Tensions had been mounting for some time now, between head-of-iOS Scott Forstall and other members of Apple’s management:
Inside Apple, tension has brewed for years over the issue. Apple iOS SVP Scott Forstall is said to push for skeuomorphic design, while industrial designer Jony Ive and other Apple higher-ups are said to oppose the direction. “You could tell who did the product based on how much glitz was in the UI,” says one source intimately familiar with Apple’s design process.
But before Forstall, it was Steve Jobs who encouraged the skeuomorphic approach, some say.
Skeuomorphism can be a powerful thing. It can communicate purpose and create emotional resonance. But it can go too far, focusing on how the software looks at the expense of how it works or feels. Apple has been criticized for just this with its recent offerings. Reportedly, they’ve gone so far as to demo a virtual paper shredder used when deleting e-tickets.
Now we’re seeing things shake out. Forstall is being “phased out” and Jonathan Ive, known for his understated hardware designs, is adding UI to his responsibilities. This move signals that the pendulum of skeuomorphism is about to swing back in the other direction, though it probably won’t be as extreme as Microsoft’s flatland or Google’s whiteout.
If all the wood, suede, felt, and yes, even linen, are to go the way of brushed metal, Ive has a lot of work ahead of him. For some apps, it might be a matter of reskinning the interface. But for most, whole models of interaction, currently built on strained metaphors, will need to be rethought. The following apps should be at the top of Ive’s to-do-list.
The tape reel, while well-made, is a waste of real estate and confuses what is and is not an active element. For instance, would you have guessed from the screenshot that you can drag the thin red scrubber, but can’t tap the progress bar to jump to a different spot? All the while, basic functionality like shuffling podcasts or sorting them from oldest to newest is absent.
Like the Podcasts app, it’s not evident in Game Center what’s interactive or not. The ribbons at the top aren’t, while the ribbons at the bottom are. So is the photo at the top. The felt and wood theme is cheesy, fitting for a 99-cent poker app rather than the official hub for games of all types.
Find My Friends
The less said about the stitched leather, the better.
While the skeuomorphism in iBooks isn’t quite as objectionable, it has represented a philosophy of keeping faithful to the dead-tree analogue. Contrast its page effects with the Kindle, where everything besides the text fades away. The scroll mode recently introduced in iBooks 3 suggests that Apple’s philosophy may have already started to change.
With Mountain Lion, the stitched leather is thankfully gone but the torn paper remains. The desk calendar metaphor, unfamiliar to anyone under 20 anyway, falls aparts immediately with radio buttons, check boxes, and scroll lists.
Similar criticisms to Calendar can be applied to the OS X and iPad versions of Contacts. The heavy-handed interface screams “book”, but it turns out to be a magic book with scroll lists and embedded buttons that slide panes in and out of the page.
Fortunately Photo Booth is not a critical app, but the velvet curtains and gold thumb-wheel rank with the stitched leather.
One Last Thing
iTunes doesn’t deserve to be on this list, but warrants special mention. Over the years, it’s grown from an MP3 player to Apple’s most important application. But this growth has been organic, and new functionality has been layered atop the old, creating a complicated interface in desperate need of overhaul.
In fact, Apple announced in September that a completely redesigned version was coming this month (though it looks like that target will be missed), and posted a preview on their site.
The new iTunes, as they call it, is minimal. It shows no symptoms of extreme skeuomorphism. And perhaps it will be the first real taste of things to come under Ive’s reign.