iOS 7: It’s Time to Clean House

| Analysis

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 iOSIt'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.

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All this talk of a less textured iOS design makes me nervous. Obviously, Ive’s design sense is top notch, but I’ve seen what happens when Apple’s designers “flatten” things in OS X, such as the maddeningly monochromatic sidebars in Lion/ML. If that’s what the future looks like, then I’ll stay in the past. God help us when Apple starts taking its design cues from Microsoft.

Jeff Gamet

Hopefully Apple doesn’t go too flat with its new interface design elements. I hadn’t even considered what would happen if Apple looked to Microsoft for design inspiration. That’s going to keep me up at night.


M$ did a wholesale redesign with Windows 8…tiles that give no clue about their function. It does not seem to be working very well for them! Give the customers what they want, if it’s a stitched leather look so be it.

Lee Dronick

Give the customers what they want, if it’s a stitched leather look so be it.

Most iOS device users are not the type of person who is familiar with and wants to use a command line prompt. However, you can take both skeuomorphisim and its polar opposite to an extreme. Find the current sweet spot.



It will be interesting to see what Sir Ive comes up with for iOS 7. Personally, in addition to the interface, I wish Apple would make the home screen more like Dashboard. That would open up a whole realm of new iOS possibilities.

Paul Goodwin

If they give us anything remotely resembling the flat colored tiles of Windows 2 looking Winphone and the win8 tablet/computers, I will throw up on my shoes. Apple, Macs, and iOS devices have a heritage in top notch graphic design. Anything less is a step down. I agree with DJ on the scroll bars. If that’s an indicator of the direction, it’s not only disturbing, but foolish. Fit and finish boys. Fit and finish, of the software as well as the hardware. Flat is boring and rudimentary looking.

Paul Goodwin

“Change is death”... Woody Allen


@mrmwebmax ~ Sir Jonathan, or even Sir Jony, but never “Sir Ive.”


They’ll almost certainly keep the basic look and feel of iOS; icons, touch behaviour, switches, buttons and the basic look and feel. I agree that skeumorphism is likely to be eliminated in favour of a cleaner, simpler interface, but think it’ll probably use the elements that exist already, rather than something completely new.

What iOS lacks right now compared to Android is app communication.  Right now each app stands alone. No real multitasking, very limited file sharing or directory access, no lockscreen data access except for notifications, no status icons (except for Calendar), and very limited visual customization.

I don’t have a problem with Windows 8 live tiles, but I also don’t see any reason for Apple to emulate them, outside the potential for live icons.

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