updated 01:30 am EDT, Fri March 22, 2013
Progress made from standoffs with former iOS head Forstall
Following his promotion to head of both hardware and software design at Apple, Sir Jonathan Ive is said to be regularly meeting with Human Interface head Greg Christie and the mobile software teams and is said to be favoring a more cohesive "flat" design for the overall look of the next generation of Mac and iOS software. Ive's efforts will likely be seen in the next major revisions of the two operating systems, and are not expected en masseanytime soon -- but subtle hints of change in the air can be seen even now.
Last fall, the head of the iOS development team Scott Forstall was let go after fallout over various issues -- including the botched debut of Apple's Maps program (which has since improved remarkably). Among other problems, it was said that Forstall and Ive didn't get along -- to the point that Ive refused to be in the same room with Forstall unless CEO Tim Cook was also present. Ive has never confirmed the stories, but did get in some subtle digs about the recent trend in some Apple iOS apps to adopt a "skeuomorphic" or "based on real-world items" looks -- most prominently in the Contacts and Calendar apps, which has drawn some user controversy.
Though the skeuomorphic look has its adherents -- the controls in iTunes, for example, have for years been based on the controls of tape players and receivers, not to mention the overall "brushed metal" look that dominates parts of OS X -- the recent emphasis has left some users disenchanted, with criticism generally tending to favor a more futuristic look over a "nostalgic" or "retro" look used in heavily skeuomorphic apps, which also tended to hide user controls.
Ive and others inside Apple, including head of software engineering Craig Federighi have been pushing to make the various teams more collaborative, a goal articulated by CEO Tim Cook during the recent management shakeup that saw Forstall and former Retail SVP John Browett shown the door, with other executives taking over their responsibilities. Ive, for example, has been regularly attending Human Interface software meetings, providing earlier-than-usual access to future hardware prototypes and encouraging a more unified software look that is described in a Wall Street Journal report as "starker, simpler" and "flat" in various turns.
Apple's own website has reflected this recent emphasis, changing the design of the iPhone pages to emphasize the hardware of the iPhone rather than the previous focus on icons and screenshots. On the main page for the iPhone, only the home screen is seen, apart from a photograph and a screenshot of iMovie -- a pointedly "non-skeuomorphic" app with a sleek, professional look. On the main page, the promotional photo for the iPhone shows four white models with three of them showing "flat" app examples, and a fourth turned away -- a subtle echo to the "Abbey Road" Beatles cover, perhaps.
Another example is the update to the Podcasts app issued on Thursday, which removed the Braun-inspired "reel-to-reel" motif in favor of increased functionality. The iPad and OS X promotional pages also now feature no trace of any skeuomorphic apps in any of the promotional images. Though the pool-table-inspired Game Center retains a promotional image on a different page, previous pictures showing screens of Contacts and Calendar are pointedly absent now.
Despite the subtle changes, any forthcoming interface changes are expected to be similarly low-key rather than dramatic, at least until the unveiling of the next major versions. The Journal report also suggests that the iOS and OS X teams are expecting to be further blended with some changes over the summer, suggesting that integration between the two operating systems will continue to progress looking beyond 2013 and into future versions.