Apple's App & iOS Design Changes Threaten To Delay The Next iPhone

The apps that users have come to love (or hate) since the iPhone and its mobile operating system – iOS – first hit the market could be about to look very different: No more 3D cartoonish caricatures of bookshelves or billiard tables, Apple apps are reportedly going “flat.” Perhaps just as important, the new design could dictate when the next iPhone actually hits stores.

According to a report from Bloomberg, Apple’s lead designer, Sir Jonathan Ive, is completely revamping the look and feel of iOS. Ive had previously been the long-time head of hardware design at Apple (responsible for the physical look and feel of iMacs, iPods, iPads and the iPhone) but was elevated in 2012 when CEO Tim Cook let go Scott Forstall, the previous lead designer of iOS. Ive now controls the look and feel of just about every aspect of the iPhone.

With that change comes the end of skeuomorphism, the designconcept where developers make apps look like the physical object they represent. In iOS, this can be seen in the bookshelves of the Newsstand app or the paper notebook look of the Notes app.

Apple moving away from skeuomorphism is not news. The New York Times reported the move in November of last year, and the topic has been at the top of designers' minds for months. On Wednesday, Bloomberg confirmed that Ive and his cohorts are moving toward a flat design that does not digitally recreate physical objects with 3D renderings.

What is news is that Ive’s team have apparently fallen behind in finalizing the new designs that are supposed to be ready for iOS when Apple unveils it at its World Wide Developers Conference, slated for June 10-14 in San Francisco. According to the Bloomberg report, the design concepts were due in February but are running a month late. The Apple team is working under intense pressure to get the new look down before the next iPhone ships, likely in September or October of this year. 

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Motivations For Flat Design

The flat design concept is in vogue with mobile designers because it provides a cleaner, crisper way to present information and easy interactive elements. Flat design works better on mobile screens, where inset text and spacing, among other issues, are concerns for developers. Microsoft’s Windows 8 and Windows Phone are prime examples of flat design.

A couple factors no doubt motivate Ive’s decision to transition iOS design:

  • Apple is in desperate need of dramatic changes to make iOS 7 fresh and new for consumers. The basic digital design of iOS hasn't changed since the first iPhone was launched in 2007.
  • Flat design is more conducive to high-resolution screens. The original iPhone had a resolution of 163 pixels per inch (ppi) on its 3.5-inch screen. The iPhone 5 has 326 ppi on a 4-inch screen. Competitive models like the Samsung Galaxy S4 (441 ppi) and HTC One (469 ppi) boast even higher resolutions that Apple will likely try to match or best with its newest iPhone. 

According to reports, the disagreement that led to Forstall's exit from Apple centered around skeumorphism vs. flat design. Now that Ive is in control of both hardware and software, he is going to bring everything into alignment with his own vision. 

Are you looking forward to a different design for your iPhone apps? Or are you happy with how your iPhone currently looks? Let us know in the comments.