iOS 7: Apple Moves Away From Skeuomorphism

With all of the talk about the release of iOS 7 and a change to a flatter, less skeuomorphic design, we’ve been wondering how Apple would accomplish the move without losing clarity. After all, a pretty interface isn’t any good to anyone if you can’t get it to do what you want.

Apple closed out their WWDC 2013 keynote with an introduction to iOS 7, and a huge focus was on how it looks. We know Apple can make something look nice, but can a flatter design make iOS work better on your iPad?

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A Move Away From Skeuomorphism

Skeuomorphism and flat design are terms thrown around a lot, and it’s a good idea to know what they mean. To break it down, skeuomorphic design, when used for computers and similar devices, lets you know that a new object is meant to be used like an older object. The volume control looks like a speaker; it doesn’t have to, but it makes a lot more sense to the user if it does.

Take a look at the new iOS 7.

Take a look at the new iOS 7.

Recently, Apple’s attempts at skeuomorphic design haven’t gone over well. Those of us who have never had a desk blotter, or in this new economy, a regular desk, certainly recognized what Apple was going for with the leather and paper iPad Calendar, but it’s not relevant to how we keep track of our day and looked dated to a lot of users.

Looking Toward iOS 7

Many have hoped that iOS 7 would save us from skeuomorphism, but those who were hoping for a completely flat look to the Home screen are going to be disappointed. It’s not all bad, though. Many of the default icons still have a gradient background, but there’s no swoop of reflection implying 3D. Also gone are icon shadows, so that’s something to be happy about. The Home screen isn’t entirely 2D, though, as icons seem to float above the wallpaper. There’s not a practical purpose to this as far as I can see, but it’s pretty cool and reminds me of those 3D stickers I collected as a kid.

The new Home screen is brighter, with updated icons.

The new Home screen is brighter, with updated icons.

Taking a look at the new Home screen in iOS, there’s a brighter palette for the default icons. For example, the Reminders app icon still suggests a checklist without actually including those ugly checkmarks and lined paper from the old icon, and the Notes icon definitely still evokes the idea of a legal pad but is now a simple white icon with a yellow strip at the top. Similar updates have been made to many icons, creating a cohesive look.

Apps That Look Better

I threw some shade in Calendar’s direction above, and rightly so. It has been one of the grosser looking apps on iOS, going far beyond my distaste of brushed metal. The new design of Calendar is kind of amazing; gone is the ugly faux everything in favor of clean whites and brights. The same can be said for Mail, Messages, and the other big guys.

Calendar looks miles better.

Calendar looks miles better.

I could go on about the apps in iOS 7 all day, but the real rags to riches here is Game Center. I just hated going into Game Center and sort of pretended it wasn’t there. That’s an ugly app, and I know they were trying for a card table aesthetic, but that’s just not what I want to look at when I’m playing games with my buds. The new look is much more vibrant and bears no resemblance to the Game Center app of yore.

Game Center doesn't look anything like it did in iOS 6.

Game Center doesn’t look anything like it did in iOS 6.

One of the big new features is Control Center, and it’s where iOS 7 got the closest to what I’d been hoping. The background has the effect of fogged glass, and there’s quick access to often used features here. It makes much more of your iPad available with just a swipe.

Get quick access to what you use most.

Get quick access to what you use most.

Coming to an iPad Near You

The design of a user interface needs to focus on clarity, and that’s what Apple was trying to do with all that leather and paper and green felt, but, let’s just say it, they were doing it badly. With this new version of iOS, Apple goes a long way to making a simpler interface that works better. Yes, there’s still a bit of skeuomorphism in that buttons and sliders look like what they do, but this is the good kind of skeuomorphism.

Something to look forward to in iOS 7, simplicity and clarity.

Something to look forward to in iOS 7, simplicity and clarity.

iOS 7 isn’t perfect, and there are those among us who will feel Apple didn’t go far enough in this update, but it’s a huge visual shift from what we’re used to. It may just be enough to drag some of us back from our third-party apps, but for that, Apple’s going to need to follow up its improved form with matching function. Apple’s promised a Fall 2013 release for iOS 7, so you can look for a more attractive UI soon.

  • Njordy

    Colorful bubbles are better the card table? Are you in kindergarten?

  • Nguyen Kien

    :( Look like children toy

    • James Cull

      I agree in part, some of the icons do look like they were designed by a 4-year old.

  • mediumsizedrob

    Yeah I’m not sure I like it all that much. The funny thing to me is, just scanning the pics I’ve seen of it so far, it looks a lot like an android interface that iOS folks used to make fun of. Now all of the sudden it’s a design triumph.