How flat is too flat: Where do you want to see the future of iOS design? [Poll]

There've been a lot of rumors lately about how Jony Ive, now in charge of all human interface across Apple, may be reducing or eliminating the use of heavier textures, gradients, skeuomorphs, and other rich visual elements in iOS 7. Everything from buttons to icons, tabs to panels, bars to skins seems ripe for a subtler, flatter, more digitally authentic refresh. But what does that mean exactly?

For some, "flatter" could just mean taking things down a notch -- less severe gradients, lighter shadows, shallower bezels, fainter textures, and an overall refinement of what's already there. For others, "flatter" means scorched earth -- no gradients, no shadows, no bezels, no textures, and an utter obliteration of all that was.

Truth is often in the eye of the beholder, and somewhere in between the extremes. But it does prompt the question: how flat would you like to see iOS 7? Vote in the poll up top and let me know the details, and the reasons for them, in the comments below!

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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How flat is too flat: Where do you want to see the future of iOS design? [Poll]

51 Comments

I trust Johnny ive to wait to see his design before passing judgement.
instincts are nice and all but it might be a lot better than we think it will.

This is exactly where I fall too, I like it the way it is, but I trust Sir Jony's instincts and sensibilities about change for the better without alienating current users.

Agree. Ive has shown us over and over that he's a master of refinement. And that means keeping it simple where appropriate and obsessing over extreme detail where appropriate.

I do not feel that there is a lot of "depth". There are some shadowing effects but not to any extreme. I am okay with removing some of the style elements (in the game app) but I like others, for example the leather. I was hoping the human interface changes would be in the way we interact with the phone not just how it looks. I would like the option of using a completely gesture based interface (I.e.: like BB10 or the iPad- other than to turn it on I rarely use the home button on the iPad). I do not like being dependent on the home button (mechanical button will fail). Also, I would like to see Apple combine apps rather than fragment. For example, I would like to see the calendar, contacts and email go into one app with a simple way of moving between these functions. Also, combine iMessage and FaceTime (they should have bees together from the start (remember iChat). So to summarize, rather than a flat look as being the next big change I would like a new way to interact with the phone and I think the future is completely gesture based.

I really don't care. Either is fine with me. Just don't monkey around with the UI to drastically.

I'm sorry but I think people are going way overboard on all of this. Yes I think iOS will lose the kitsch and the fugly but I don't think it's turning into Windows 8. Look at the changes made to the podcast app. That's not Windows 8. My guess is the new iOS design will look a lot like some of the great iOS apps. Notes app won't look like a legal pad with that awful felt tip font. Messages app won't have the cartoonish bubbles. Game Center will lose the green felt and casino feel.

I wish people would stop assuming a flatter design equals Windows 8. Microsoft didn't invent the "flat" design style and there's more than one way to implement it.

You nailed it. Shading, texture, and color are all perfectly OK IMHO. But re-creating a reel-to-reel tape deck is a waste of time and effort. Many Podcasts users have never even seen a tape deck in real life and even fewer have ever operated one. Illogical to use a tape deck metaphor. Skeuomorphism at its worst.

And not that functional and i have pretty thin but long big fingers (well big for my size). I actually remember my parents showing reel to reel tapes to us as a boy.

Regardless i think the textures are a positive. I think the gradients are great. The glass effects like the password lock screen are really sexy. I also don't think it looks dated for the most part.

In fact windows changed for change sake and Windows 8 is selling horribly.

Looking at how it's selling is meaningless. The fact of the matter is no matter how Windows 8 is selling, it's badly designed with its lack of finess and its sea of hidden "guess-what-to-do" controls.

Skeuomorphism has reached the end of its first phase (2007 - 2012), where it has been particularly full-on and garish (e.g. Game Centre, Podcasts). You've got to admit, it was a daring, exuberant breath of fresh air that cleverly masked the complexity of the newfangled smartphone and won over many Luddites frightened away by the overly complicated handsets of the period with their deep-nested menus and cryptic icons.

Skeuomorphism is invaluable, even indispensable in many UI situations, helping make sense to humans using non-human devices to perform real-world tasks (apps for Digital Audio Workstations, Synthesizers, Maps and Aeronautical Charts come to mind as examples). In short it is a humanising feature.

