AMITIAE - Sunday 8 December 2013

Cassandra: Care and Detail in iOS 7 - The Clock

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


Over the years (and perhaps more since his death) it has become part of the lore of Apple that Steve Jobs had extremely high standards. Fairly early on in his biography of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson writes about what is accepted as a seminal lesson for Jobs, "It was important, his father said, to craft the backs of cabinets and fences properly, even though they were hidden."

He found a kindred spirit in Jony Ive, who also has strong ideas on design and how a product should be finished. For example, inside the iMac, which most user will never see, the finish quality is said to be as high as the outside. Photographs of notebook Macs also show that the aluminium finish and the tidiness of circuit boards, these devices are not just randomly slapped together.

Ive of course is known to have had a big influence on the interface design of iOS 7. It is an exercise in simplicity (over-simple some say), with some interesting surprises concerning detail.

While examining the System Preferences for OS X 10.9, Mavericks recently I used the system icons for many of the pages. Although these only appear as tiny images, the files are quite large: indeed there are two files, and one is a TIFF image of 4 MB. All that for a tiny image.

TextEdit But then, as I saw yesterday when looking again at TextEdit, the icon for this (and for Print preferences) carries a wealth of information. The TextEdit icon carries half of the complete text of, "Here's to the crazy ones".

Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can praise them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things.

Likewise on that icon for Print, there is a significant section of text (Lorem ipsum. . .) coming out of a printer and displayed upside down. Other icons are similarly detailed.

Design guru, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, once said, "God is in the details."

I do not usually take much time to examine the app icons on the iPhone. If I need an image, I usually take a screen shot from iTunes on the Mac. With the detail of the TextEdit icon in my mind, I was looking at the home screen on my iPhone and noticed that - apparently by coincidence - the time shown on the icon was the actual time. Only it was not a coincidence. As I watched, the red second hand swept round the clock dial.


Home Screen and clock icon at different times

This was a new detail that I had not noticed before. We are used to the Calendar app displaying the correct date, and certain apps show white numbers in red circles to indicate the arrival of new messages, but this is a feature that is not matched by almost any other app.

I did of course have a close look, for example at the Compass app, which points always in the same direction. I also checked the Apple apps that I have, like Stocks and Weather. These do not change. The Clock icon is unique in this unusual detail rendering of the exact time of the day. This also occurs on the iPad and on the iPhone 5c: a unique effect in iOS 7.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.



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