Weeks after a string of reports that Apple's newest operating system was causing dizziness, nausea and migraines in a small percentage of customers, a new software update today allows users to remove the zooming animations, a tacit admission by the company that iOS 7 was, in fact, making some people sick.
While only a small group seemed to be afflicted by the animations, it was a particularly vocal minority. In the past month the Apple support thread for iOS 7 motion sickness had over 600 replies and nearly 56,000 views. One discussion board commenter created a Change.org petition to urge Apple to disable the "nightmare" zoom animations that allow to shuffle between apps in the new operating system.
Sam Callica, the user behind the petition, told BuzzFeed he was motivated to act by the sheer volume of complaints. "This is the first time i've ever experienced anything like this," he said of his own motion sickness. "I'm really shocked because I suffer from motion sickness but usually only when I [look] at my phone in a vehicle. But with iOS 7 I'm experiencing nausea, dizziness, migraines, and fatigue just using it inside or on the street." Callica also noted he's been sleeping 12 to 14 hours a night after using iOS 7 for a few hours.
While Apple never acknowledged the problem in the press, it did respond to user requests, suggesting that sufferers try iOS 7's "Reduce Motion" option, though for frustrated users, it was a shallow and imperfect fix. As recently as this morning, Apple told users "we cannot comment on when a possible solution will be made available," but it would appear the company realized it had a problem on its hands and took the advice of its suffering users. Now, in the new iOS 7.0.3 update, toggling the "Reduce Motion" option turns off all animation instead of only disabling the phone's parallax effect.
For Adam David, a photographer who's suffered from dizziness during 3-D movies, but never from a smartphone, the problems started the moment his iOS 7 download was finished. "I was actually on the phone with AppleCare while downloading iOS 7 so I joked to the Apple rep on the phone that the animations seemed pretty goofy. But over the next two to three days I felt increasingly weird and out of sorts. I don't normally get migraines but I was getting them and it was certainly linked to iOS 7."
While the thought of a four inch screen inducing nausea, vomiting, and vertigo may seem unfathomable to most iOS 7 users, it's worth noting that the new animations are a great deal more dynamic than in previous versions. As you would with skeuomorphic design (which Apple mostly did away with in iOS 7), it's generally useful to think about iOS animations as metaphors for actual physical movements. With that in mind, switching between iOS 7 apps on a high-resolution Retina screen iPhone 5 doesn't just mean a 120x120 pixel app icon expanding to fill 1136-by-640 pixel screen in under a second, it means a 4.5 -inch object moving through space at similar speeds to a car. The end result is that apps appear to shrink away and expand toward the at high speeds, but if your brain is wired to interpret these simulated movements as physical ones, it's easy to see how it could be problematic. Personally, I barely noticed animations in my first three months with iOS 7, but after spending the better part of the last day keenly aware of them, I found them to be more and more intrusive, if not just a bit disorienting.
Though it's small in scale, compared to past issues like Apple Maps' glitches and the iPhone 4's signal/bumper problem, the complaints appeared to have taken the company by surprise. Before the update, the only path to relief appeared to be downgrading to iOS 6, and while users like Callica and David were willing to make the sacrifice, they were worried about what this meant for products down the line. "It kind of freaks me out a little bit for the future. I wouldn't want to have to do a petition for each new phone," Callica joked.
Like many Apple devotees bothered by iOS 7, David was mostly concerned he'd be shut out of not only iOS 7, but future products. "It troubles me to think I could be ruled out of being able to use new technology. I was and still am so excited by the technology that's under the surface (notification center, TouchID) in iOS 7 and I can't use it because of a design choice."
But for now, the fix appears to put those concerns to rest.
When reached for comment after news of the update, Callica told BuzzFeed it was a huge victory. "If this is true I'm completely relieved. This is like all I've been talking about to every person I come in contact with. I haven't downloaded it yet, but if it works I'll be happy and relieved."