Apple made a big fuss at the introduction of iOS 7 about how most of the skeuomorphism had been removed, ranging from the green felt of Game Center to the stitched leather of Calendar (see “Apple Unveils Completely Redesigned iOS 7,” 10 June 2013). At the same time, the Apple executives showing off the new look were almost reverent when talking up iOS 7’s new visual effects, including the parallax effect on the Home screen that gives the impression of depth, icon animations after unlocking, and cinematic representations of current conditions in the Weather app.
Now that users have spent some time with iOS 7, the reaction to these new motion-based effects is not universally positive. Even Apple seems to acknowledge that by making it possible to turn off the parallax effect in Settings > General > Accessibility > Reduce Motion (see “Peering at iOS 7 for the Vision Impaired,” 19 September 2013). That control says it will also “reduce the motion of the user interface,” but doesn’t provide any additional details or appear to do anything else.
In particular, that setting doesn’t get rid of the animation that causes icons to fly in to the Home screen when you unlock your iOS device or the zooming on the background wallpaper when opening and closing folders. I find these animations annoying and time-wasting, and I’d shut them off if I could, but they don’t significantly affect my use of the iPhone.
That’s not the case for designer Jenni Leder, who explains in a blog post how various animations in iOS 7 trigger her motion sickness and make her physically ill. She’s far from alone in experiencing nausea in response to iOS 7 animations, to judge from coverage on Stuff and a lengthy thread in the Apple Support Communities.
In general, it seems that people with certain vestibular disorders have trouble with such animations, as well as some video games, 3D movies, and more. The problems can even be related to the particular display technology.
Of course, animation in iOS isn’t new — there has long been a zoom effect after unlocking and when returning to the Home screen from an app. But there does seem to be something qualitatively different about iOS 7’s animations, such that they generate the same kind of nausea-inducing effect as a first-person shooter game or 3D film. Perhaps it’s a bit like the “uncanny valley” that causes revulsion when human features are almost, but not exactly, natural. If the animation is too realistic, particularly with regard to the simulation of three dimensions on a 2D screen, it may set off the viewer’s motion sickness.
Regardless, it’s clear that Apple needs to acknowledge that iOS 7’s eye candy has non-trivial side effects, and the company should beef up the Reduce Motion option to turn off unnecessary swooping and zooming. Jenni Leder encourages those who are affected to file a bug report with Apple, mentioning bug number 15074144 so the duplicate reports can be tallied. You can also send email to email@example.com, though Apple reportedly takes such informal feedback less seriously than bug reports.
This shouldn’t be a controversial move, since some of iOS 7’s visual effects serve the same purpose as the Find My Friends app’s stitched leather. That is to say, none whatsoever. Is there any usability difference in a Home screen whose icons don’t fly in after you unlock your iPhone? Does a slowly moving cloud in the background of the Weather app change your understanding of the weather conditions?
Note that I’m just suggesting an accessibility option here, and certainly not arguing for a complete elimination of motion in the interface. Much of iOS’s interface motion is tied to user actions — the icons on the Home screen sliding as you swipe from page to page, for instance — and that direct feedback is essential for the touch interface to work.
But it’s important to distinguish between visual effects that are core to the user experience of iOS and those that merely make it look cool. Eye candy should be optional, given its negative consequences on a portion of the population. And who knows, in a few years, it might seem as dated as simulated stitched leather and green felt.