It's no secret Apple is working on a new iPhone model and a new version of iOS. Apple is always working on a new iPhone and new version of iOS. What's different this time is that there's been a changing of the guard with industrial designer and Apple Senior Vice President of Industrial Design Jonathan Ive heading up interface design, and that means we can expect some changes when iOS 7 ships. The question is how significant will those changes be.
It's time for Apple to clean up iOS
Under Scott Forstall's lead, iOS and OS X began taking on design elements that made skeuomorphic a household word thanks to stitched leather interface elements in apps like Calendar and Notes. The Podcasts app for the iPhone was another great example with its reel-to-reel tape deck animation taking up a substantial part of the app's interface.
Mr. Forstall, while technically still an Apple employee, for all practical purposes, was shown the door at Apple and been sent packing. He was relieved of his duties in October 2012, with Mr. Ive taking over control of Apple's interface roadmap while Eddie Cue took over management of the Maps app project.
A recent update to the Podcasts app did away with the purely ornamental tape deck interface, hinting that Mr. Ive's influence on software design elements was already showing up. Adding to that notion is Daring Fireball's John Gruber who recently said,
Regarding Jony Ive and iOS: Word on the street is that iOS engineers with carry privileges all have some sort of polarizing filter on their iPhone displays, such that it greatly decreases viewing angles, thus making it difficult for observers to see the apparently rather significant system-wide UI overhaul.
He was echoing Rene Ritchie's comment on Branch, "Ive's work is apparently making many people really happy, but will also apparently make rich-texture-loving designers sad."
That's a pretty strong indicator that we'll be seeing significant changes to the iOS interface when version 7 ships.
The look and feel of iOS has remained relatively the same since it was introduced on 2007 with the first iPhone, nearly six years ago. Six years in iPhone time is like 60 in dog years, which in human years is... well... a long time. Don't ask me to do math.
iOS is fairly intuitive as far as mobile device operating systems go, but as it has aged some of that ease of use has been lost as new features and settings get shoehorned in. That tells me it's time for iOS to get an overhaul, and TMO's John Martellero seems to agree, saying,
Is it time for an interface overhaul in iOS? I am one of those who thinks it may be time. iOS, now roughly six years old, was designed in an era of much less hardware capability and launched on the small 3.5-inch display of the original iPhone. Now, it's being pressed into service on ever larger iPhone and also iPad displays.
The changes I expect we'll see take into account that iOS runs on a wider range of screen sizes than it did six years ago. New technologies have been added over time, so our apps and settings need to reflect that, and Mr. Forestall's interface elements from an analog world are ready to be retired, too.
A wholescale redesign of the iOS interface, however, won't be easy for consumers, so I'm not expecting to see Apple toss out all of the current interface design elements and start from scratch. Instead, I think we're on a new evolutionary road for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch where we'll see some significant changes in iOS 7 that lead to even more refinements with future updates, and start with a first step that may feel more like a small leap.
Most likely, Apple will take us by the hand and lead us into the new vision for iOS. There will be bumps along the way, but that's bound to happen with change -- especially with something as complex as an operating system. What seems clear today is that regardless of what else changes in iOS, we'll be leaving the stictched leather behind.