An iOS 13 Wish: A Return of Vibrant Tapdown States

There’ve been a bunch of leaks about iOS 13, nearly all from Guilherme Rambo at 9to5Mac and Mark Gurman at Bloomberg. But one thing we don’t know yet — and I emphasize yet, because leaks often spring very close to keynotes — is what iOS 13 is going to look like. No screenshots, no mock-ups.

Most likely, I’d say, is that visually, iOS 13 will bring what we’ve seen each of the past 5 years — another annual refinement of the iOS 7 look-and-feel that debuted in 2013. But there have been rumblings that something more dramatic is afoot. The original (let’s call it classic) iOS look-and-feel lasted 6 years — it would be fitting for the iOS 7 look-and-feel to last 6 years as well. I don’t really see how Apple could do something as radical as the iOS 6 to 7 transition. But to me there are aspects of the iOS 7 foundation that are tired.

I don’t know why, but one of those things has been bugging me a lot in recent months: the drab gray color that indicates tapdown state for list items and buttons. Putting aside skeuomorphic textures like woodgrain and leather and the 3D-vs.-flat debate, the utter drabness of tapdown states is just a bad idea. I didn’t like it when iOS 7 debuted, and I like it even less 6 years later.

In classic iOS, when you tapped down on list items or buttons, they’d instantly light up in vibrant color. The standard color was a bright cheerful blue. In iOS 7 through 12, the tapdown state is the color of dirty dishwater.

iOS 6 vs. iOS 12:


The classic iOS style was both joyful and a perfect visual indication of what you are tapping. It was both aesthetically pleasing and more usable. It’s useful — and accessible — to make crystal clear what exactly you are tapping on. The classic iOS look-and-feel made it feel fun just to tap buttons on screen. I miss that. Again, put aside specific techniques like photorealistic textures and depth effects. To me the fundamental weakness in post-iOS-7 look-and-feel is simply that it’s been drained of joy.1

  1. The Mac, thankfully, hasn’t lost as much vibrancy. Think about how dull, and how much less usable, the menu bar would be if the selected menu item just got a dishwater-gray highlight instead of a vibrant blue one — or whatever other accent color you’ve chosen if you’re running 10.14 Mojave. Even when using the monochrome Graphite theme, the menu item highlight is a dark gray with inverted white text — it’s deliberately not joyful the way the colorful options are, but it’s still a very distinctive visual state, not subtle like on iOS. ↩︎