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The Next Generation of UX at Apple

On January 9th 2007 Steve Jobs announced the first ever iPhone, a new generation of smartphone, which changed our thinking in terms of mobile communication very quickly.

The biggest reason for its success was the great user experience (UX), and it marked the start of a new era in terms of consumer expectation for the UX of devices with graphical interface.

Suddenly, the GUI (Graphical User Interface) of some applications looked like a real object. For example, the Calculator application looked like a real calculator.  Another example is the fake stitched leather look that Apple had chosen for some of its apps, most notably the “Contacts app”, which had look and feel of a real world notebook. We call this skeuomorphism, using physical objects in relation to advanced digital concepts. Skeuomorphism makes applications easier for normal people to use — more approachable and immediately familiar.

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The success of the iPhone was instrumental in the growth of the digital device market, and started to form the key principles of designing user experiences.

“Absolutely no cows were harmed in the making of this calendar.”

With the launch of iOS 7, Apple made some bold steps to get rid of the textures, shadowing, and other skeuomorphic elements that have been a staple on iOS. The users had become comfortable with iOS, having learned how to use the applications and navigate around the device. Apple started to clean the design of iOS and skeuomorphism had to give way to a fresher, simpler look.

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Apple has always successfully  maintained the connection between hardware and software. The next step was to make this strong connection even better between various devices. They started to focus on improving the user experience across all Apple devices: Apple Watch, iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple TV.

iOS 10

With the release of iOS 10 Apple has raised the way we communicate to the next level. One of the most important features is Apple opening up it’s iMessage platform for 3rd Party developers. With the Messages framework, anyone can build a standalone iMessage app, or an extension to an iOS app, that lets users interact with your iOS app without having to send messages.

Siri is now also open for developers. SiriKit enables iOS 10 apps to work with Siri, so users can get things done with your content and services using just their voice.

Apple also redesigned the widgets. iOS already had them, but iOS 10 takes them to the next level. Apple took the widgets from the Today tab when you swipe down to view your Notification Centre and put them on the Spotlight screen. Now the widgets are accessible anywhere you are: from the lock and home screen, or from the Notification Centre too.

“Big. Bold. Beautiful.”

A good typography is the staple of good visual hierarchy. In iOS 10 blocks are built with bold typography and vivid colors. Apple is using the recently released SF UI Display as a header font and SFUI Text in smaller sizes. It captures the style of the original San Francisco and Helvetica Neue.

The Music app is the best example of Apple’s reinvented minimalist style: The app is using coloured and shaded backgrounds for a white background.

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watchOS 3

Perhaps the biggest change to watchOS 3 comes once you press the side button. In earlier versions if you clicked on the side button it brought up quick contacts. Now it provides access to the app dock. The dock shows a snapshot of the app in its current state, allowing apps to provide quick-view information without opening the software.

Apple has also improved the notifications. Now you can schedule local notifications directly from the Apple Watch app, even while your app is running in the background.

It’s faster. Built-in apps have been designed with the goal that interactions should take only 2 seconds, and the new features like Background App Refresh make this goal more achievable than ever.

tvOS 3

Siri is now much smarter in tvOS 3, enabling users to  combine multiple criteria in one query.

“Show me this year’s best superhero movies”

You can also control HomeKit accessories with Siri Remote on Apple TV.

Apple implemented dark mode, which could be a lifesaver in a dark environment. And the easiest way to turn dark mode on or off is to just tell Siri.

As you can see, one of the most important innovations at Apple is to make Siri more and more useful, and opening it for 3rd party developers is a huge step forward.

Graphical UI can be sometimes too complex for a task, but with conversation, we can simplify the user interface, so the effort to reach a goal can be reduced dramatically.

Conversational UI seems like a buzzword nowadays, but communicating with products is much broader in blending conversational interfaces with graphical UI elements.

As always, Apple is leading the way in developing the next generation of UX and these features will likely filter into other platforms and devices over the coming months.

You can also check out my presentation in SlideShare.

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