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Trial, Error and Discovery: iOS 7 and the Changes to Apple's Digital Learning Environment

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Apple recently released iOS 7, sporting some of the biggest changes to their mobile operating system since it was first released in 2007. I've had a version of Apple's iOS devices (first the iPod Touch and then the iPhone) for a few years now, and I was certainly ready for some type of new look (I can only imagine the excitement of those who've had these devices since 2007).

As with any change, there are those that love it and those that hate it. I appreciate the updated look and feel, and I think that those who may dislike some of the updates (such as the changed color palette) will be won over soon.

While visually striking, the new iOS has required me to take some time to get used to the new features. While the heart of the operating system is similar to past versions, there are enough tweaks and new features to iOS 7 to create a modified learning experience (one element of the user experience).

iOS essentially serves as a digital learning environment. The graphical user interface (GUI) works together with the user's technical wisdom and practical experience to create the user experience. However, a deeper look shows that the design of the GUI and the elements of the operating system try to teach the user something important - how to navigate through that operating system.

The job of iOS as a digital learning environment is to help the user do what he or she wants to do with the smart device in the absence of someone explaining how to do those things. This is another constant of learning that we may not think about much (or at all) throughout the day as we type away on our *insert smart device here*. The recent iOS design change is the perfect time to look at how important the design of this digital learning environment is to the Apple user experience.

Everyone who was accustomed to iOS before this update most likely has to take at least some time to learn the ins and outs of the new version. Apple had to be careful while designing iOS 7 so that it would remain intuitive for the greatest amount of users, and the learning curve would not become too much of an obstacle to a pleasant user experience (thus exists some of the biggest challenges in creating something as complex as a universal operating system for a vast, diverse audience).

I know there are a lot of changes in iOS 7 that affect the learning experience, but what I would like to focus on are how some of those changes increase the emphasis on trial, error and discovery as learning methods within the iOS digital learning environment.

If you have an iPhone with iOS 7 installed, please grab it, and swipe from the bottom-up on the screen. You're presented a screen with button icons you can press (I'm 1000 percent sure you already knew this, but hang in there with me). There are no words to tell you what these buttons are. What is so significant about this screen is that iOS is basically relying on you to "try out" these buttons and figure out what they do. Your recognition of the images (i.e. an airplane) and prior iOS symbolism (i.e. the wireless symbol) will help you know what to do. But because there are no words, you can't be 100 percent sure they are going to do what you think (unless you read the manual or some of the many iOS 7 articles online). This is where you just have to press and see, going through trial and error to learn how this updated operating system functions. In various spaces within the iOS digital environment (which includes the pre-installed apps), words are minimal (if not eliminated) and images are simplified. Graphics are no longer accompanied by visuals that scream what their functions are; the designers trust that users know the functions, or at least, can figure it out quickly through discovery.

Also, I'm sure you've seen (and most likely read about) how flat most things appear in iOS 7. Buttons don't necessarily look like buttons anymore (in the past, iOS design featured the use of drop shadowing and other techniques to make the buttons look like... well, buttons). Now, most of your iOS experience will consist of navigating through a seamless, flat landscape. So, if everything in this digital environment looks so flat, what exactly can you, and can't you press on your iPhone? The only way to find this out is to push everywhere and see what happens (the weather app is a good example of this).

You can spend much time randomly swiping and pressing buttons through this learning environment to find new features. For instance, swiping from most of the screen down on the home screen brings up Spotlight search. But swiping from the very top of the screen down brings up a list of calendar events and notifications. Also in text conversations, if you swipe to the left and hold, you'll see the exact time of every text message. I only found this out because I started randomly swiping the screen in a text conversation to see if anything would happen. You can slide to unlock your phone from almost anywhere on the lock screen, and I'm sure I'm not the only one that has played around with this to see where the limits are (yes, there is a limit).

All in all, the iOS 7 digital environment feels seamless due to the simpler design, and that simpler, seamless design increases the opportunity for the user to learn the operating system through trial, error, and discovery -- almost creating a sense of play in the user experience. This design change could have went terribly wrong, but Apple has been doing this for quite some time now, and their experience shows in the delivery of this updated digital learning environment. Whether people are for or against this updated operating system, there's no doubt that there is plenty new to learn in iOS 7, and if you're up to it, you can have some fun while learning those things.

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