Subtle UI changes in iOS 6 and the case for the blue status bar

I recently bought an iPhone 5, so now I have a 4S which isn’t receiving much use. I decided to give it newfound purpose by comparing certain parts of iOS 5 with their counterparts in iOS 6. There have been a great amount of UI changes, some very subtle, in this update.

As we all know, iOS 6 has gone in a few bold directions with a changed Maps app, enhancements to Siri and support for the taller iPhone 5 display. Some of my favourite features, though, are UI enhancements and are therefore not headline-grabbing — that is, of course, unless you’re writing for The Industry.

For the following comparisons, unless stated otherwise, the left image is iOS 5 and the right image is iOS 6. At the time of writing, I was using the latest available versions of iOS 5 and 6 respectively.

Keyboard, status bar and menu bar

The subtle changes here — when composing a new email in Mail — are as follows: the status bar at the top of the screen is blue, matching the menu bar of the app, the transition between the menu bar and the main content of the screen (in this case the message) is more muted, with a nice simple shadow rather than the abrupt change in iOS 5. The same is true for the top of the keyboard. Notice the shadow which isn’t present in iOS 5.

The menu bar itself at the top of the screen is a gradient on iOS 6, whereas in iOS 5 there’s more of a reflection, giving the impression of a glossy plastic. With the update, especially when combined with the blue status bar, iOS 6 oozes a less reflective, almost textured feel to the menu bars, with (in my opinion) a less harsh and improved transition between menu bars and status bars.

Great changes.

Notification Center

Now, we move on to Notification Centre. As you can see, iOS 6 is using the limited screen space more efficiently to display the first notification higher up than iOS 5 does. Not only is the use of screen space more efficient, but for Calendar notifications, the specific day is mentioned in the notification separator and the times and dates aren’t in italics.

The difference isn’t huge, but this post isn’t about big differences. It’s about the small details. 

Settings and status bar colours

This is what Settings looks like when scrolled to the top in the two iOS versions. I love the re-thought out menu with easier access to Bluetooth, Notifications and Do Not Disturb. The latter two have their own section in iOS 6 and are easier to quickly navigate to. Again, the menu bar and status bar match up — I know I’m in the minority here, but I personally enjoy this UI change.

I feel the coloured status bar doesn’t distract my eyes in the same way it used to, as it matches the menu bar. The menu bar tends to blend in with the status bar in iOS 6, looking more like a single cohesive element, rather than two separate entities jostling for attention.

Simpler, neater, more cohesive. I like it.


The first thing I noticed when I launched the new Reminders app was how much more room there was to view stuff on the screen — let alone what it looks like on my iPhone 5 with all those extra pixels.

Switching lists is now done from a more standardised button in the top left of the UI, rather than swiping left and right between lists. I don’t really use Reminders much, but I find this change to be an improvement. I welcome the removal of the switcher at the top of the app, too. I always thought that was quite a confusing addition to an otherwise fairly simple app.

Thumbs up.


It’s easy to forget that the iPhone is, after all is said and done, a mobile telephone. I never loved the buttons in the Keypad section of the Phone app, and whilst I don’t think the new ones are gorgeous, I certainly find them to be an improvement.

My favourite change in the Keypad is the screen at the top. It acts just like a large menu bar, with the status bar taking its colour. Just like I’ve mentioned earlier, I enjoy the way this colour transition “fades” in. It’s much less abrasive than the harsh contrast between the status bar and dialer on iOS 5. More on that later.

Note: both the above screenshots are taken on iOS 6: this is not a comparison.

How could I write this post without mentioning the enhancements to the Phone app when receiving a call? Whilst this has been talked about a great deal, it really is hard to dismiss just how valuable it is being able to dismiss a call without tapping the sleep/wake button.

Accessed by sliding the phone icon upwards (just like accessing the camera from the lock screen), the “Reply with Message” and “Remind Me Later” options do just what they suggest and are welcome additions.

It’d be great if it was possible to reply with a message and remind me later, though. Furthermore, it isn’t obvious that tapping one of these two buttons will immediately dismiss the call, but I can confirm that’s what happens.

Clock and alarms

The stripes at the back of the Alarm section of the Clock app have changed colour! This is one of the more subtle changes in iOS 6, but I decided to include it because it’s another great example of where I believe the coloured status bar really improves the look of the device.

The blue status bar matches the menu bar and almost “flows” with it. That “flow” is missing on iOS 5. It matches the background, muted pinstripe colour, too.

These screenshots are some more examples of the improved gradients and shadows between UI elements in iOS 6. Just look at that tasty shadow at the bottom and the much more refined transition between menu bar and content at the top.

I’m a fan of these changes.


Sharing has been completely overhauled in iOS 6 and I welcome it. It was overdue. Being able to tweet and post to Facebook from almost anywhere on my iPhone is such a great improvement and I’m using it a lot.

Having said that, it’s quite overwhelming seeing a grid of 9 icons throughout the OS. I quite often take longer to choose an option than I did with a list of options, but that may just be a side effect of me getting used to this layout. Even if I were to incorrectly tap a sharing option, I’d be able to hit cancel before all my friends could see the mistake I’d made.

Check out the difference between the two cancel buttons in the screenshots, too. Also notice that Safari’s status bar is black, where it used to be white. I’m quite surprised that Safari didn’t have a blue status bar, as it’s menu bar is that colour. Perhaps the UI designers felt it’d detract from the content displayed on the webpage too much.

I’m even more surprised that there are still separate URL and Search fields in Safari on iOS, where screen space is most valuable. On OS X, there’s just one. It certainly seems like it’d be an obvious upgrade to make.


One of my favourite little details in iOS 6 is the gradients and lighting changes on the buttons in pull-up menus. They’re beautiful now — and they were hardly ugly before.

The reflection has gone, having been replaced by slight gradients and hints of a raised, rounded button. These match the new menu bar style perfectly. As you can see from the screenshots, even the pull-up menu itself has lost its lines of reflection, even though it remained translucent.

Last words

The change which most design-savvy users are complaining about in iOS 6 is the status bar. I’ve explained why I think it’s an improvement, but as I noticed more of the little improvements throughout the OS I realised that the status bar is just one step on a path iOS is going down.

The criticism of the blue status bar tends to just be, “it’s ugly.”

My argument for it is more nuanced: I feel the blue status bar with light text, positioned above a lighter blue menu bar also with light text and some darker controls gives the top of the screen a certain unimportance. A flow. This move is saying that the status bar is so unimportant that its colour can change to match the app which is currently open. This should be the case — apps take up the majority of the iOS device’s screen and I wouldn’t want the top of my device to look out-of-place.

I’m certainly not saying that a silver status bar next to a blue menu bar was distracting, but a blue status bar next to a blue menu bar is less so, after the initial “whoa, that’s different” feeling wears off.

And I like it. If you disagree with me, please, let me know. If there are any details in iOS 6 you feel I missed, or anything else you’d like me to delve into and explore, please, let me know, either by mentioning me on twitter, letting The Industry’s twitter account know, or by leaving a comment below.

The final subtle change in iOS 6 in this post is a challenge for you to find out yourself. Notice anything different in the featured image?

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