Reinvented: iPhone

The iPhone holds a special place in my timeline as a designer. Phones were actually the first item I explored when I began to experiment with shapes and color as a creator nearly five years ago. As such, the process of transferring my ideas to a visual medium when creating a new phone concept is not exactly a challenge, but does present some interesting opportunities for me to perfect my vision and present my first public concept.

Beginning in March 2017, I began thinking about what I wanted my next conceptual project to be. While I had a plethora of ideas, the one I was drawn to most was a deep-dive into Apple’s product pipeline and public image. I had three goals for this venture:

  • The products must be a push in new design that futuristic, but has grounds in the current state of what technology can accomplish.
  • The products should not be redesigned for the sake of redesign, but offer an improvement in user interaction at every step.
  • The branding of these products, as well as the marketing, should be appealing no matter the year it is used in, whether 2017 or 2027.

On a personal level, I wanted to:

  • Render the most realistic versions of these products using the Keynote program.
  • Think through every visual and logical interaction as a user to get rid of any superfluous details.
  • Revisit my ideas for revision and have those conversations a design team would have in the development process.

In essence, I wanted to create an image that would envision what Apple would represent for the next ten years: resilience, care, and appeal.

The easy route would have been to simple give a fresh coat of paint to the existing products; re-freshing existing products with minute changes is not indicative of a future that will have new forms for new solutions. At the same time, this did not mean throwing all sense to the air and start creating mock-ups of the interactive holograms you would find in Tony Stark’s basement. The happy medium is what I believe I have found during the last month of work, and is what I will present over the following days with various product concepts.

With that, I present to you  PHONE.

phoneOS

With the creation of a more specific, fine-tuned tool comes a new operating system: phoneOS. The operating system was the first thing I set out in visualizing with this new product, and work began in the first week of April. Now, with this OS, I wanted to maximize the available canvas for ease of use and intuition. From a hardware standpoint, I wanted the display to have an 18.5 X 9 aspect ratio; an embedded home button feature was something I had been experimenting with since late last year. Those two features served as the basis for phoneOS.

In the above images, you can see that the time and date that would traditionally be at the top of the screen have been moved to the bottom. It seemed natural to be that any interaction done on a phone with a taller display would be delegated mostly to the bottom half, where the thumb is resting. Thus, the eyeline and focus should also be primarily at the bottom half of the display. Notifications stack onto the time in an upwards orientation, again giving quicker access for the user at the bottom half of the display. Shadows are a recurring theme in phoneOS, giving various elements like notification and widget cards a greater sense of depth on the canvas.

Media playback on the lock screen remains largely unchanged. A key difference is that the album art, along with audio heard by the user, conveys what track is playing rather than the traditional title. Digital interfaces should use images to convey meaning rather than scrolling text that occupies space because human understanding of media is a much more efficient method of communicating information. In the case that a notification does appear while media is playing, then the track name and artist do appear as text because the primary visual cue that wants user attention is the notification card.

The control center also remains nearly identical to that found in iOS 10. Subtle differences include the color and translucency of some elements to give a more calming appearance during use, with softer blues and more glass-like, futuristic texture. The Home control panel of Control Center has been cleaned up a bit to eliminate the complexity present in too many icons on one small area; now, key scenes can be activated (scenes that can be set by the user), and any further activity is delegated to the Home app.

Siri has also been overhauled with phoneOS. First, rather than completley dim the entire display when Siri is called for, there is a gradient that gets less opaque towards the bottom of the screen. This allows the user to see information that they would be looking at and possibly referring to, such as a metric or address, while getting the help of the assistant. There are also now two methods of interacting with Siri: Siri Voice and Siri Text. On the left, you can see the soundwaves that indicated when Siri can pick up your voice looks a bit cleaner, as does the transcribing text. To use Siri Text, simply hit the Search box above the voice icon to begin typing. Both methods are clean and easy to use; the results Siri gives you, in this case for Weather data, is a clean card that is similar to the Weather info found in the widget pane.

Moving the home screen, Siri also plays a large part in the ease with which you can use your phone. By observing location and habits based on time of day, Siri can intelligently recommend an app that she thinks would best serve you, and presents this recommendation as the first icon in the dock. As the user interacts with this feature, Siri’s recommendations will become much smarter over time. Spotlight Search and Siri have also been merged and can be quickly accessed by tapping the Search box above the dock. This means users can swipe down anywhere on the screen to now access the Notification Center, rather than having to reach all the way to the top of a taller screen.

The application icons have been slightly tweaked in color and look to match with the newer visuals of phoneOS. The Clock app will change based on the user’s current  WATCH face, adding to that synergy of the ecosystem. The biggest change on the home screen is the way notification badges appear: rather than sprouting from the corner of the app icon, the badges overlay onto the icon, making the overall shape more uniform.

Each of the apps in phoneOS relies on translucency and imagery to give a cleaner look. The 90% opacity of the background in the splash page of each app allows the user’s background and personalization to shine through, something that was similarly lauded as a design point during iOS 7’s introduction. Messages’ new layout allows the user to quickly identify what they have yet to read with the white background on unread messages. The 3D Touch shortcuts with Mail are also largely simplified, taking greater advantage of horizontal space with iconography than the current iOS 10 iteration.

