A First Look at Design Changes in iOS 10

A First Look at Design Changes in iOS 10

What’s New, What’s Good, and What’s Likely to Change

This week at WWDC, Apple unveiled the next versions of its operating systems (iOS, the newly-renamed macOS, watchOS, and tvOS). iOS 10 brings a number of significant technical changes, including new API access for Messages and Siri, as well as some of the biggest visual design changes since iOS 7. And like the iOS 7 betas, we’re likely to see a significant number of design changes before the official public release in September.

With that in mind, our Black Pixel design team has spent much of this week exploring every corner of iOS 10. Here are some of our initial observations.

The Good Stuff

Maps: The search field is now at the bottom of the screen instead of the top. It’s easier to reach, especially if you’re driving (though, of course, you shouldn’t be!). The big, bright Go and End buttons when using directions are easy to understand. It couldn’t be easier to insert a stop: swipe up from (or tap) the bottom, tap a category, and tap the Go button.

Samples of the redesigned Maps, Music, and News apps.

Music, News: Introduced a year ago, both Apple Music and Apple News are getting significant redesigns in iOS 10, and both share a new visual design style (different from many of the other default apps). The added variation in font sizes and weights is a significant readability improvement, particularly for limited-sight users.

The multiscreen onboarding in News is sparse but well done; the mix of type size and weights, color, and subtle icon animations give the app a sense of personality right out of the gate. This new-style onboarding makes an appearance in other apps, including Home.

Home: The introduction of the new Home app finally brings a native, first-party dashboard experience to iOS for HomeKit and will likely lead to an increase in HomeKit-compatible devices hitting the market in the coming months (Canary is already promoting upcoming HomeKit compatibility for its device line).

Notifications: The Clear button (revealed on swipe) seems much bigger and easier to hit. Thanks to 3D Touch, notifications are more interactive (e.g., a message notification shows the conversation).

Alerts appear like notifications at the top of the screen, but they are no longer centered and as intrusive as before. You can still interact with the phone, and they won’t dismiss until you interact with them.

Widgets: Widgets like Weather allow you to see more weather conditions. Apple also added lots of new widgets for Music, News, Maps, and more.

Messages: Many of the new features in Messages were demoed in the keynote, so we’ll focus on some details here. Digital touch looks really good. The Back button now shows your unread count — very smart. Oddly, the default monogram avatars now incorporate a degree of visual adornment we haven’t seen in iOS for years (we’re all for drop shadows, but balloon letters are maybe a step too far).

Apple also now includes GIF search functionality (aka Feature of the Year), which is likely to obviate the need for some of the third-party GIF search keyboards we’ve seen recently.

Inline media content (YouTube Video, Instagram Photo/Video, Safari webpages) works amazingly well.

Memories in Photos, Clock’s new Wake Alarm, and quick unsubscribe in Mail.

Memories in Photos: Photos can now automatically generate a home movie for you, intermingling stills, video, and a soundtrack. It works remarkably well, and the result is touching; though a few of the shots the app decided to include were decidedly unmemorable, including its choice for a finale: a close-up of an old Wi-Fi router.

Mail: There’s a new Unread filter button in all list-of-mail views. Toggling it hides all but the unread messages, and it allows you to filter those by VIP sender. Also, Mail now seems to recognize Gmail labels applied to messages. If you select the “move” option for a message you’re viewing, Mail first suggests moving the message based on the corresponding label (e.g., move to “Newsletters”).

One other new Mail feature that’s likely to be popular is the new, easy “unsubscribe” option it displays at the top of mailing list emails. A number of third-party clients have offered this feature, and it’s good to see it brought to Mail as well.

Clock: While not exactly the highest profile app, Clock has been redesigned, with a new dark theme, and the introduction of a clever “sleep schedule” UI (Wake Alarm), which helps users get away from the pattern of setting a bunch of different alarms. We wouldn’t mind seeing more of this dark theme throughout the OS, as it’s done really well here.

While the new Wake Alarm’s setup wizard is fine, what’s really slick is dragging the wake and sleep icons around the clock face to lengthen or shorten sleep time. Also, the app will now ping you with a notification (15 minutes prior) when it’s time to get ready for bed.

Home Screen: 3D Touch is becoming much more useful on app icons, with widgets next to quick actions. iOS 10 also includes a new animation when exiting back to the Home screen from an app. The icon of the app lags just a bit behind the rest of the curve. It’s subtle and done really well.

Lock Screen Playback: This includes bigger controls, which are easier to hit at a glance.

Status Bar: It now shows a lock when the phone is locked. It’s a small but welcome touch.

The Not-So-Good

News: The app’s new visual revamp really feels optimized for small screens. Right now, type size, images, and white space feel well-balanced on iPhone SE, but larger screens, especially iPad, need work.

Shuffle and repeat options are missing from the Now Playing view in Music (left). Redesigned widgets (center) are more visually heavy and not well-optimized for shorter content. Control Center (right) now splits functionality across multiple panels.

Music: The options for shuffle and repeat aren’t viewable on the Now Playing screen without scrolling. For regular users of either feature, this is really unnecessarily added friction.

Control Center: The new layout spreads controls over multiple screens, which is particularly awkward on larger screens (e.g., iPad) where there’s already ample room for controls on a single view.

Lock Screen: You can swipe from the right edge to enter the Camera view, but you can’t swipe back to the Lock screen. Swiping in the Camera view switches camera modes. In fact, there’s currently no UI mechanism for exiting the Camera view. You have to hit the Home button to return to it.

Speaking of the Home button, it’s now your mechanism for unlocking the device (press Home once to activate the Lock screen, press a second time to enter your unlock code). For those of us with “swipe to unlock” seared into our muscle memory, it’s going to take a while to get used to the new flow.

Widgets: The new widgets’ designs are visually heavy, and not well-optimized for limited content or empty states. The current minimum size for a widget is too large when only a single line of text is displayed, and the awkward sizing is distracting.

On the Lock screen, widgets still show information like upcoming Calendar events. This doesn’t seem particularly privacy-friendly, though users do have an “edit” option at the bottom of the widgets view to customize what’s displayed.

Some widgets feel unnecessarily limited, like Mail’s, which only shows you VIP contacts instead of giving you the option of previewing any unread mail or today’s mail. Adding options to tailor some of the built-in widgets would be a real improvement.

Messages: There’s a lot more going on now in Messages, including a lot of new UI controls to parse and use that don’t exist anywhere else. Prepare for some really ugly third-party messaging app UIs. The Apps view requires you to page through the options within the Messages app, either by swiping or using the grid view. It’s like a springboard in your keyboard. Fun as it all is, users are likely to be a bit disoriented by the additions.

Maps: Favorites are now shown at the very bottom of the Recent Locations table view. The typeface is big, which tends to truncate some addresses.

What Really Needs Work

Onboarding: The main new user-onboarding flow (when setting up a new phone or restoring one) is still basically wireframe views, with none of the design detail seen in other individual app-onboarding examples (like News).

System-Wide Animations: Not every Apple app is up to date with the new iOS 10 “springiness.” Swiping on a note in Notes feels very different than swiping on a notification. This will likely improve as the design continues to be refined ahead of the public release.

Messages: Since the new “scribble” feature sends your message when the app thinks you’re done, it’s very easy to send nine messages in a row just fooling around with the scribble pad.

Looking Forward to Fall

Since iOS 10 is still in beta, it will continue to evolve and improve before its official release to the public this fall. In the meantime, we’ll keep an eye on how it’s developing visually.

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