Apple's new iOS 7 operating system for iPhone and iPad has been radically redesigned, abandoning the quasi-realistic or skeuomorphic interface of earlier editions of iOS in favour of a clean, flat, simple look. Here are my thoughts on why Apple - led in this direction by Sir Jony Ive - chose this direction for iOS 7.
Well, that was fun. It's been a while since Apple managed to spring some genuine surprises at a big press briefing - the company's secrecy levels tend to be tighter when releasing software, because it doesn't need to spill the beans to a bunch of naughty hardware suppliers - and the intake of breath when the WWDC 2013 audience got their first look at iOS 7 brought back happy memories.
One of the few things that the rumour mill was certain about, of course, was that iOS 7 would look as flat as a Dutch pancake, thanks to Sir Jony Ive's one-man war on skeuomorphic design: the little tricks that make a user interface look superficially like the 3D pages of a real diary, calendar or whatever. That theory was bang-on. But what do Sir Jony and Apple have against skeuomorphism? And why is a flat interface better?
For one thing, faux-3D design is horribly cheesy. More importantly, a software product as ubiquitous as iOS doesn't need to fake it. Perhaps early iPhone pioneers found the idea of a Calendar smartphone app baffling, and Apple needed to reassure them by making it look like the physical equivalent. But that time, if it ever existed, has passed. Smartphones entered the mainstream some time ago. The world is comfortable about playing games on a phone, and Apple doesn't need to trick us into thinking we're in a real-life casino.
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