For shading, colours and textures however, it was always going to be an optional fashion statement with a limited shelf life.

Now, a more subtle sense of aesthetics is creeping into it and toning it down tastefully, not eliminating it altogether as some "skeuomorphobes" are braying for.

I think iOS definitely needs an overhaul, but going too flat might be a bit off putting for longtime users like myself. What I think would be better would be a subtle change (i.e., removing all the shiny accents but not going quite as far as Metro).

That, coupled with a color scheme change (they've been using that same blue/gray scheme forever) might be visually interesting enough to tide people over for a while.

I hope it is not a going in the direction of Metro. iOS is currently very well designed. It is the reason I use it. I still find Android haphazardly done, Window Phone is too simple, there is now app centric feeling. BBOS is ok, as in many ways it is sort of like iOS. So refine, go modern. But as a commenter mentioned, I trust Ive, my MacBook Air will look good now, and 6 years down the line. My iPhone 4s still looks fantastic. I am sure he can make iOS and OSX look great.

Windows phone isn't too simple, it's badly designed. When all of the icons update and change it becomes confusing, the opposite of elegant and simple, and difficult to tell which app is which and so forth. Windows phone is good in theory, but not in reality. And frankly, I always found it ugly. And on Windows 8 they hid everything, making it truly complex. It looks plain, therefore it must be simple, right? Wrong. It's not simple, because you have to learn where all the hidden things are, you have to remember them, and you have to tap or swipe to bring the up. People are panicking right now about all this flat talk, but my gut tells me it will just be Jony cleaning everything up more than starting completely from scratch. A new batch of system icons and new toolbar and button designs doesn't mean a drastic new UI.

Everyone needs to chill, Jony has to use the iPhone too.

The only app that looks completely horrible is find my friends...I actually preferred the podcast app with the tape running in the back. However, I don't like the blue menu bars of safari and settings, thats where they could improve as they are boring now.

making it like Androids flat or Windows UI wouldn't be good to me.

I hate the blue/grey theme in the OS and Safari as well. I run all my mobile Safari's in "private browsing" mode simply to get the black/grey UI instead. I don't care about my privacy at all, I just can't stand that crappy blue UI.

It's not as bad as "Microsoft Blue," but IMO user interfaces should be as close to colourless as possible. Especially bars, buttons, etc.

Personally I like leather and a bit of playfulness, but as long as it doesn't end up looking as cheap and ugly as Google's "flat" iPhone apps a bit of a facelift should be OK.

Broke is one thing, but having an easier way to adjust brightness and Bluetooth and having a cleaner, more consistent UI that isn't trying to look like faux felt/leather or a tape reel is another matter.

iOS broke new ground when it first launched in 2007, but 6 years on, now is the time to clean it all up to make it more consistent, fictional, clean and modern. We're not talking about going back to the drawing board, we're talking a clean up for design, UI and UX reasons. And Jony's the man to do it.

I personally think that its time of iOS to change up a bit. I trust Jony Ive as we have come to love the products that he has designed for quite some time now. The man is amazing and very creative. I could care less about what the OS looks like because as long as I've been an Apple fan, I know that Apple is gonna tweak every aspect of their products (less iOS 6 Maps, lol) before releasing it to the public. On one hand, people have been clamoring and chopping at the bit for Apple to update the unrefreshed iOS look since its debut, but then hearing that the so-call "flatness," of Windows Metro-styled look has seem to sent people into panic mode. If you trust in Apple and the mastermind of Jony Ive, then I say just be happy and welcomed that change is on the way and wait till it's released before passing judgement. The glassy, glossy, gradient look is kinda played out, and change may be good.

I'm actually a bit worried that Jony Ive has gone too far in regards what I've heard about iOS 7. A lot of iOS is 'layers' for example where one thing slides away to reveal a background (usually with the linen texture) underneath. To remove that would be to change the entire metaphor for the OS. There are also as many apps that benefit strongly from skeuomorphism as there are apps that are hindered by it.

How does the skeuomorphism of the camera shutter hinder anythign for example? And how ugly and less intuitive would it be without it. Photobooth is another app that strongly benefits from the skeuomorphic design it uses and another case where removing it would make the app less than what it is today. For every monstrosity like the iBooks interface or Contacts, there are many examples of skeuomorphism that are beautiful and useful.

