We've been hearing about Jony Ive taking a sand blaster to iOS 7 -- removing a lot of the heavier textures, gradients, shadows, and skeuomorphs that built up at Apple under Steve Jobs and Scott Forstall. According to what I've been hearing), iOS 7 will make fans of the richer design style cry. 9to5Mac's ace reporter, Mark Gurman, calls it Windows Phone-like, and what's more:
In addition to losing the complex interface design characteristics from earlier versions of iOS, Apple has been discussing and testing ways to add more ‘glance-able’ information and system options panels, like Notification Center, to the software. While it is still uncertain if Apple will end up including such new functionality in iOS 7, or how the Company will implement the potential addition, one of the early ideas was to implement the new panels via swipes from the left and right side of an iOS device’s display. This would be similar to the gesture on Apple’s Mac trackpads for accessing Notification Center in Mountain Lion, but what, specifically, the iOS gesture could access is uncertain.
Gurman also says that iOS 7 is code-named Innsbruck, and includes a full set of newly redesigned icons for the built-in Apple apps. As that suggests, and as I've heard as well, the base Springboard launcher and its grid aren't going anywhere any time soon, so those hoping for an entirely new Home screen experience will be disappointed. That's not to say there won't be, as Gurman alludes to in his post, that Apple won't introduce new or modified sliding panels like Notification Center to add to or enhance functionality, but when you hit Home, currently, you still see Home. That's important for the hundreds of millions of existing iOS users.
What it means for developers and designers, however, will depend on how they've built their apps to date. Those who have stuck to UIKit will get a lot of the new look, including all the new stock interface elements, "for free". Those who have replicated UIKit elements in order to change them more substantially will have to re-replicate them. Those who have completely customized their interfaces, and who want to fit the new aesthetic, will have a lot of graphics to redraw come WWDC.
Ironically, Windows Phone and Android went flat to overcome performance issues. Compositing, masking, and shadow effects takes cycles. Flat interface can be thrown around much faster. Yet, because they've done it more recently, and because it stands in stark contrast to the more elaborate 2007-esque iOS interface, it looks "new". Their constraints brought out a cleanness and modernness that became fashionable, and as a result made Apple look decidedly unfashionable.
It'd be tempting to call the move reactionary -- a new look by new management to deal with new tastes in the market -- but for that new management being headed by Jony Ive. Apple's senior vice president of design has tastes that are well known, minimalist and timeless. He values getting everything, every distraction, out of the way until only the essential nature of the object remains. Now we're seeing that vision, Ive's vision, in charge of software for the first time. That it's such a stark contrast, and likely a welcome change for many from the status quo, could simply be a bonus.
Check out Gurman's article for more on iOS 7's new look, and then come back here and let me know what you think. If Apple goes flat, should they go very flat?