Overhaul of iOS Rumored; Interface could Reflect Younger Generation

I read an interesting article in Wired recently about the likelihood of a major redesign of iOS, Apple's software that runs our iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches. Speculation began when Apple replaced Scott Forestall with Jony Ive to head up iOS interface design. Forestall, like Steve Jobs, loved skeuomorphic design, which harks back to real world objects of the past. For instance, the iOS calendar icon looks simliar to a leather-bound desk calendar and the audio player looks like a tape deck.

Ive is not new to Apple. He has been the genius behind Apple's hardware design since he became senior VP of design in 1997. He's been responsible for the design of the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and Apple's desktop computers. And now that he heads the design of iOS, everyone is expecting him to put his own stamp on the design. And, simply put, Ive doesn't like skeuomorphic design.

The piece in Wired says signs points to a major interface overhaul for both iOS and Mac software, including recent job listings placed by Apple. The design of today's iOS is pretty much the same as it was six years ago: screens filled with square icons with rounded edges. Changes to the look and feel have only been minor. “Clean edges, flat surfaces will likely replace the textures that are all over the place right now,” an anonymous Apple developer confided to Wired. 

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The article in Wired makes the interesting point that the analog devices used as metaphors in skeuomorphic design are completely unfamiliar to the younger generation. How many of them have seen a reel-to-reel cassette player, as in the screenshot of Apple's Podcast app accompanying this post? The design may actually be a hindrance.

Originally, it was genius. When the Macintosh was first introduced, personal computers at the time used a command line interface. The Mac used a desktop metaphor, with files, folders, and a trash can. You deleted a file by dragging it to the trash can rather than typing a command such as "del filename." It was revolutionary. 

It will be interesting to see what Ive comes up with. According to Wired, there's no telling when the changes might come, but says it's inevitable. And it concludes, "Unfettered by such real world design hangups, the sky is the limit for the future of Apple’s computer interfaces under Ive."

Implicit in all this, of course, is visual design and metaphor. But, interestingly, with the advent of Siri the interface is becoming less visual. Perhaps Ive will have the insight to integrate the visual and aural interfaces in a new way. Apple also recently advertised for a position that would create character-driven dialog for Siri. According to 9To5Mac, the ad posting said the goal was to “help the Siri team evolve Siri as a distinct, recognizable character.” Maybe the next iOS will rely less on visual metaphor and more on Siri's personality.

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Jim Karpen holds a Ph.D. in literature and writing, and has a love of gizmos. His doctoral dissertation focused on the revolutionary consequences of digital technologies and anticipated some of the developments taking place in the industry today. Jim has been writing about the Internet and technology since 1994 and has been using Apple's visionary products for decades.