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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?

Illustration: Kelly Rakowski/Co.Design

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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