Last fall Apple's CEO, Tim Cook fired the Lead Engineer and driving force behind iOS, Scott Forstall and made the Sr. Vice President of Industrial Design, Jony Ive, the head of Hardware and Software Design (Human Interface). There's a hope among some Apple fans that Ive's minimalist eye for industrial hardware design will carry over in to the iPhone's operating system. Yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported that the software and hardware teams have in fact been working together and Jony Ive is looking to bring a more "flat design" to the OS. The report cautions not to expect any major sweeping changes but a more conservative approach that will happen over time.
Coincidentally the often ridiculed Podcasts app for iOS was updated yesterday and the interface received a bit of a makeover. They removed the skuemorphic designed reel to reel tape player that animated as the audio played within the app. In the past couple of years there has been an increasing chorus from the technorati about the usefulness and appearance of skuemorphism in iOS. Some claim it's gaudy and tacky, others call it form over function. Some have made more astute arguments that user interfaces that mimic the real world analog of the function being performed were crucial when smartphones first became mainstream, but now appear dated when compared to newer mobile OS's.
Juliano Rossi a member of the Verge community mentioned how when you compare the apps that received make overs in iOS 6 to older apps you can see a progression in Apple's design language, and a more slick, cleaner UI. For instance the Passbook app, the iTunes and App stores, the Music Player and the Maps app all show a somewhat flatter look already with less drop shadows, more subtle gradients and an overall more modern look.
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Compare the newer apps from iOS 6 to some of the older apps in iOS which some haven't changed much if any since 2007 and the differences become obvious.
The Notebook app, Game Center, Find My Friends, Mail and a few others are in dire need of visual and some cases, functional updates. Over the past couple of years I've personally replaced a lot of the default Apple apps with better functioning and looking 3rd party apps. The strength of the iOS ecosystem is that Apple doesn't have to make the best software but they still should want to have the best 'out of box' experience when compared to the competition.