Word has also leaked that the icons are being redesigned in a "flat" manner also which would be a reversal of the entire history of Apple Icons and will make iOS the opposite of OS X with it's rich icons.

In short, there are many skeuomorphic elements to the current design that are ugly and a hinderance to use and should be removed, but to make the entire UI "flat" in an unrelenting and cohesive way is a horrible mistake IMO.

They'll keep the camera shutter as it serves a very unique and valid purpose.

You consider iBooks a monstrosity?

Word hasn't leaked that the icons are being designed in a flat manner. That's the toolbars. The system icons are being redesigned to reflect the redesigned apps contained within them.

The only purpose the iris serves in the camera is to give you something to look at while the camera boots up. It's only there to keep you from stabbing at the shutter button in frustration for a couple of seconds.

Well, its good for a refresh but apple should keep in mind the iOS dedicated users...to my opinion, apple should give us two UIs..when an iOS device is turned on, de user can select a UI, one being apple native and the other being the tweakable UI where the shape, size, colour, behaviour, and even the icon picture can be changed individually without affecting other icons, in fact make it so teakable that the user can tweak almost everything...this will help to retain current users and entice new users...well, as I said..."to my opinion"

In my opinion, tweaking is a waste of time (except for the wallpaper image.)
It's not what you can do to your OS.
It's what your OS can do for you.

You can already tweak the OS, it's called buying an Android product. Apple have the best designers in the business. Let them do their thing.

I don't care about the design other than keep it easy to use. And PLEASE give me weather on the lock screen! Or just bring the notification screen to the lock screen. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Regarding flatness, I like flat. I love the Windows Phone look. Of course iOS shouldn't copy it, but I wouldn't mind if it took a few cues from it.

Not sure why the obvious is so easily overlooked. Apple has already shown what they mean by flatness. It's called the Podcasts app. This 'rumor/leak' is getting overblown by the blogs and 'experts'

While I’d welcome flat and non-skeumorphic in many cases, I think there are places for textures. Find my friends, calendar, and contacts without textures? Yes. Game center without textures? No.

I’m also a sucker for the occasional simulated tape player and such. Again, you don’t want to overdue it, but I’d hate to never see anything like that.

Find my friends in leather literally makes no sense. And unless you're missing the tea leaves, those textures you love, all of them, they're gone. You might like them, but Jony Ive doesn't, and I fancy his opinion.

I like the shadowing it makes it feel like I'm really doing something I don't care if they get rid of the leather and stuff like that I think going all flat is a fad we have always wanted software to be one with the real world

I wish you guys show an example of what flat would look like. I have no clue of what you are talking about. Everyone don't understand some of this tech talk.

Trusting that whatever they come up with is awesome! Looking forward to it... but hoping for a lot of changes to the UI but not a complete overhaul.

i see all the apple fan ppl are fine with copy now only because apple does it....they already copied andriod with the notification bar....so its gonna be a lil windows and andriod lol that is very funny to me ....watch andriods 5.0 sw come out .....and blow your minds as apple falls behide since the past 2yrs....plus andriod has 64% of the market on the world also food for thought ;)

Everyone must remember that whatever changes happen in iOS will most likely happen to Mac OS X. Apple isn't going to stray far from the effort they've put into making the two look so much alike. UI changes will be subtle, nothing drastic and they will carry over to the Mac.

Fact: there are thousands and thousands of apps for which skeuomorphism is an absolute must, an indispensable aid for the steep learning curve of their functionality that has been developed over decades, some even centuries.

The ledger lines of music creation and tablature apps, the editor windows of Digital Audio Workstations, Audio Mastering and Synthesizer sound creation apps, Maps and Charts of Mapping apps, Star Charts of Astronomy apps, the list is long and vast, long and vast...

The hysterical reaction to the (truly ugly) Games Center and Find My Friends app has given fools and rabid enemies of Apple (and the peerless Scott Forstall, the buckles of whose sandals they are unworthy to fasten) plenty of cannon fodder for their blunderbuss-firing.

Horses for courses, that's what I say. But yes, I too believe that Ive will show in software livery what he's done so masterfully in hardware.