Apple's signature, its meaning, and its promise

This was Tim Cook's WWDC, not only headlined by a risky, heavily skeuomorphic, deeply gamified iOS 7, but wrapped in messaging that elaborated on their core beliefs, and re-affirmed a promise to the people who use their products. From the opening video to the closing words, Apple repeated that message, and a few things came to mind as I watched the video and the event:

First, Apple is hitting the California angle hard. California is, of course, Apple's home state, and part of the USA. It has its own unique culture and history, as every place does, and one deeply part of Apple since its founding. Over the last year or so, Apple's faced scrutiny over everything from their business practices in China, to the growing power of their competitors in Korea, to all the money they have in other countries, and the US tax implications thereof. Putting the focus back on America in general, and on design and California in particular -- especially with a hot new Mac Pro announced as being made in America -- cleverly re-orients perception. Apple's heart wasn't left in San Francisco. It was born there.

Second, a signature implies responsibility, like signing a contract. Apple wrapped their new messaging in a promise of quality and of principle. From putting their name on their work, to "not innovating anymore... my ass!", Apple looked people in the eye -- people who might be wondering if they'd lost their drive or edge or general magic -- gave them a little wink, and then did a little strut.

It wasn't the return of Steve Jobs or Think Different. It was a more complex, more nuanced message for a more complex, more nuanced time. Time will tell how effectively it resonates internally and externally, and how well the new Mac Pro or iOS 7 really portent Apple remaining at the height of their power.

But either way they've already shown Apple remains at the height of their guts.

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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Apple's signature, its meaning, and its promise

21 Comments

I agree with you. I do however think Apple needs to soon start shifting that focus to services without ignoring design. Using Apple products is pleasant, but it would be great to use their services too, since the biggest differentiating factor within the competition now is how that product works for us. iCloud needs to become even more of a thing. I don´t want to use GMail (in fact I don´t, I prefer iCloud services) but Google services are way ahead. This should be Apple´s next focus. I don´t their sense of design was being questioned.

- iCloud.com needs to be more than that horrible experience.
- Document collaboration
- New features in email to increase productivity.

So far what iCloud does, it does well. But we need it to do more. And while we are at it, a File Manager, even though it doesn´t have to be the focus and as such confuse some customers it should be an option. iOS 7 would be as normal as IOS 6 was for a non-tech person, but it is loaded with functionality for those who would want that. A focus like that to iCloud would be welcomed.

I think the new signature & campaign is incredibly pompous and self-righteous. Just shut up and keep doing good work. People care about the product not where it comes from.

1 that !!!! It had an emotion quality to it. Not just word. Call it fanboyism ! But was there.

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not just the emotion part which it had, from an engineering standpoint it's 100% true that most other companies design stuff really quick without focus and try to throw in features without thinking of how everything works together and forget about the experience the consumer will have when using this certain device. Apple is one of the few left who know how to do design right

I totally agree. I've watched the keynote a couple of times and felt it gave an inspiring and confident view of Apple. I'm in Australia and the Made in California branding means a lot to me - only need to look at the creativity that exudes from Stanford.

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Re: "heavily skeuomorphic, deeply gamified iOS 7"

Uh, no. Skeuomorphism requires "a physical ornament or design on an object made to resemble another material or technique" according to Wikipedia. (The definition hasn't been corrected in several years, so it probably isn't wrong.) It's one thing to have yellow lined paper in Notes. That's not necessarily a skeuomorph. It's just a background graphic. But adding torn paper edges to the top of the Notes app is "heavily skeuomorphic." And worse, it's just a decoration. It serves no purpose other than ornamentation. Ive has removed all those phony textures and decorations.

iOS 7 is all about minimal geometric designs, depth, luminosity, and animation. (E.g. the total lack of a shiny button-like graphic on the iOS 7 button object.) Nothing in real world 3-dimensional space is composed of infinitely thin sheets of light that slide over each other and cause the underlying sheets to become "out of focus." Maybe in the Minority Report time frame, but not now.

And "gamification"? Really? iOS 7 looks like a mobile game to you, Rene? You could have claimed that Apple had "gamified" iOS 6, 5, 4, and iPhone OS 3, 2, and 1. And it would have made just as much sense. And no, improved collision physics and simulated gravity isn't "gamification" of the UI IMHO.

