Essays on Technology and Culture

Fear of Change

Change scares people. Just look at the reaction every time Facebook rolls out yet another minor (or major) change to the site. Mark Zuckerberg's always had the right reaction to these panicked complaints: “Get over it.” The announcement of iOS 7 and its major UI overhaul caused a similar level of consternation, this time, however, among designers and pundits instead of ordinary users. As the release loomed, there were more than a few pundits claiming that iOS 7's changes would drive users to Android. Sadly, with Steve gone, there's no one at Apple who would dare to be that flippant, except maybe Phil Schiller.

Now, let's ignore the fact that if a user is afraid of dealing with the changes in iOS, switching to a completely different operating system is going to have an even steeper learning curve. Instead, let's note that aside from two major functional differences, iOS 7 works exactly the way iOS has worked since the first iPhone. Functional difference one is that instead of swiping right from the first home screen to bring up the iPhone's Spotlight search, one swipes down in the middle. The second is that folders now behave slightly differently, and can have pages of their own. That's it. Neither is difficult to learn, and neither dramatically changes iOS. Most of the changes are, yes, surface changes. If that's enough to make you want to switch to Android, you've probably had switching on your mind for a while, anyway. 1

There's a sense among technologically savvy people that ordinary people are, to quote the character of Agent K from Men in Black, “dumb, panicky, dangerous animals.” It comes, I think, from having to help our parents figure out how to find the file they accidentally saved somewhere but their Windows desktop, uninstall Bonzi Buddy, and explain that Bill Gates will not give them a million dollars for forwarding an email. Our parents aren't dumb. They're just new to this stuff, and some pick it up faster than others. What causes a lot of backlash from ordinary users about changes in Facebook and the like is that those changes break how they've learned to use the app. 2

When Facebook moves things around, hides things, and adds new things, the ordinary user who has functional knowledge of how to use Facebook has to re-learn those tasks. Those of us who have a skill-based knowledge of how to use a computer take thirty seconds to see the change, and can usually get back up to speed quickly, pausing only to roll our eyes at the complainers. But, as I pointed out above, the fundamentals of iOS have not changed. The main interface is still a grid of icons. You still swipe to unlock. most of the buttons and sliders are in the same places they were on iOS 1 through 6. It's just that they've changed appearance. For someone with functional knowledge of iOS—they'll be right at home.

By the time I post this, iOS 7 will only have been out for a day. It's too early to tell how right I am with any of the claims I'm making in this essay. Maybe the bright colors, text-heavy layouts, and other visual overhauls will scare people into the cold, robotic bosom of Android phones and tablets. I have my doubts. 3 The real reason technology journalists will make a claim about iOS users potentially jumping ship to Android over some visual overhauls is that it's click-bait. Then again, you also have people complaining that iOS hasn't changed a great deal, functionally, when that's actually it's advantage. When was the last time we got a product that was so visually different than the previous one and still worked almost exactly the same? Probably Windows XP, which still has a 35% market share. Think about that one for a bit.

  1. And, if you can, do switch. I say it, not because I'm a hardcore Apple fanboy, and want you off my platform. I say it because it's a good idea to see how the other half lives. Take two years and live in the Android world if you can. Then, perhaps, switch back. I can't give up some iOS exclusive apps, but if you're not tied in, there's nothing to lose. 

  2. Now is a great time to re-read a piece I wrote on how many ordinary users learn how to use computers

  3. At the very least, I see an opportunity here for Windows Phone to grab some iOS converts if this scenario happens.