I am looking forward to the coming updates that will come with iOS 7. From the moment of the announcement that Scott Forstall, the man who has been behind iOS since the beginning, was out, I immediately thought “Cool!”. Before I even knew that Jony Ive, the man behind all of Apple’s product design like Macs, iPhones, iPods, iPads, etc., would be taking over the human interface design, I thought “Wow, I bet Jony Ive will be the one to do something new and great with the interface.” One main thing expectation was a flat design, a simple design, and probably a design that integrated with the hardware more visibly.
“As with most such debates, ‘skeumorphism’ versus ‘flat’ is devoid of crucial context. When the iPhone came out, nobody used touch devices. The signaling benefits of skeumorphism were very useful, especially since most iPhone buyers were buying their first iPhone.”
Most technology-minded people (me included) tend to think too short term, why? Well, every day – oh wait, no – every minute, someone publishes or announces something new. Because of this hyper-changing world, we look for the break points in strategies using only our short term view. I was extremely excited about Microsoft’s new direction with Windows Phone and Windows 8. That is the future. For how long, who knows? But it is the future.
Now, “flat design” and “skeuomorphism” are the words written on the t-shirts that two groups of people wear as they stand across from one another emphasizing the quickly drawn line in the sand that sits between them. This type of thinking is still short sighted. The reason I like Microsoft’s flat design and why it is so striking, is due do the abandonment of certain skeuomorphic elements. There comes a point the path of a technological design or a product where we must shift to using interfaces for vastly more than what their analog counterparts can do. Take a calendar for example. There may be a better way to display the information (days of the week, meetings, appointments, etc.) than on a grid that can’t move. We sometimes restrict ourselves to what a large paper desktop calendar’s restrictions would be. What if we wanted to sort our appointments by our impression of their priority instead of by time? What if we wanted to always be able to see certain information while other information constantly changes?
The important thing for us to realize is that as our society gets more and more knowledgeable about technology, its devices, and the ways technology accomplishes things, the design should continually shift towards increased efficiency, information collaboration, and simplifying complex problems.
This is the next step for Apple, and I don’t think it is “too little, too late”. Some say Apple is late to the party, but again, we have to back ourselves out of the fog that prevents us from seeing beyond a single month or single year technologically. Apple has (nearly) single handedly launched to the mass market the personal computer (Mac), digital music in our pockets (iPod), digital media distribution (iTunes), smartphones (iPhone), grassroots-make-anything-you-want application development (iOS), and tablet computing (iPad) all within less than 30 years. Seriously. That blows my mind. There are other companies, organizations, individuals that always play huge roles any every major shift, but Apple has, in every since of the phrase, been a major player in the biggest shifts most likely all of human history. Hyperbole, maybe, but…maybe not? The personal computer and the smartphone are such gigantic shifts, even in just terms of the ability to access all of humanity’s knowledge and communicate instantaneously to anywhere in the world.
To the point, iOS 7 should be very interesting to see one month from tomorrow. As for “skeuomorphism” and “flat”, there are discussions about Jony Ive going back in time to prevent the Greeks from building using skeuomorphism, so, let’s think more about usability, less about mere aesthetic, and take everything with a grain of salt.