Profound revelation: What if Apple Watch’s user experience is a peek at the future of iOS for the iPhone?
This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
iOS, oh iOS. What are we going to do with you? The iPhone 6 Plus that sits on my desk rarely sees the spark of my SIM card. It’s not that I don’t like the hardware, I love it. It’s not that I don’t like the camera, I love it. It’s not that I don’t like the individual app experiences, they’re great.
No, what grinds my gears about the iPhone is Apple’s stubborn insistence to relegate my single layer user experience to a static, non-adjustable grid of icons, and a less than effective partitioned notification and information shade that makes half-use of “widgets,” in a way that only Apple could execute.
This is less a whine-fest leveraging the tired arguments that many-an-Android-fan-boy use, like “widgets” or “customization,” ad infinitum. Okay, it is a little bit, but really it isn’t. No, my take on this is squarely on what is basically an 8-year-old user interface. It’s old.
I know some people like that organized grid of icons, and for certain, it is an obsessive compulsive’s dream come true. Though, for the OCD crowd out there that really wants a squared up grid, look no further than a Lumia 1520 with all the Windows Phone tiles set to small, and stacked neatly. It looks like you won Tetris and unlike the iPhone 6 Plus’ paltry 24 icons per screen, the Lumia’s screen will accommodate 66 apps before the need to scroll down occurs. Nirvana.
I started souring from the iOS user experience after the iphone 5, when it became evident to me that Apple was not going to reinvent anything with iOS 7. I really do understand why the company chose to play it safe in that regard, it maintains familiarity, and removes the learning curve for virtually everyone, even if they upgrade to the larger iPhones – and yes, it really does “just work.”
The new look
Then I saw the Apple Watch. Now, I already know that it is not for me, as I have opined previously about daily recharging of an accessory that more or less relies on my smartphone anyway. Taken as a whole, it’s just another smartwatch, though make no mistake, it’s going to be a runaway hit. Even my wife, who doesn’t dive into technology the way I do, really wants the Apple Watch to go with her iPhone.
Believe me when I tell you that means something because she doesn't even wear any of the watches she already owns, and no, she's not a die-hard-wait-in-the-line-an-Apple-product type person either. Honestly, I think some of the Apple Watch's appeal to her is the same thing that has me intrigued by the device.
What has me really interested in the Apple Watch is Apple’s work on the user interface and experience. Apple says it is ideal for fast interactions on the wrist. Of course the icons are familiar looking, but the presentation is completely new. Even though it looks like a spinning ball, there is an iOS order to it, a center icon/app with a hexagon structure building out from there. Apple kept the iOS in iOS while taking the iOS out of it a little. I kind of like that.
iOS without the “iOS”
Let’s take the optimization factors out of the picture for a moment. Try to imagine how elements of the Apple Watch interface might work on an iPhone. In lieu of zooming in and out with a dial, we can just use multi-touch. Instead of swiping to another page of apps, we simply thumb around the hexagonal spheroid UI. Perhaps part of the screen can provide transparent partitions of widgets and notifications, or apps running in the background – an iOS rendition of a “live tile.”
The backend architecture is there for iOS, at least it’s a starting point. The priority for animated transitions has always been a distinction for the iOS experience. That is what plagued Android devices for so long until Material Design and ART came along. The point being is that the system software on the Apple Watch gives up nothing on that front.
Back to reality
My arguments aside, Apple can afford to take its time with iOS. The nagging feature that was biting at Cupertino’s ankles was the size of the device. Apple rightfully responded with a pair of larger devices and it has sent sales (and profits) into the stratosphere.
Now that Apple has joined the “big phone” club however, and assuming the company isn’t going to try and “reinvent” things with an even larger form factor, what else is there to tinker with but iOS? Hey, you never know, Apple could choose to go “bigger than bigger” with its mobile operating system and give people iOS without the iOS.