The table view cell highlighting behaviour is an example of how iOS 7’s design principles resulted in a design that is functional … but boring. There wasn’t anything whizz-bang about how it worked before. Just a few subtle choices to add that extra level of professionalism and sophistication.
The iOS 1-6 highlight was not simply a wash of blue, but a subtle gradient of blues shifting from light to dark. The variation in colour was just enough to suggest that the previously-dormant cell had been active and was popping off of the page.
Simultaneously, the cell content would invert. The black text and accessories, like the disclosure triangles, lit up as a white silhouette on the blue backdrop. The cell reacted as a unit, and the flash of vibrancy rewarded the user for interacting with the screen.
The standard set by iOS 7-12 is much more drab, almost clinical. It’s a flat, nondescript, grey that seems like it was chosen specifically because it would not draw the eye. The grey is close enough to white that anything white would not have sufficient contrast, so the illumination effect is also no longer present. Cell content no longer reacts in tandem. The whole interaction is a lot more lifeless. Rather than the UI egging the user on to complete the tap action, today’s iOS drearily yawns and says “okay, if you must”.
This is just one of the laundry list of things that people railed against in 2013. Criticism died down as people acquiesced to what was given to them. Many critics, myself included, accepted the iOS 7 design as a rush job and thought that Apple would obviously catch their breath and ‘fix it’ over the next couple of OS versions. I don’t think anyone at the time expected us to still be stuck with these missteps six years later.