apple to bring back icons with 3-D shading, which would give intuitive visual cue for TrueDepth.
 

zorinlynx

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May 31, 2007
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The volume HUD is an interesting example. It's something that is so incredibly easy to fix, that you have to assume that Apple deliberately does not want to fix it. The question then becomes, why don't they? Why does Apple feel that putting the HUD front and center blocking everything is the best way?

There has to be some reasoning behind it. Despite what some of us say, the company isn't run by idiots. I'd love to know what they're thinking.
 
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bluecoast

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Just chipping in again with (hopefully) an insight into an an answer around the question to:

‘X is obviously broken/messy, why doesn’t Apple fix it?’

I’ve worked at a very large hierarchal company (as Apple is by all accounts) and what happens is that there are only a few people at the top of the pyramid who can sign major changes off/initiate strategies/new products.

And these people only have so much time in the day, even if they work 10-12 hour days (or more).

I’m not saying if this is the right or wrong approach - it’s just the consequence of running a company like that.

So the answer to ‘why does iOS look a mess nowadays?’ simply could be:

‘Because by 2014, Ive was working on the Watch and only had time to look at Yosemite that year.

Then by 2015-7 he was working on EarPods and the new Apple campus and other top secret prototypes that we don’t know much about. And oh yeah, the iPhone X. And that HomePod thing. Whatever.

Since early this year, he’s now has time to look in more detail at the software UX. We’ll see a few changes because of this at WWDC.

Prior to that, no significant changes were made to any of the OS and apps apart from a few tweaks here and there that Ive could feed back on in the hour or so that he had free to devote to UX matters’.
 

partsofspeech

macrumors regular
Apr 6, 2018
233
254
Just chipping in again with (hopefully) an insight into an an answer around the question to:

‘X is obviously broken/messy, why doesn’t Apple fix it?’

I’ve worked at a very large hierarchal company (as Apple is by all accounts) and what happens is that there are only a few people at the top of the pyramid who can sign major changes off/initiate strategies/new products.

And these people only have so much time in the day, even if they work 10-12 hour days (or more).

I’m not saying if this is the right or wrong approach - it’s just the consequence of running a company like that.

So the answer to ‘why does iOS look a mess nowadays?’ simply could be:

‘Because by 2014, Ive was working on the Watch and only had time to look at Yosemite that year.

Then by 2015-7 he was working on EarPods and the new Apple campus and other top secret prototypes that we don’t know much about. And oh yeah, the iPhone X. And that HomePod thing. Whatever.

Since early this year, he’s now has time to look in more detail at the software UX. We’ll see a few changes because of this at WWDC.

Prior to that, no significant changes were made to any of the OS and apps apart from a few tweaks here and there that Ive could feed back on in the hour or so that he had free to devote to UX matters’.
Ive-Cook fired top iOS architects, who cared and knew millions times more than Warren Buffett does about end user UI/UX.
[doublepost=1526274433][/doublepost]Who is the top designer of UI/UX at Apple? What’s the current version of design guidebook? Who in the Apple has the expertise of combining AI with UX?
 
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sjtidy

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Oct 29, 2011
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I think there has actually been quite a large shift in iOS UI design, where it’s borrowing elements first bought in on Apple Watch.

The bubble style is creeping into more elements of the UI - notifications, widgets, 3D Touch, control centre, Siri, Home app - that seems to be where the UI is heading. Things are also becoming less thin and delicate, and more rounded and bold.

I think Apple is testing out the newer styles, before bringing them to the rest of the OS. I can imagine the bubbles becoming rounded boxes for groups in the Settings app, for example.
 
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skillwill

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Feb 12, 2008
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I’d just like to see Apple be consistent with their UI.
Agreed the inconsistencies are infuriating, particularly as they are part of the basics. You don’t expect basic issues to reach past beta 1 or 2 but we’re 13 public releases in and, for example, the alignment of the Bold Head in Mail is still wrong (it’s further to the right, in every other app it’s left aligned to the search bar below it).
 

defn

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Apr 25, 2015
105
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If you're counting in terms of gimmicks and changes for changes sake, then sure they've always been behind.

