This week was Apple’s Worldwide Development Conference—the time when the company announces all its new software, and generally a few pieces of hardware to boot. But Monday was especially significant, as it was the first time we saw the fruits of Jony Ive’s new position as head of human interface—with his sensibilities leaking into software as well as hardware.
Did Apple show anything radical? No. But they did give the iPhone a major facelift in iOS 7, and a series of updates in OS X Mavericks will make Apple’s laptops feel a bit more like Google’s Chromebooks, a decision that teases its unification strategy of mobile and desktop platforms in the years to come.
Here’s the news you need to read from the week, along with what we think it means for Apple’s future of design.
The news leading up to WWDC pointed to a flatter interface for iOS 7. And while the icons have certainly lost their bubbly nature, and skeuomorphism has quieted down, Apple isn’t leaning solely toward minimalism. It’s leveraging transparency and photography to personalize a potentially sterile experience, and iOS uses subtle tricks like a parallax home screen to feel more alive. That said, Apple isn’t redefining the core user interface beyond a few updated gestures. Apple and Ive appear to be relatively content with the fundamental framework of iOS. Read more.
From the outside, it’s hard to know if the narrative of Scott Forstall vs. Jony Ive has any credence, if the two really did have fundamentally different views on design, or if it just made a nice bedtime story. But it turns out that iOS 7 looks a lot like the original iOS, mocked up by Ive’s industrial design team—a vision for iOS that’s nearly a decade old, suggesting that tension between design sensibilities were present after all. With Forstall out of the picture, Apple will move forward with Ive’s original plan. Read more.
We get it already, Ive triumphed over Forstall and good won over evil. But to generalize that skeuomorphism is inherently bad is to overlook its importance in the heritage of technology and, specifically, user interface. If Apple had never been skeuomorphic, they’d have never been Apple. Read more.
Believable rumor has it that iOS 7’s bright icon-driven color palette wasn’t the product of Apple’s designers but their marketing department. And truth be told, that was a very clever strategy that won’t affect the user experience nearly as much as most naysayers think. Into the future, Apple’s marketing and design could become even more intertwined, not so differently than we see in Hollywood and processed foods (sorry if that sounds depressing!). Read more.
Much of iOS 7 may contain the old ideas of Apple’s hardware design team. But transparency, living wallpapers, and full-page multitasking were ideas borrowed from Microsoft, Google, and Palm, respectively. (And that’s not even everything!) Of course, in the hands of Apple, individual design tricks build toward a greater experience that no one has learned to duplicate, which is why Apple probably won’t stop stealing ideas anytime soon. Read more.
As companies like Google are prioritizing design, Apple has begun reminding the world that design is and always has been its department—and that something being simple or convenient doesn’t mean it’s well-designed. I actually read this message, alongside Apple’s flatter (but not dead) OS, as a reaffirmation that Apple is still designing for delight rather than crafting the most starkly beautiful products possible. Read more.
More than once at the keynote, Apple execs referenced "the next decade" for the company. But in reality, what they showed at WWDC was more about the last decade than the next—fixing old mistakes with a solid basecoat over the designs of yore. It’s when Apple paints the next coat that we’ll really get to see what the next 10 years have in store for both them and us.