Calendar was an absolute joy to redesign; this new layout makes it much easier to see exactly how busy the upcoming days are with the new color-coded dots system beneath each date. You will also notice that this app, along with all of the others, include various buttons next to the home button at the bottom of the display. These buttons shift options that would traditionally be at the top of the interface lower down into the Function Area for easier access.

In phoneOS, the Health app includes a very cool new feature: Meal Analysis. Whereas traditional forms of analysis would require the user to enter specific details about food by hand, Siri’s new AI capabilities use the camera to scan an image for different items, identifies those images for a general idea of food recognition, and then asks the user to edit specific details (such as the type of pasta or bread) before logging it into Health. The inclusion of this feature will lead to more people being more mindful of their nutritional intake simply because this data is even easier to access and record than before. Just as  WATCH prompts customers to close their rings every day, this new method of visualizing meals should prompt people to eat a better lifestyle daily.

The TV app and Music app have been redesigned with very similar layouts, giving familiarity to Apple’s new media push. Both applications again include shadow in the art to give an added sense of depth and “click-ability” within the interface. The splash page includes recent additions to a library. At the top of both apps, icons representing various subsections of the app can be interacted with; in Music, tapping the Albums icon takes the user to a redesigned layout that optimizes space with a scrollable interface. When compared to iOS 10, this view allows the user to see more content per vertical scroll. Furthermore, the iTunes Store has been disassembled into individual stores that can be accessed within each app: TV’s store contains movies and shows for purchase, and Music’s store contains songs, music videos, and ringtones that can be added to one’s library. This relegation should make each of the stores much faster and cleaner to use, and also more intuitive to use with in-app Search functionality.

Within the Music app is an all-new Now Playing page, taking cues from the iOS 8 and iOS 10 interfaces, along with some inspirations from Spotify’s UI. As demonstrated above, album art is the primary driver of this screen. The title of the song follows in white text and the artist/album information is displayed in a color that is chosen based on analysis of album art: in this case, the yellow accent color was chosen for the text. Below this information we have track and volume control, as well as options for shuffle, further information, the queue, and a Genius mix. The shuffle and Genius toggles, as well as the downwards arrow at the very top of the screen to exit Now Playing, are red because they relate to the Music app’s functionality. The further information and queue are coated in the accent color, yellow, because they relate to the song playing. These visual cues, as well as the use of space, create a more attractive, and much easier to use, Music application.

Finally, the Night Shift feature has been expanded to automatically shift compatible applications to a Night Mode.

This inverted interface adds to the usablity of apps in nighttime conditions without compromising functionality or legibility.

 PHONE

Now that you’ve taken a look at the software that’s meant to run on this next phone, it’s time to take a look at the device itself. This part of the design process began in mid-April; for about a year now, I’ve always wanted to explore the possibility of a nearly bezel-less device, a phone that had a face pre-dominated by screen. After many failed attempts, I came to this iteration, which I believe represents a great balance between my vision and possibility.

Funnily enough, many of the leaks that began to pop up in May 2017 regarding the next iPhone closely resembled my concepts, which I found to be reassurance that I was heading in a decent direction. The only component of this design that was altered following the leaks is the elongated power button, which I have added because I think this change is some alleviation to the accidental press of the volume rocker while attempting to power the device on/off.

Let’s take a closer look at the hardware. This  PHONE is built with a glass and stainless steel combination, a look I am very excited to revisit. In this case, the stainless steel is colored with the same diamond-like carbon (DLC) layering process as the  WATCH Series 1 &2, giving the entire device a fluidity and seamlessness. As you can see, the front of the device is dominated by the screen. At the very top is a cutout for the speaker grill, and the front facing camera, as well as other sensors are embedded under the glass (more on those later). A pressure sensitive area and embedded fingerprint sensor rest where the software home button is placed. This provides a consistent point of home that the user can access despite the presence of a physical button.

On the glass back, there is a vertically-oriented dual-lens camera system. The vertical orientation was chosen because I suspected that there would not be enough room within the width of the phone to fit this entire sensor combination. Changing the orientation to the length of the phone would provide this space without interfering with the wireless charging coils I wanted to include with the body as well.

On the right and left sides you can see the power and volume buttons respectively, and the bottom of the phone is home to the Lightning charging port and a microphone and speaker each. The x-ray breakdown above also details some of the more gritty specifications that can be read at your leisure. While other concepts would push the screen to the very edges of the phone with some curved display technologies, I believe that the framing created by the steel and glass around the screen (i.e. an equal amount of bezel on all sides) makes for a more comfortable user experience. The customer can still properly hold the phone with a hand without touching the edges of the screen, and also not worry as much about the OLED screen itself being distorted by the accidental drop.

While this entire project officially took a month, from the first shape on a canvas to the final touches, all of the ideas and observations present in this vision have been a year in the making. Over this year, I have had a blast envisioning a possible future for the most popular product in Apple’s pipeline because I approach this process as a fan, a consumer, and ultimately a creator that wants to have an impact on these products in the future. The slogan above, “ REINVENTED”, does accurately explain what I see these designs as, and how I hope that you will see these ideas. Stay tuned for a look at where I believe the Watch and Apple’s computing endeavors will go in the future, as well as other ambient computing devices. Live long and prosper, and may the Force be with you.

Follow me on Twitter for more thoughts on tech, film, and nerdy things in general.

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Karthik Subramaniam

Karthik Subramaniam

I’m an empathy-driven UI/UX designer who focuses on accessibility, well-being, and joy. Check out my work at www.karthiks.xyz