Thursday, November 1, 2012

Apple’s Skeuomorphism

Apple announced on Monday that Scott Forstall would be stepping down as senior VP of iOS software. Rumor says he was actually fired because he refused to sign an apology letter for the awful and problematic Maps app. A more long-standing conflict was his skeuomorphic design approach. Skeuomorphic design keeps some of the old elements to make the new look familiar and comfortable, even such elements don’t make any sense with the new materials and techniques. In the case of Apple, it would mean creating virtual applications that mimic real-world objects. It sounds nice but it’s really conservative in nature. It’s actually quite laughable that a progressive inventor like Apple would still continue to use retro-looking interfaces. Here are some examples:
Calendar’s leather top
Contacts looks like an old-school address book
Notes takes the form of a yellow legal pad and uses awful font that looks like handwriting
Wooden bookshelves and leather-bound books in iBooks
Turning pages in iBooks
Shredder in Passbook
The worse app by Apple ever: Cards

It reminds me of Karim Rashid’s comment on digital cameras: “All of a sudden our cameras have no film, why on earth do we have the same shape we had before?” The iPhone has a digital camera, but it comes with a mechanical shutter click sound. For a company who values so much the unity of hardware and software, this mismatch is rather embarrassing. Hopefully this will change when Jony Ive takes over part of Scott Forstall’s responsibilities and heads up the new human interface (HI) department, as also announced on Monday. Actually you could smell some hints in Tim Cook’s iPad mini presentation regarding the iBooks update last week. The new version contains “a really cool new reading option – continuous scrolling. If you just flip when you are reading, the words scroll by just as you would expect.” Well, that’s what an ebook is.

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