Skip to content

The iOS 7 UI Controversy

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past week, you know that Apple unvieled iOS 7 and its new user interface coming this fall to an iOS device near you. While there are some great new features, like the engine in a car, it’s not the first thing people notice. Most car shoppers are looking at the color of the paint, the sleekness of the design, the look of the interior and dashboard, etc. In other words, they look at the cars’ UI.

The new UI in iOS 7 is the most controversial thing about it by far. I’ll admit that when I first saw it, I thought they were changing it just to change it. I thought they hadn’t put enough thought into the reasons why or they were just bending to the pressure of change for change’s sake. In my role at Xojo, I think at a lot about UI design. Before long, I realized that of course Apple put a lot of thought into it. That’s what Apple does. It’s their culture. So why were they going with this new, simpler, non-skeumorphic design?

Then it hit me. First, skeumorphic makes less and less sense. When I was a kid, phones had handsets like one in the icon for the Phone app. Calenders were something you purchased and hung on your wall. Your camera was something that you used to take pictures and that’s it. It did nothing else. Skeumorphic makes sense when you need to connect a real world object with its digital counterpart. But the younger you are, the less these skeumorphic designs make sense.

My daughter is 12 years old and has an iPhone. We have never had a home phone that she can remember. Her iPhone is of course her phone but it’s also her calendar, her camera, her notepad and her TV. It doesn’t replace these things. It is these things. Over time, fewer and fewer people will recognize the skeumorphic designs because those real world objects are not part of their world. Thus the value of skeumorphic design decreases.

The other day, I showed my daughter and my 10 year old son the new iOS 7 user interface (from Apple’s website linked to earlier in this post). I asked each of them if they preferred the new look, the one they currently had (iOS 6) or thought that one wasn’t better than the other. They both preferred iOS 7. When I asked them why (independently so they would not bias each other), they both said the same thing, “Because it’s cooler.” I have no doubt that I would get a similar response from most iOS users 25 and younger.

There are no doubt many important reasons Apple identified for refreshing the iOS user interface. We will probably never know them all. But “cool” is important. Cool is especially important to young people who buy a lot of iOS devices and their brand loyalty to the Apple ecosystem is therefore important to Apple.