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Apple and the Flat UI



Apple "inspired by" Windows Phone UI for iOS overhaul?

TechCrunch is reporting that Sir Jony Ive is leading an iOS user interface overhaul – possibly creating a flat, futuristic design while moving away from the long-running Apple "lickable" look. 

We’ve been expecting the company to update its UI since Tim Cook announced that design legend Ive was taking over interface design at Apple. iOS hasn’t drastically changed since its launch back in 2007(!). The Cupertino company’s software features one or two over-the-top visual metaphors that no longer gel with the beauty and sleek construction of their hardware.

These ‘skeuomorphs’ have drawn criticism from supporters and detractors alike. The notepads. The faux-leather-bound calendars. The address books. The bookshelves. The billiards table.

We can trace skeumorphic design in computing back to the early days of the graphical user interface. Back when human computer interface designers needed a way to communicate what each function of the operating system did to a breed of non-technical users unfamiliar with these concepts.

The designers took the desktop environment, something most people were comfortable with, and built iconography and interface elements that supported the real world concepts. We use these skeumorphisms to this day (without any fuss). The wastepaper icon anybody?

We haven’t got a problem with skeumorphism per se. But its use is only relevant if it helps the user achieve their tasks.

Now compare iOS to the Windows Phone UI.

The Windows Phone uses a futuristic, “pure digital” UI, free from clunky metaphors and visual distractions. It’s clean, informative, and easy to navigate. Metro works because it gets out of the way, disappearing into the background.

Using a Windows Phone feels like using a phone from the future because a Windows Phone looks like a phone from the future – not a notebook or a bookshelf or a ridiculous casino table.

Google is another leader in what’s become known as ‘flat design’.

From Gmail to Search to Now (which recently launched on iOS), Google has embraced the philosophy in a big way and is winning over critics and consumers around the world.

We’re looking forward to what Ive turns out in iOS7. It will be great to see an iPhone, an iPad, an iMac – any device that runs Apple software - that feels like the future.  

Daniel Deeks-Osburn is Brand Manger at Jam, the social media and mobile agency. Wil Benton and Steven Craig contributed to this article.

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