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What Changes Were Made in iOS 7?

iOS 7 introduces a major revision to the user interface of iOS. This is helpful information for app developers. It addresses two main issues: the dated look of the interface and the fact that content was getting lost on the app screen.

The dated interface

Change for the sake of change may or may not be a good idea — it depends on the context and the cost. In the case of a new user interface, users and developers have to learn new skills.

With iOS 7, the functionality of the interface changes very little. Apple was able to make relatively small changes in the interface appearance, and for most users, not much changed. Developers have a few extra items to think about.

The “datedness” of the interface wasn’t so much the fact that it had been around for a while, but that it was designed originally for the iPhone with a small screen and a much less powerful processor than programmers have today.

The screen on the iPhone is larger today, and its resolution is much higher with the Retina display. The iPad, of course, is the same size (although the iPad Mini came along a little while ago), but both are now sporting Retina displays.

This means that not only is there more screen real estate to use, but the details can be much smaller and subtler. In demonstrations of the Retina display, you usually see beautiful photos. However, the fact that very small elements on the screen can now be visible does have an effect on the user interface.

This has all happened before. If you look at screenshots of the original Mac (or a PC), you’ll see interfaces that look very old and clunky. Programmers just don’t use those enormous interface elements any more. It’s also important to note that Apple has significant tools in the accessibility area so that, even with small interface elements, people with limited vision can still use the devices.

Losing the content

The second issue that the interface revision addressed was the fact that content was sometimes getting lost on the screen. At the Worldwide Developers Conference in June 2013 where iOS 7 was first demonstrated, speaker after speaker stressed that part of the design goal was to make the content stand out and the interface disappear as much as possible.

Part of the strategy to make the content stand out was to simplify the user interface. One important simplification is to introduce the idea of a tint color (really a highlight color). If you set a tint color for your app, the interface is drawn basically in gray on a white background with the exception of items that are highlighted: All highlighted items use the tint color.

You can set it for your app or for an individual window. Users may not even notice the fact that all highlights appear in the same color unless you point it out to them, but it makes learning how to use the app and — most importantly — distinguishing between content and interface much easier.

If your app uses color in its content, a good tint color is one that is unlikely to show up in the content, if that’s possible. Remember, the point of the tint color is to distinguish the interface from the content. A secondary point is to remind users what app they’re in.

Apple, for example, uses blue as the tint color in many of the built-in apps. You’re welcome to use it, but if you choose a different color (a significantly different color) you can help people know where they are.

Furthermore, if the tint color picks up a color from your app icon, you also may establish your own palette identity. You can set a tint color for an individual window, but many apps set it globally. To do so, select a storyboard file from in the Project navigator and use the File inspector to set the tint color.

This method makes it easy to use different tint colors for each storyboard. So that means you can set the tint color dynamically in code for a window regardless of device, for a storyboard and all of its views and view controllers, or for a specific view (that, too, would require code).

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