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.”
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.