For iOS 7, Apple May Dispense with the Leather and Felt

Apple may be looking to dial back the loudness in the next version of its iOS software for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

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Jared Newman / TIME.com

Apple may be looking to dial back the loudness in the next version of its iOS software for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

Or at least that’s supposedly the goal of Jony Ive, who heads industrial design for Apple. Now that Ive is helping guide Apple’s software teams, word is that the company may root out some of the tackier elements of iOS.

A report by the Wall Street Journal claims that Ive and his team have been working closer with Apple’s software team, and that Ive now sits in on review sessions to vet new software designs:

Some suggested that in Apple’s next mobile operating system, Ive is pushing a more “flat design” that is starker and simpler, according to developers who have spoken to Apple employees but didn’t have further details. Overall, they expect any changes to be pretty conservative.

MG Siegler, TechCrunch’s Apple columnist, backs the report, saying he’s heard there will be “some fairly significant changes to the design within some key apps and system-level elements, but overall, don’t expect a hugely different iOS.”

iospodcast

Apple

One of those changes is already here: Apple updated its Podcast iOS app on Thursday, eliminating the reel-to-reel tape deck imagery that pops up during playback. Also, the actual playback controls are no longer bounded by gray squares, which previously seemed to pop out from the screen. You might call it a “flat design.”

The backstory is that Jony Ive apparently loathes real-world analogues like the reel-to-reel tape deck. But right now, these design elements — known as “skeuomorphisms” — are all over Apple’s own apps. The backdrop for iOS GameCenter is a green felt table, and the backdrops for Notes and Reminders resemble lined paper. The Voice Memo app is just a giant picture of a microphone. In the Find my Friends app, you’ll notice leather and stitching throughout.

According to reports last year by Fast Company and Daring Fireball, the main champion of these designs was Scott Forstall, the former head of iOS software who stepped down in October. Forstall’s departure clears the way for cleaner, simpler designs. The Wall Street Journal‘s report certainly fits that narrative.

Thing is, skeuomorphism rarely shows up in third-party apps. You don’t see animations of spinning vinyl discs in Pandora or Spotify, or stories made to look like newsprint in Instapaper. It’s mainly an Apple thing.

So assuming those elements are on their way out, the question is whether Apple will shake up its software design in a bigger way, moving away from the gradients and rounded edges that give iOS its bubbly look. Apple tends to avoid change for change’s sake, but iOS is now six years old, and it often looks that way next to the modern sheen of Android and Windows Phone. A little reupholstering could be nice.

11 comments
MikeMcKee
MikeMcKee like.author.displayName 1 Like

I don't get this hatred for "skeumorphism." Making apps resemble their real-world analogs makes electronic devices familiar and friendly to those who are not tech savvy (and even to those who are). It also adds a much more interesting "texture" and depth to the OS. If Apple goes the stark and sterile route, they will be making a huge mistake.

How can the company that popularized the GUI, with its "desktop", "folders", and other skeumorphic elements not get this? It was precisely this skeumorphism that made PCs as popular as they ultimately became.

Steve Jobs understood this as his desire was to make the technology transparent. His goal (though overly ambitious for the time) was to make the MacIntosh as much an everyday appliance as a toaster, to hide the technology behind a familiar and friendly interface.

Jony Ive's industrial design esthetic is great for the hardware, but would be disastrous if applied to software. When someone picks up an iPad to use iBooks, for example, they want the experience to resemble reading a physical book, only enhanced via technology. I think very few would rather their ebook resemble a stark, simplistic computer display. I mean really, what's the point, to go backward to the days of monochrome displays and dot-matrix text? We certainly were free from the "horrors" of skeumorphism then, but was it a better user experience? Hardly.

iPhoneLover
iPhoneLover

I love The Simpler design in iOS 4,5 & 6 . Hope that they don't disturb the beautiful interface aiming to make it flat.


Music app on iPhone & iPod touch had ben a victim to such simpler looks in the past.

chrisgiammanco
chrisgiammanco

If your gonna go with "flat" just keep the classiness, I like that ios is all neat and perfect and that there's no crap scattered all over the place, like android has however the leather, felt, microphone etc have always looked really cheesy to me, and loose the black, white, and gray in everything  just like you guys lost the beige back in 1998!

klepros
klepros

Apple needs to understand that people are more interested in price reduction. Apple will need to adjust its prices if it wants to survive. Android and the new Blackberry are winning the market. http://t.co/Obwnx6s3Kd.

mahadragon
mahadragon

@klepros Clueless. Apple's focus is on premium product segment. Your comment makes no sense. It's like telling Ferrari that people are more interested in price reduction and they need to come out with a sports car in the sub $30k category to make us happy. 

theDreamer
theDreamer like.author.displayName 1 Like

@klepros That must be why Apple sells more phones than they do, right?

Apple products do cost more, but you get what you pay for.  

luscusrex
luscusrex

@theDreamer @klepros Not Always so, I have a Samsung Nexus (Use to own a 4s) it cost less than half than an Iphone, the screen is about 40% bigger and wider , the colors are beautiful, it's thinner and lighter, there is no crappy Itunes to contend with so I drag and drop anything, ANYTHING in my phone, it understand most formats including apples AAC, and Mpeg4. So you see You can get more than you paid for especially if the comparison is with the Apple elitist product line.

zepereba
zepereba

@theDreamer @klepros Ahh... Apple does not sell more than Androids. The last stats actually showed Samsung alone as the biggest Smartphone seller in the world. I am not a Samsung, nor am I an Apple fan, but the fact is that Apple is not the leader in sales. 

JonnyO
JonnyO

@zepereba @theDreamer @klepros It's all in how you interpret the numbers. The iPhone 5 is the best-selling smartphone in America, but Samsung sells more phones collectively than Apple does. This isn't news, nor is it an indicator that either company is doing something right or wrong compared to the other.

mj89
mj89

A more "flat" design... like Windows Phone 8?

Nothing wrong with taking inspiration from others, unless your company is the first one to cry and scream like a two-year-old when someone else uses a green phone icon.  This is exactly why I won't buy Apple.