It was only a matter of time. When Scott Forstall, head of Apple’s iOS team, left the company last year and was replaced by designer Jony Ive, tech journalists speculated that the “skeuomorphic” style favored by Forstall would soon follow him out the door. Based on the latest rumors out of Cupertino, that’s exactly what’s happened.
Under Forstall, iOS (the mobile operating system that powers all iPhones and iPads) was chock full of cutesy details falling under the banner of skeuomorphism — a term referring to the use of physical images and traits in the design of digital items that don’t face the same restrictions as their physical counterparts.
For example, the notepad app on iOS looks like a yellow pad of paper, whereas competitors like Evernote feature nothing more than a blank, white screen. The newsstand on iOS looks like a literal newsstand, complete with wood grain. Game Center looks like a pool table covered in green felt. There’s no reason for these design elements, but Apple has traditionally favored them.
Ive is said to detest skeuomorphism in design, favoring a much cleaner “flat” look. Since he’s now in charge, it sounds like that’s exactly what we’re going to get when Apple unveils the latest version of iOS — iOS 7 — sometime later this year.
Until we actually see what Ive has been cooking up, we won’t know exactly what this means. There’s a big difference between minimalistic and boring. Many Android and Windows Phone apps have used flat design elements to create an elegant user experience, but some look quite dull.
Below are some of the most famous (and blatant) examples of skeuomorphism in Apple products: