Scott Forstall and his love of user interface elements that mimic the “real world” is long gone. Jony Ive, the design genius behind the iMac, iPhone, iPad, and pretty much everything Apple in the last decade, was appointed to overhaul and comprehensively redo Apple’s most important crown jewel in October of last year.
Now, it appears, he’s close to complete.
Ive has been leading a thorough revamp of the iPhone UI in preparation for the upcoming iOS 7 release, and according to 9to5 Mac, he’s also most done. The changes are significant, described as “black, white, and flat all over.”
That’s a massive change from the original colorful, shiny, semi-transparent iOS development language, which tries hard to make virtual controls and objects look and feel and act like real controls and objects. You see that today in the drop shadows behind icons, the compass interface of Find My iPhone, and the physical button-like Apple toggle controls:
Forstall, the former iPhone chief who was cut from the Apple team after refusing to apologize for the Apple Maps disaster, was a big fan of skeuomorphic design: design that connects the new to the old with decorative but — some might say — unnecessary elements.
Those “some” would include Ive.
Apple’s Notes app is an example of skeuomorphic design, with faux leather at the top and the virtual remnants of virtual torn-off pages at the top. On iPhone, iBooks, Find My Friends, and Newstand are examples, with with fake bookshelves, fake stitching, fake leather, and fake shadows.
For a designer like Jony Ive, who has spent his life stripping away excess, simplifying relentlessly, there is something inherently dishonest about skeuomorphic design. It’s something of a lie … because there is no wood in your iPhone, no dead animal skin on the screen, and no paper to be torn off. And, he’s been quoted as saying that software designs built with physical metaphors do not stand the test of time.
There are design elements in the iPhone’s user interface language that are already trending away from the original color and connection to material controls.
Safari and Mail, for instance, have no parchment, no leather, no torn-off page remnants:
There are no images yet of iOS7, which will be one of Apple’s most closely-guarded secrets up to WWDC. Changes reportedly include dropping the textured, cloth-like background of Notifications Center in favor of a flat grey, and the shiny, transparent lock screen will lose its luster for a flatter, less evocative interface. You would have to think that a detail-oriented design-obsessed Ive will have comprehensively altered the appearance of almost everything in the iOS design language, but we’ll know more on June 10 when Apple reveals it.
In all this rush to get rid of skeuomorphic design, there’s one thing to remember.
Perhaps the iPhone was so transformative, so new, and so different, that skeuomorphism was a necessary first step in the evolution of its design language. And perhaps the virtual has now become so real … that now we don’t need it anymore.