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What's Riding on Jony Ive's iOS Redesign

What's Riding on Jony Ive's iOS Redesign

As we head into Apple's famously packed house event for developers who create apps for iOS and Mac OS X -- Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference, which kicks off in a couple of weeks -- Jony Ive's iOS 7 updates will give us a peek inside Apple's most famous interface. What we see will define our experience for a least another year. Let's hope it's cool -- not cold.

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
05/30/13 5:00 AM PT

Jonathan Ive, the famed knight and industrial designer of the world's most admired Apple gadgets, has his work cut out for him. On the surface, he's the guy at Apple who's going to get rid of the hideous green felt that is our Game Center iOS app and the yellow lined notebook paper in the Notes app, along with other silly skeuomorphic designs in iOS.

Basically, Ive is the guy who's going to save us from the goofy tropes of physicality represented in a digital world.

This is a big deal -- but not because the built-in apps need a refresh. No, it's a big deal because iOS itself needs a refresh. Now is not the time for a stumble, but Apple has to take a step -- and not just a little one. Apple needs to gather itself and take a leap.

Cool or Cold?

All the rumors are pointing toward a modern digital design that doesn't try so hard to make things appear like real objects with three-dimensional shading. In addition to getting rid of things like the old-school microphone metaphor for Apple's Voice Memos recording app, Apple could be giving other app interfaces a refresh, too.

Remember when Apple updated the buttons on the phone app? Seemed wicked flat and light, didn't it? I'm used to it now, but odds are, we'll see a bunch of little tweaks here and there. I'm guessing the new iOS look and feel will seem as if someone placed a sheet of waxed paper over our screen before taking a heavy rolling pin to it.

How Flat?

Don't worry too much -- I doubt we'll get anything quite as flat as Windows Phone Live Tiles -- but the difference could be stark -- and that's the rub. iOS 7 needs to go from cheeky and campy to cool -- not cold.

Apple fans don't do cold. In fact, I believe that Apple fans would react badly to a design that felt cold and lifeless. Here's why: customization.

Apple is really bad at letting users customize their experience. In my mind, moving a stack of app icons around is not customization. A background photo is a start, but it's not enough. We've moved into a new age of the smartphone, and it's one of intimacy.

A person's connection to their smartphone is now intensely personal. Don't believe me? Ask around. How do people act when they -- gasp -- forget their iPhone at home or leave it in the car? What's the last thing they touch at night? The first thing that wakes them up? What do they hold and tap on while ignoring the living around them?

I'm Looking at Androids

Apple has pawned off customization on a big ecosystem of case manufacturers, and if that is still cutting it today, man alive -- just think of another year of stacked icons as your only interface to your iPhone. Don't tell me you're not disappointed by that vision.

Heck, even a Windows Phone can get an interface that matches the physical color of the hardware! Red and red, yellow and yellow. And both are damn fine rich colors, even if you don't like the weird blue-purple option. That's it, you have options. Who knew that Apple could get slapped by Microsoft and Nokia? Sheesh.

As the differentiating features and ecosystems collapse into a state of relative parity, personality can rise above the competition. The cool factor. The engagement factor. Right now, Apple is still riding high with great engagement, but for how long?

Android, particularly with some of the large and bright screens from Samsung, is starting to be worth some second looks. Why? First impressions -- and the first impression when you visit your favorite cellular service store isn't all bad. In fact, some of the new basic home screens are far more inviting than anything you can do without jailbreaking your iPhone.

Rumbling in the Distance

I think this is dangerous. Where's the tipping point? I don't know, but I know I'm hopelessly embedded with Apple technology -- MacBook Pro, Apple TV, iPad, iPods, iPhones, Magic Mouse, and on and on over the years. And I'm getting restless. Me -- restless.

It's not so hard, really. All Apple has to do is give us a nicely designed home screen app -- we can choose to use it or use the default view. If Ive takes a pass on this -- if we don't gain customization capabilities with his iOS refresh -- it'll put a lot more pressure on the refresh itself. I'd hate to find something cold and lifeless. I'd rather live with fake leather than lifelessness.

Of course, there are the pages that virtually turn in the iBooks app. Can Ive get rid of that feature without messing with the feeling of the iBooks experience? Makes me wonder.


MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at WickedCoolBite.com.


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