Does OS X 10.10 need a facelift? The case for a flatter interface

Critics against "flattening" OS X say it takes iOSification a step too far. But does it?

There's been some talk about OS X 10.10 code-named "Syrah," getting a "flatter" look. System icons would edge more towards how they look in iOS 7, losing some of their three-dimensional quality, and certain interface elements like buttons and window interfaces might be reworked.

That raises the hackles of some long-time Mac users who fear what they see as an inexorable unification of OS X and iOS; one that began almost as soon as iOS became the operating system for Apple's dominant product lines.

I don't think iOS and OS X are headed for a singularity any time soon. But I would welcome more visual consistency between iOS and OS X. Ready to burn me at the stake? Hold your torch for just a minute and hear me out.

iOS feeds Apple a lot of OS X's new users. Every day people wander into Apple retail stores to buy a Mac who have never had one before, but have experiences with iOS products like the iPhone and iPad. That experience informs them. So does their experience with other platforms like Android and Windows.

So new Mac users are already trained to use a flatter interface than what they currently get with OS X. And flattening OS X would certainly enforce a more consistent visual interface with iOS 7.

New Mac users benefit, old Mac users have to adapt. Is it worth the pain? Year in and year out, Apple says that about half of the people walking in to Apple retail stores to buy a Mac are first-time Mac owners. That's a lot of users coming to the platform who aren't carrying the baggage of past Mac operating systems.

So there's a case to be made in favor of unifying that experience. But it also seemingly flies in the face of what Apple's own senior vice president of worldwide marketing, Phil Schiller, has said. When asked about a singular interface for tablets, phones and computers, Schiller said, "What a waste of energy that would be."

Schiller made the comment to Macworld back in January, on the occasion of the Macintosh's 30th anniversary. But in context, Schiller's comments were a criticism of Microsoft, which employs a singular "Metro" interface across its product lines. Clearly "one interface to rule them all" is not the direction Apple wants to move in.

A move towards a flatter OS X interface wouldn't necessarily be contrary to what Schiller and company have discussed. OS X has evolved many times in its life. Anyone remember OS X's "lickable" Aqua interface? For that matter, OS X itself was a major user interface transition from "Classic" Mac OS.

Apple's very happy to blur the lines between iOS and OS X when it makes sense. Mavericks introduced Maps and iBooks, for example, two apps that had been up to then exclusive to iOS. Apple's worked very hard to simplify the exchange of data between platforms so it's as seamless as possible.

Mavericks' updated iWork applications — Pages, Keynote and Numbers — were rebuilt around their iOS counterparts to help facilitate an easier workflow. That move has met criticism and resistance from longtime Mac iWork users who have lost features and functionality, but Apple's philosophy is clear: the longterm benefits of a uniform workflow outweigh the short term discomfort from users who are set in their ways.

So don't be surprised if Mavericks' successor looks a bit different than you're accustomed to. But change, in this case, can be good, and could help facilitate the transition of even more new users to OS X. A healthier OS X ecosystem is a good thing for anyone who cares about the Mac.

Does the idea of a more iOS 7-like visual interface for OS X thrill or frighten you? Let me know what you think in the comments.