Remote for iOS 7 Shows That Apple is Still Experimenting with Design

Apple worked very hard on developing iOS 7, the most recent release of its mobile operating system, which effectively transformed the stale user interface to something more colorful. As usual, it received mixed reviews. Some people called it “flat”, while others believed its colors rendered it “childish”.

It’s a fact that people don’t like change, so negative reactions to iOS 7 are not surprising. Apple’s recent update to the Remote app, on the other hand, is quite unexpected. It includes a full redesign to fit snugly with iOS 7. But strangely, it goes beyond the call of duty here, introducing new and foreign UI elements. Usually I would praise experimentation, but in this case, I’m not so sure it’s a good thing.

Beautiful on the iPhone

It's not "flat".

It’s not “flat”.

The first time I saw the new design on iPhone, I was blown away. It incorporates the new operating system’s dynamic effects beautifully. In the Up Next menu, the artwork of what’s currently playing is slightly visible behind the list of what you’ll be listening to in a moment. When navigating through your music, the Albums icon shows that Apple is not taking a one-dimensional approach to design, but rather giving depth through simplicity.

A splendid touch of translucency.

A splendid touch of translucency.

Things start getting interesting in the Now Playing screen. It’s barely noticeable in Apple’s screenshots on the App Store, but when the song has colorful artwork, the entire app adapts to it. While it isn’t fully transparent, you can tell that Apple is moving toward a less opaque approach to things. The weird thing is, though, Remote is far more beautiful than the Music app. When you compare the Now Playing screens of the two, they are the complete opposites of each other. In the Music app, Repeat, Create, and Shuffle buttons are textual, existing below the volume slider. In Remote, they’re true buttons beside the progress indicator (save for the Create button, which isn’t there at all).

Comparing Music (left) to Remote (right) shows that Apple is moving toward and even more modern design.

Comparing Music (left) to Remote (right) shows that Apple is moving toward and even more modern design.

This isn’t so much an inconsistency as it is an annoyance. Both the apps should just be the same already. Apple could easily add a remote shortcut to the More menu in Music’s navigation bar. For some reason, though, they split up the two completely. One has a beautiful new design that continues the iOS 7 trend, but the other, even though it is pre-installed, blinds you with a white screen and pink buttons. I wouldn’t object to this so much if it was customizable, but that will never happen, so why doesn’t Apple just unify the apps?

The iPhone has its weird alignment too: just look at those quick navigation dots.

The iPhone has its weird alignment too: just look at those quick navigation dots.

On the iPhone, Remote’s new Now Playing design is reminiscent of Rdio’s. The only difference is that, in Rdio, the progress indicator resembles the volume slider, and there is no volume slider. Oh, and Apple is making the text transparent (good decision) while Rdio keeps the artwork behind what looks more like frosted glass. Overall, the iPhone’s appearance is significantly better than it was before. I very much enjoyed using it and I hope to see the beautiful translucent elements in other apps soon.

Inconsistent on the iPad

Then someone made an iPad app.

iTunes on iPad is nice, but it doesn't fit with iOS 7 at all.

iTunes on iPad is nice, but it doesn’t fit with iOS 7 at all.

On the iPad, Apple is trying to mix iTunes’ design with iOS 7 and the iPad Music app. It looks terribly inconsistent. From the expanding albums to the old-fashioned stainless steel volume knob, nothing about this app is appealing in the new version of iOS. Worse yet, the Search field in the bottom right has more padding on the right of the “Search” text than the left, the menu bar isn’t dynamic in iOS 7 (it’s black), and then the Up Next menu suddenly appears, translucently, over the rest of the interface. It’s a mess.

It's a big waste of space.

It’s a big waste of space.

I don’t understand how Apple could make such a great iPhone app, but fail to even scale it to a tablet. The Now Playing screen looks like it’s meant for an iPhone, only filling a very small portion of the screen with the artwork and blurring the rest behind it. It makes sense that Apple is trying to make it more user friendly, using elements from the desktop and mobile UI, but it just doesn’t work. Everything is sloppily implemented, and the navigation bar (Songs, Albums, Artists, etc.) looks completely unwelcome beside the “Music in [Person’s] Library” text.

The idea of having an iOS 7 version of iTunes 11 is, at least to me, very appealing. I like the dynamic expanded album view that uses colors from the artwork, and I think it fits very well with iOS 7. The problem is, they didn’t integrate it well at all. It’s half monochrome-OS X half modern-iOS 7, which can be said for other elements of the redesign on iPad. I would love to see the two worlds merged in usability, but doing so with design creates a mess.

A New(er) Direction for iOS Design?

It's definitely not meant for portrait on an iPad.

It’s definitely not meant for portrait on an iPad.

Now here’s the big question: Could this inconspicuous redesign of Remote hint at next year’s look for iOS? It will be subtle, yes, but the changes are welcoming. The use of translucency makes everything more modern, and I’d love to see the Music app adopt these design features. I think the whole OS could benefit from the design choices on the iPhone side.

Unfortunately, this update also shows that Apple needs to focus on iPad and iPhone equally, not give all its attention to the big brother. The fifth version of the iPad just released, the device itself only being just under four years old. It shouldn’t be thrown on the back burner for beta-like design choices, it should be used to its full potential — it has a larger display for a reason. Remote’s update shows that Apple still needs to mature its own tablet software.