Imagining an all-aluminium themed iOS 7
Skeuomorphism -- the use of real world design in a digital context -- has been a target lately. It's also been lumped together with heavy design, elaborate themes, or highly textured skins, to the point of being completely misunderstood. At the extreme, this "skeuomorphic" melange has been held up as an example of iOS being boring, outdated, and bereft of innovation. In more reasonably terms, it's looked at as something that can be useful, but has perhaps been overused.
Personally I think there are far more important things Apple needs to do in iOS 7 than wiping the world clean of textures, gradients, and curves, both, but the argument persists so it's worthwhile giving it some form. but let's imagine for a moment it is on the agenda. That Apple's new head of all design, hardware and software, Jony Ive, was set to impose a new, unified, Aluminium theme. That, just like the Scarlet Witch in House of M, he whispered "No more themes."
Instead of arguing in the abstract about how much better or worse it would be, let's mock it up and see what could that look like...
A unified, aluminium iOS
Back before iOS 6 there were rumors of a complete, consistent re-skinning of the core interface into something more subdued and "silver". That didn't come to pass, though Apple's newest built-in app, Maps, did get a more subdued, more silver make-over, complete with new, floating buttons. Inspired by a discussion with Grant Paul for an upcoming episode of the Debug podcast,
I'm going to use something akin to that as a foundation, with a hint of the WWDC 2012 for the more heavily designed apps. I'm calling it "aluminium" in honor of how Jony Ive (properly) pronounces the word. Here's an example of Find my Friends, iBooks, and Game Center, stripped down and anodized.
Under the theory that consistency is usability, the more lightly-designed built-in apps could also adopt the same look and feel. Here's an example of Settings, Mail, and Safari.
A lot has been written about skeuomorphism lately, by a lot of people far more experienced than me. Dave Wiskus, in an article for Macworld, explored the future of Apple design, saying:
- Listen to Wiskus discuss the future of Apple design on the Iterate podcast
John Gruber of Daring Fireball attributes much of this to the evolution from standard to HiDPI displays like Retina:
Marc Edwards of Bjango also cites the print world, but mentions the technical limitations of rival platforms as a contributing factor to their simpler design languages:
Sebastiaan de With brought up a counterpoint on Twitter:
- Listen to de With discuss Find my Friends and stitched leather on the Iterate podcast
I'm still of the opinion that it's less about skeuomorphism or it's opposite, digital authenticity, than it is about usability. In some cases, skeuomorphism helps make things discoverable, approachable, and engaging. In others, it just gets in the way.
Update 1: Developer Craig Hockenberry of the Iconfactory concisely points out the major drawback to uniformity on Twitter:
Update 2: Designer Louie Mantia of Pacific Helm brings up a couple of excellent points, and throws in a gorgeous mockup, on Twitter:
Check out the examples above and let me know what you think. Would a unified skin across all of Apple's apps be more elegant or just more monotonous? Would a face lift make iOS less "boring" or just less interesting?
Get the best of iMore in your inbox, every day!
Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.
Find My Friends would be ok too, but... I love current Find My Friends, it think it's one of the most beautiful apps ever made.
On iBooks example, I think putting aluminum just makes everything looks worse. Much worse.
iBooks is one of those examples where skeumorphism is extremely well placed and designed. I wouldn't change 1 pixel. For the second part, I wouldn't change Settings, I would change Safari for that aluminum/gray pattern, but without those overlaid buttons. For Mail, I'm hoping something more like Sparrow. I like colors, I think iOS should retain some colors on key apps.
- A better print mechanism, with all the options that a PC has when printing (paper size, portrait/landscape, 2-paged, greyscale, margins, select the tray, etc etc)
- A unified file system, not a separate (or no) handling for each file type
- Multiple switchable user profiles
- Speech command for apps
- If you care about skeu-whatever, make it configurable, let the user choose whether it looks like car interior or like Windows 8.
I hate skeuomorphisms and I think iOS is a mess in terms of design right now, you never know what to expect when you open a new Apple app. How about making all Apple apps skinable and let the user choose "aluminium" or "charcoal" or whatever?
http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/overdesign The faux felt of Game Center and fake stitches in fake leather in Calendar spring to mind when I think of "overdesign" in iOS. I think that level of overdesign, with heavy-handed use of skeuomorphism, is bad. (But I think overdesign doesn't necessarily require skeuomorphism. Skeuomorphism just makes overdesign more obvious.) On the other hand, while I think the Compass app is horrendously overdesigned, I think that's a good thing. It looks almost like a physical compass, it acts almost exactly like a physical compass, and there is zero learning curve. It does just one thing, extremely clearly. I think it's OK for apps like that, with very little data to actually display on the small mobile screen, to be grossly overdesigned in terms of skeuomorphic faux-reality. Because the fancy graphics don't overwhelm the actual data displayed. You see it, you instantly understand it, you use it like a physical compass, and that's fine with me. And, looking at the all-brushed-aluminum mockups you did, Rene, I think the lack of design distinction between the apps and surfaces and tappable objects makes the apps all harder to use. It's as if you're driving along a road with everything painted gray and no shadows. Gray trees, gray buildings, gray cars, gray lampposts, gray pedestrians, gray stop signs, gray dogs, gray fire hydrants, gray curbs, gray sidewalks, gray crosswalks, etc. with no shadows to help you see them. It all looks the same, fades together, and makes you work harder to figure out where to turn. All-silver faux-aluminum apps do the same thing. They force you to work harder to determine what to tap and what not to tap. Every app has a learning curve, of course. But an all-silver no-hints app forces that same learning curve on the user every single time you use it. Because nothing is memorable. Everything must be figured out each time. That's bad. The other extreme, ultra-realism, adds to the user's emotional connection to an app. And it might help usability too. But when a user sees the Compass app, the first instinctive reaction is "Wow. That looks awesome. I like this app because it's clear that Apple has worked very hard to impress me, and I am suitably impressed at Apple's efforts." Apple goes for this instinctive, gut-level first impression in everything they do. Hardware and software. I think we underestimate how important looks are in an app. Slickness does count. There has to be some happy medium between all-flat-no-textures "digital truth" and everything-must-look-photorealistic "skeuomorphic overdesign." Maybe "brushed aluminum with colors" is the key. And maybe those colors could reflect possible anodized aluminum iPhone colors. Who knows?
Here is the link: http://www.clipclock.com/download/5215
the book app looks fine as is.
the other apps, one i don't use, but they look better chrome. i don't care about it all being chrome personally. Iike the grey music player look, i don't like that. I like the old look. but big picture the more you make ios like android the quicker i'll just go to android. And i'm not against it. But i'm convince the Jobsless Apple will fix everything that's not broken, thus breaking it. I'm convinced they will over thing everything. They will make apps more difficult then they need to be like by doing stuff like hiding all the buttons. I'm convinced at some point they'll screw up the music player based on some idea from some fool who has a library of just 200 songs thus wrecking the experience for people like me with huge libraries. In fact that's one reason i left Palm. you couldn't get large libraries on the phone and even navigating large libraries would be a chore because of the way it sorts and indexes music leaving you with massive lists of songs or album names. Like in a world of single downloads i've know what albums half of my music is on. Regardless, i hope they can get rid of some of that brown leather look but keep things that work. Don't change either just for the i always need something new nerd crowd. They are not the masses that buy the product.