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Illustration: Kelly Rakowski/Co.Design

Co.Design

Is This A First Taste Of Jony Ive's Influence On Apple Software?

The new Podcast app rights the most notorious wrong in Apple’s skeuomorphic history. Is this Ive’s hand at work?

The felt poker tables were a bit cheesy. And the paper shredder seemed over the top. But if there was one, most notorious piece of Apple’s trend toward skeuomorphism, it was the reel-to-reel tape deck in their updated Podcast app. Because when you would listen to a podcast, about a quarter of the screen was dedicated to a silly, useless animation.

It had no information to share, nor was it particularly pretty. But it was a tape deck being rendered in the MP3 era.

Now, Apple’s new Podcast app has ditched the deck. In its place, users get a podcast cover preview back (much like the original app). And speed controls have been reverted back to 1x and 2x rather than a tortoise and hare meter (again, much like the original app).

Left, the old Podcast app, which had a reel-to-reel tape deck. Right, the new one, which is far "flatter" and simpler.

What may look like a few small details hide a fundamental shift in design philosophy. While Scott Forstall’s time at the head of iOS trended toward skeuomorphism, Jony Ive’s new role overseeing both human interface and industrial design (the complete package of hardware and software) is already trending toward software made for the screen. A recent WSJ report further cements this possibility:

That dynamic is changing, according to the people close to the company. The stealth software developers still exist. But now, Apple’s mobile software, or “human interface” team, which has been led by executive Greg Christie, is being briefed about industrial prototypes earlier, these people said. The person described the change as 'a thawing.'

Ive, who is well-known for his sleek, iconic hardware designs, now sits in on the human interface team’s regular review sessions to vet new designs, these people said. While he and Christie, known as a blunt talker, have very different styles, the people familiar with the process described the sessions as 'pleasant and cordial.'

Some suggested that in Apple’s next mobile operating system, Ive is pushing a more 'flat design’ that is starker and simpler, according to developers who have spoken to Apple employees but didn’t have further details. Overall, they expect any changes to be pretty conservative. For the past few years, Apple has unveiled versions of its mobile operating system in the summer.

Truth be told, the Podcast app still feels unnecessarily button-laden. (Do I really need sleep and share buttons on my main screen? And can’t rectangular podcast thumbnails auto-crop to fill the entire preview window?). But this is a night and day improvement over the tape deck of yore. Hopefully, it’s a sign of good things to come in iOS7 and beyond.

Skeuomorphism run amok, in the Find My Friends app.

Download it here.

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29 Comments

  • Guest

    Although I'm one of big fans of flat design, not really sure about this whole atmosphere that blames so-called 'Skeuomorphism' lately.
    Maybe Microsoft’s Metro design is influencing others whether people like it or not. However, I believe the taste in design is a subjective matter, and shouldn’t be judged by the majority or trends. 
    Style isn’t the real problem, it’s the purpose of design.

  • Guest

    Although I'm one of big fans of flat design, not really sure about this whole atmosphere that blames so-called 'Skeuomorphism' lately.
    Maybe Microsoft’s Metro design is influencing others whether people like it or not. However, I believe the taste in design is a subjective matter, and shouldn’t be judged by the majority or trends. 
    Style isn’t the real problem, it’s the purpose of design.

  • MG

    It still makes me angry. It should be optimized to work while you are in motion and not looking so closely, like while driving a car, or running It's a little harder to see the navigation now. It's not really much different, maybe actually a little harder to use. The average UI designer could easily surpass this on functionality alone.

  • ANONYMOUS

    I won't update my podcast app because I happen to like the "useless" tape deck, and use the "useless" tape deck to navigate each track.

  • VasyaPupkinsan

    Looks like Ive is out of his league in this new venture. "Simplistic flat" has been proven to be just wrong, by clueless softies.

  • Matt

    Rigghhtttt. So design without drop shadows and leather doesn't work? That is a blatant lie. Hierarchy and intuition are way more important than having a nice texture.

  • Turingtest

    "Some suggested that in Apple’s next mobile operating system, Ive is pushing a more 'flat design’ that is starker and simpler, according to developers who have spoken to Apple employees but didn’t have further details."
     
    You mean, like Metro?

  • VasyaPupkinsan

    like windows phone metro? It looks like total boiled cr@p.
    and it sells like one. junk.

  • Anton McConville

    I'm glad the podcast app is more functional again. While I believe skeuomorphic design should be used with caution, I think that there's a place for it sometimes - for example - guitar tuner apps work fine with it, and I think the to do app is ok too. I wrote about it here: http://goo.gl/ty1bQ

  • Chris Macho

    That skeumorphic UI is simply 'wrong' is your opinion and not roundly agreed upon in the design community.

  • James

    I prefer the old design. This is a bit like buying a house in the English countryside. Do you go for a lifeless ultramodern box or a historical building with a bit of character? Some people like a little form with their function.

  • exizt

    The only important question about the Podcasts app is "How the hell do I download all previous episodes of a given podcast without making a hundred taps?". I doubt users care about whether there is a tape thingy or not, as long as the app is fundamentally broken.