What 5 Dots In iOS 7 Reveal About A Decade Of Apple Design Strife

A "new" element of iOS 7 has been buried since the iPhone’s original mockup.

Signal bars are ubiquitous on phones, so much so that we’ve developed an entire language around it—"How many bars do you have?" or "I don’t know why the call dropped, I had, like, three bars!" With five simple dots that sit on top of the iPhone’s home screen, iOS 7 has taken design ownership away from the silly bar iconography and distinguished iOS in a new, subtly branded way. Soon, we’ll all be asking one another, "How many dots do you got?"

So here’s the story’s almost allegorical twist, spotted by Cult of Mac. Apparently, the dots were part of the iPhone’s original 2005 hardware mockup. Jony Ive was building the body in secret while Scott Forstall was building iOS in secret. And Ive’s team used a dummy screen to complete the picture—a dummy screen with five dots and flatter icons to boot.

[The 2005 iPhone prototype (left) features dots for signal "bars" and a flatter UI—the same features that resurface in today’s iOS 7]

Now if you watched yesterday’s WWDC keynote, you’ll have caught several pointed jabs at skeuomorphism—great lines like Craig Federighi’s quip about the new Game Center: "We completely ran out of green felt." On one hand, it’s hilariously self-deprecating. On the other, it’s as if Apple is pretending some of its worst iOS mistakes were made by a whole other company.

To me, these simple, specific dots are proof that there really has been a dividing line of design inside Apple. This tiny piece of UI had been sitting on a dusty shelf for nearly a decade since its inception, and here it is today, positioned as the cherry on top of the new interface. It really does add credence to the narrative that Scott Forstall led iOS one way, while, under the surface, another, often better design sensibility was seething.

[The 2005 OS prototype]

Now is that sensibility Ive’s? Quite possibly, but it’s just as likely been fermenting within the ranks of Apple’s army of world-class designers for a while now. Either way you spin it, somebody made those dots, and almost a decade later, they’re fistpumping like crazy.

Read more here.

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  • Julian Thomas

    I find the signal bars no more or less silly than the Wi-fi strength indicator.

  • Anand V.

    Terrible and stupid design. The dots does not give you a sense of increment like the traditional triangular bars. Instead of realising the position of signal strength, your brain have to "count" the dots, just like the imbecile design in Windows Phone where they give you numeric volume level instead of the usual rectangle bar. Fundamental ideology of design: newer design changes does not equate better design and functionality, it's just done for marketing purposes.

  • Tony Cherby

    Give me back IOS 6 with or without dots, bars, triangles, ellipses, ovals, etc., etc. I am not interested in a device that no doubt will end up in an art museum some day. I will be dead  by then.

  • Nikilok

    The circles are a better way of indicating signal strength as, they are more spread out its easier to tell, i have 3 out of 5 dots..

    The 5 circles always remain, as circled outlines, with no background inside.
    When signal strength is present, those circles start filling up with a background color.

    This way its visually easier to say, if i have 4 of 5 or 
    2 of 5 dots.

    Like you said, Bars take less space and are more jam packed.. making it harder to count how much signal strength there is. While the circles are more spaced and makes it EASIER to visualize that fundamental concept. This is the philosophy behind the circles instead of "Standard" bars.

    Think Different !

  • Gerudi

    Design innovation at Apple is revisiting your 8 and a half year old UI mockups? 

  • Chris Kelly

    Theres no standard to say what each bar indicates, so every phone will show something slightly different for every situation. This means its ripe for playing around with. 

    Its remarkable how long a good idea can be sat on within an organisation before it finds its way to the real world. Without a doubt, in the world of design for screens, theres a lot thats mocked up, works and is amazing that is quickly tossed to one side in a risk filled meeting. I'm currently reworking a design for a feature in an app that was first put together, shared and dismissed over a year ago. Ironic and frustrating but thats how things are

  • johnlotz

    I hope the dots make it into the final release of iOS 7. While the standard climbing bars are the norm for every other phone out there, I think people will get along just fine with dots. Besides, the bars just look antiquated. Does anyone know when they first appeared?

  • Youly2185

    apple has become right brain--its looking like Surface--gross!---i've been there from the beginning--liked it a lot more when the masses stuck to their vanilla PCs--and left the Macs to us left brain creative folks. maybe its time for a new Mac.

  • ajy

    Better design?  Are you serious? Not only does it take up more
    screen space it conveys less meaning.   Bars are familiar to the idea of a
    bar graph. Tracking the value of something or an increase is done as the bar
    becomes higher.  Essentially it conveys more than dots.  Does it need to convey more probably not but the fact that it does in a simple minimalistic and efficient way is why its a superior design.

    So as iconography is concerned the bar icon uses
    less space and conveys more.  It is overall
    a better icon.  I would expect
    would see that.


    Bars have become so ubiquitous that its part
    of natural language and is a better design yet apple chooses to change it and
    interrupt standardization once again.


    When will they actually recognize the value
    of standards in design?  Standard in
    iconography help advance our technical and natural language.  Apple takes propriety to the extreme.  They sue if others try and create commonality of design and do all they can to remove from it from society.  I am all for paradigm changes in design but when its done like this just to be different with no inherent value it hurts


    I am convinced if Apple was a town they would
    change the stop signs to squares. 

  • Chris Kelly

    Although the bars are used by everyone, there is no standard to cover what the signify. does 5 bars mean you are closer to a mast or that you have the best signal? the answer is both and none, because theres no agreement as to what they stand for. So that means they are ripe for changing. Just because everyone else is doing, doesnt mean you have to. Apple have clearly made a choice to move in a bold and scary direction and disrupt an area that is standard, but not standardised. There is a big big difference between the two

  • pschlafer

    Many well-intended designs persist well past their need out of habit. Yes, the bars are easy to recognize, but from the context of the other elements the circles make complete sense and offer the same information with a more uniform appearance. The height of each bar doesn't actually change and they can be rather difficult to see anyway. tldr; Switching to a few easy-to-see dots makes it quicker and more pleasant to get the same information.How long would you suggest staying with the old handset for the phone icon? It should probably have a cord dangling from it…

  • Nat Scientist

    From skeumorphic to skewmorphic, like synthetic pharma or gmo'ers, nature is not something Apple can own and everything else is filched from the void to be iBranded.

  • Connie Y

    Nice focus on upgrading and improving the stuff with real value! Good grief!