When Apple introduced iOS 6 at WWDC in June, it revealed Siri’s new tricks, Facebook integration and the now infamous Maps app. Those who were paying attention noticed a more subtle change: the iPhone’s menu bar could change color.
Months later, that change is a part of the public release of iOS 6 and I’m not used to it. While jarring at first, I now find the change confusing. Sometimes it’s black or grey and sometimes it’s blue [1. Apparently there’s a yellow version, too. Thanks to Chris Rawson for sharing that. I think. Also, reader Vasanth Subramanian notes that The Economist app turns it red.]. At best, the change is unnecessary cosmetic fiddling. At worst, it alters a fundamental function. Here are my thoughts on the iPhone menu bar in iOS 6.
The Meaning of a Menu Bar Color Change
Before iOS 6 was released, the iPhone menu bar was either (outside of alerts):
- Translucent (lock screen)
- Hidden (games, etc.)
It assumed a color other than black or grey only to convey information. Most of those “alert colors” from earlier versions of the iOS are intact in iOS 6. Here they are:
[1. Thanks to Jordan Golson for the hotspot screenshot.]
There’s on odd change in iOS 6 regarding menu bar alerts. In iOS 5, the menu bar would turn blue if you navigated away from an app pushing video or audio out via AirPlay mirroring. In iOS 6, the menu bar remains black but gains a small, triangular play icon (Kurt Madsen notes that it turns blue briefly, then goes back to black, but I didn’t catch that).
Apple has trained us since 2007 that a non-black or grey menu bar means something. There’s a call waiting, an ongoing recording or an active hotspot connection. Now, in the case of Apple’s Mail, Calendar, Messages, Phone and Contacts, it’s blue just to be blue. Worse, it’s confusing, and I spent the first few days erroneously thinking I had an active call or something in the background that I wasn’t aware of.
It gets even more confusing when you consider the inconsistency across Apple’s own apps.
Last summer, Rene Ritchie asked an interesting question at iMore: “Should the status bar be part of the app interface, or should it disappear into the casing?” He concludes, “I’d prefer to see Apple go pure black across the board in iOS (and let developers overwrite it if they choose to). Even on a white iPhone, a consistent status bar becomes part of the device, there when I need it, gone when I don’t.”
Indeed, a consistent menu bar recedes into the background as users habituate to it. Conversely, Apple’s inconstancy makes the appearance of the light blue color even more jarring. Several Apple apps turn the menu bar blue:
Others keep it black:
- App Store
- Voice Memos
- Find My Friends
- Find My iPhone
Finally, Photos turns it grey.
A blue menu bar doesn’t improve my experience in these instances, nor does it convey important information. It feels like fiddling for the sake of fiddling. Blue for the sake of blue. That doesn’t seem like a very “Apple” move.
Update: Reader Jonathan Poh points out this post, which explains how the menu bar’s color is determined:
“Rather than going on the tintColor, It uses the average color from the bottom pixel row of the header bar.”