If you're counting in terms of the technology "disappearing into the background" then I still think they're way ahead. I wouldn't trade swipe from edge, scrolling smoothness, the gesture interface on the iPhone X (look at the mess on Android P) and making payments via Siri for Material Design 2.0 or "Depth and Motion".

N.B. The sloppiness (e.g. alignments, ridiculous reading layout in iBooks vs. Safari Reader) exists, but is a separate issue though.
 

mjschabow

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Dec 25, 2013
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I think it all depends on taste. In no way do I think Apple looks like it's behind. I had an LG G6 and their stock ui/icons looked like an Android from 2012. So going back to an iPhone felt really new and modern to me. Google's design looks nice but it's still really inconsistent for my tastes. I appreciate that Apple sticks to a design and modifies it instead of completely overhauling every couple years.
 

dontpokebearz

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Feb 16, 2018
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I would agree with you. I always thought that iOS 6 looked like a mature UI, and iOS 7 onward is just full of clashing colors and inconsistencies. Also, why doesn't Apple have a design "language" like Google or Microsoft?
 
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macduke

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Apple is rumored to not have many new features this year and be mostly focusing on bug fixes. But what if the design changes are also being secretly worked on? After all, the teaser for WWDC has all these UI components. It would be nice if they could consistently unify everything top-to-bottom. A five year cycle for design also seems about right. By iOS 7 they were well overdue for an overhaul. Five years keeps things fresh without having to confuse people every two or three years. And if it's good enough then it shouldn't be that confusing. I have a feeling they've been working on that so they can do the true dark mode.
 
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Ma2k5

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Dec 21, 2012
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The volume HUD is an interesting example. It's something that is so incredibly easy to fix, that you have to assume that Apple deliberately does not want to fix it. The question then becomes, why don't they? Why does Apple feel that putting the HUD front and center blocking everything is the best way?

There has to be some reasoning behind it. Despite what some of us say, the company isn't run by idiots. I'd love to know what they're thinking.
Working in software, I can say that bad design is usually not fixed because it isn't a priority. What you call small fix, they call allocating developers/testers/business analysts/UX designers to another project/change request. When there is a back log of thousands of bugs/features to be worked on, it is easy to just forget about these "smaller" issues until it comes a time when it suddenly becomes a priority (maybe linked to a design overhaul or otherwise).

What I am trying to say is, I don't believe it has been intentionally left like this - so there is hope it will get changed one day!
 
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nouveau_redneck

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I wonder if Apple has been spending some cycles designing around the notch. Perhaps one day they will realize the error in their ways and recover.
 

DNichter

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I am hoping for a slicker, darker, more modern interface, but it is not imperative to me. Stability and performance are most important, I am sure a redesign will come at some point. Google or Microsoft having a different or "better" design really makes no difference to me as I don't use their OS and design is the last thing that would ever make me consider their OS.
 

CJM

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Not really sure what you're saying that Microsoft have improved their design - MS Office apps looks alright, but Windows 10 is still a god-awful mess of conflicting design ideas and outdated looking programs. And I should know, I use it every day.
 
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bluecoast

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Not really sure what you're saying that Microsoft have improved their design - MS Office apps looks alright, but Windows 10 is still a god-awful mess of conflicting design ideas and outdated looking programs. And I should know, I use it every day.
True, it’s painful.

However MS does have a senior exec in charge of experience now and MS do show signs of trying to unify the windows 10 UX ie the modern user interface (I forget its name) is now available for win32 and .net apps.

But the jury is still out as to whether Microsoft will fully modernise the Windows 10 experience.

I wonder if the slow progress on this front is their conservative user base, prioritising productivity over a consistent experience or that they don’t have much taste. Probably it’s a combination of all 3 factors!
 
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