design

If you think iOS is stale…

A lot of people (everyone?) have been calling for iOS to change. A lot of people say iOS is stale.

But it isn’t iOS that is stale.

If someone claims that iOS is stale or boring or too simple, and that Apple needs to make changes, it isn’t because iOS is actually stale, boring, or too simple.

So what is it then?

Something terrible and real: Conditioned consumerism.

Our consumerism conditioning is vast and profound. It is intentional and total. It goes back to the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. Sigmund Freud’s cousin, Edward Bernays, brought Sigmund’s ideas of how the human psyche works to America to use in marketing and business. BBC made a chilling documentary about it: “The Century of Self”.

I am not able to verify this, but I have heard from insiders that Disney changes their “star” regularly so that children will become conditioned to want the newest thing. For example, for awhile, Hannah Montana was everywhere: on billboards, lunch boxes, skirts, pencils, CDs, magazines, TV, in concert. But then, in a blink, it was Jonas Brothers. And then, as if they never existed, it was Selena Gomez.

Putting new taillights on a car does not make it “ALL NEW!” and better. In fact, it is just as likely that the “new” taillights make it uglier. The only thing that changing the  tailights each year does is play into conditioned consumerism. It reveals a profound lack of faith in your product and a profound fear of the extent of the conditioning of your customers.

Apple is the only company not playing this tragic, pointless game. Sure, they make new versions of their products, but the new version looks exactly like the previous version… and the one before that. They did not change the look of iPhone 4 even after having to deal with “antennae gate”. They rarely change the look of their laptops, and when they do it’s because they have made it better in meaningful ways, i.e.: milled aluminum (stronger, lighter, thinner, better for the planet). They haven’t changed the poor Mac Pro at all in years, yet it is still for sale.

Do you ever stop and read the names of products of other companies? If you care about things (anything!), the names will grieve you.

  • Casio Elixum EX-S12
  • Nikon Coolpix AW110
  • Samsung  WF457ARGSGR/AA (with VRT Plus™, PowerFoam™, PureCycle™, and SpeedSpray™. I am not making any of that up.)
  • Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows 7 (which is actually version 6.1)

What do the words and numbers mean? Nothing. And they change with each model.

Here’s the point: iOS is not stale. It does not need to change because some consumers are bored with it.

That only shows the depth of the consumerism. An imprisonment so total that the person doesn’t know they are locked up.

iOS is a great example of what Apple is doing different. They work to get it right the first time. They work to solve new problems from the start. They update to incorporate better technologies, materials, and ideas. Each iterration is better by Apple standards (ie: thinner). They do not makes changes to appease.

The greatest proof of this is how they are copied. It is not an exaggeration to say that the entire computer, and now smartphone, industries follow Apple. From products to services to colors to icons to store layouts to marketing to packaging to keyboard designs. The copying is total.

What Apple is so rare so terrified that they are but the only ones. They are making art. We do not get an updated Mona Lisa each year. Similarly, Apple is not playing the game that every other major company in every other industry is playing. That shows a company who wants to get things perfect the first time. Which, of course, they don’t always do. No one does. But at least they try. At least they care. At least they are not playing games.

Apple is not playing catch-up, they are not hoping for a piece of pie someone else baked, they are not hoping for one home-run, they are not coasting.

Their stated goal is: to put a dent in the universe.

“Bu… bu… but Apple steals as much as anyone. They totally copied Android notifications. They are totally scared by the 7” tablet and are playing catch-up.”

Shut up.

You cannot copy yourself. Apple pioneered and popularized the modern smart-phone. Everyone else making a smart-phone followed Apple. Arguing that Apple stole notification is like being indignant that I only started using HDR on my photos after my friends stole all my photos and used HDR on them. Who cares if I added HDR later than my unscrupulous friends? They were my photos.

Sputtering on about Apple copying the 7” tablet idea is like thinking you have a point by saying that Marconi copied Edison’s idea of a smaller radio. Marconi (building on Tesla’s work) invented the damn thing. Edison just ripped it off.

The final word on skeuomorphic design

Seems like everyone is against skeuomorphic design.

Three arguments in favor of skeuomorphic design:

  1. If Steve Jobs thought that texture and depth were the right choice… maybe they were. Steve Jobs had better taste than most people in history.
  2. Texture and depth are more “real” than flat design (and certainly better than cluttered, chaotic design). It is no secret that Jony Ives (and Steve Jobs) admired Dieter Rams. And some people point out that Rams’ design language was “flat”. But Rams designed products with depth—real, 3-dimensional objects. Maybe, when designing 2-D interfaces, depth and texture are better.
  3. I’ll call this point, “This is Better Than That.” Pick the one that is better designed (you can click the image for a larger view):

Evernote vs Notes
evernote - notes

Word 2010 vs Notes
(I know that Word has a zillion more features than Notes, the point is that Word is [has always been] criminally ugly.)
word 2010 - notes

Outlook Calendar vs iCal
(I have written about Outlook before.)
outlook- ical

Gmail vs Mail.com
(Mail.com is not obviously skeuomorphic, but it has subtle depth.)
gmail - mail online

Word 2004 toolbars
(I include this only as a warning. A terrifying warning.)
word_toolbars

Conclusion

Maybe skeuomorphic design is good. Maybe “real” textures and faked depth are good. Maybe skeuomorphic is better than the alternative. Maybe “flat” design is so clean it loses the connection to the user that Apple strives for.