Agree, this Rene guy doesn't really know what he's talking about eh?
Gamification of the OS would be doing something like giving you points every time you used the calendar or sent an e-mail or unlocked the phone lol

The 'California' bit doesn't really make a difference to me as a non-American, but Apple are clearly explaining their core philosophy (which every Apple fan has understood for years) and why they don't include every whizz bang feature, and so differentiating themselves from the competition (here's looking at you, Samsung). I know 'designed in California' is part of that, just not as resonant for outsiders.

As a Canadian 'California' does mean something to me. There is 'America' which brings up too many negative connotations. Then, there is 'New York', which has more positive connotations relating to urbanization, business, culture and multiculturalism. Finally, there is 'California' which brings about ideas of progressiveness and being open and forward thinking as well as good looking. So, it may not give the same impressions all around the world, but the good vibes about California do extend far beyond the American border.

Heh, I knew when you wrote the piece about iOS7 beings skeuomorphic you would run with it and reference it in other pieces so it could ring true. Could you please define to us what you call skeuomorphic, because I think everybody else is working with a different definition, you know, the one about representation of real objects and textures and not physis effects that have no parallel in our everyday experience.

While you're at it give us your definiton of gamification, because you have us wondering about that too. Do you consider bright colors and conflicting gradients game elements?

Don't ask for justification. You already know what the deal is. The ios app needs a writer filter

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Rene, I have a request of you. Instead of writing a lot of these fluffy pieces here, could you get to some of the meat of what WWDC is all about. It seems that a lot of the commenters on these posts have missed the point of WWDC. It is not there fault, Apple's keynote was for the public and showed off the public facing side of iOS, OS X, and the Mac. But, WWDC is NOT about those things. Not even close. There was a few slides that showed off the other features of iOS and OS X with developer focused titles like Sprite Kit, and UI Dynamics. This is what WWDC is all about. I understand that there is an NDA on a lot of things. But, you can at least give us some perspective on the significance of all of these types of announcements on the APPS that we are going to be using in the future. After all, it is the high quality of the APPS that tend to keep people in iOS, not the icon set.

Having watched the video. I'm left feeling............ underwhelmed, and disappointed even.
And no more so than with Sir Ives treatment of iOS7 and the Apple customer base in general.

Let me say from the start that I actually do like the idea of some of the new features that I truly think will improve the way I could interact with my phone. Quick access to frequently used settings (like WiFi or Bluetooth for example) would be a huge bonus for me.
Unfortunately there's just no way I'm even going to consider "upgrading" to iOS7 when overall I think it would be a huge downgrade in my overall experience with my phone.

I'm hating the flat look, and nothing more so than the truly horrific icon set that we were shown. I actually think that the look of iOS 6 is beautiful. I really like the current icon set, I really like the dock, and the whole experience I get from iOS 6. It feels classy, somehow superior and different to ALL the other UI's out there (just for my own tastes). The icons are beautifully drawn, the whole experience feels "grown up" and gives me a confidence that the phone and it's apps (native and third party) are truly professional and functional.

Then I look at iOS 7...
While some usability is certainly improved, the whole experience for me now seems very childish. The whole flat experience, simply lacks to state the obvious..."depth". Nothing looks business like, professional or "grown up" to me. The UI now looks childish and like a toy phone rather than an iPhone.

I've stated before that my 6 year old has an "Innotab" from VTech and the latest screen shots of iOS 7 remind me very much of that UI and supporting software. I don't want a kids toy phone, I want a grown ups classy professional phone.

For Johnny to spend so long trying to tell me that the UI and the icons are beautiful actually proves to me that they are a complete car crash. You shouldn't need to be told that something looks good, or that design works. It should be obvious to you without the need for explanation, and to my eyes iOS 7 just looks cheap, tacky, and childish.

Then to read that actually it wasn't even the design team that came up with the colour palette and indeed even many of the icons then sorry Johnny that's just lazy. It seems that he has basically make a cock up with the whole iOS 7 design, let it be managed in his name by "marketing people" rather than actual designers and not bothered to keep involved himself. Then try to sell this garbage on the world hoping that his name behind it will carry and we'll all just accept that if he says its great then it must be.

For me perfect would have been some of the functions of iOS 7 but they should have left Mr Ives off the UI design completely. We have a saying in the UK... "If it aint broke, don't fix it."