updated 08:41 pm EDT, Tue June 4, 2013
Possible change coming in iOS 7, supports 'flatter' style rumor
In a move that surprised developers, the Apple developer portal is displaying app icons as perfect squares with sharp edges, rather than the rounded corners normally seen. It is as yet unclear if this is a hint of changes to come in the forthcoming iOS 7 update -- which has been rumored to offer a "flatter" design eschewing most shadows and other "3D" effects -- or if it is a simple temporary removal of the rounded-corner "mask" normally covering the square icons submitted by developers while Apple tweaks the design.
The change, first reported by AppleInsider, has been seen as a potential hint of a change in the look of icons in iOS 7, which is expected to be previewed at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference next week but will likely arrive for consumers later in the year. A number of enthusiast designers have taken various stabs at what they think the iOS 7 "look" will entail, including some designs that are flat, two-dimensional and get rid of the rounded corners Apple has made a long-standing trademark of its hardware designs (examples seen below).
The latest version of the official WWDC app for developers is also seen to offer a somewhat "flatter" design than the previous year's app. In the illustration below (courtesy @yuize), the last three iterations of the app are placed side by side, with the newest one (benefitting from the clarity of the Retina display) showing a distinct lessening of any shadowing around the unpressed buttons, and a change in highlighting that relies less on a "3D" effect. The changes are subtle, but seem to rely more on a "grayer" background with more color highlights to call certain elements out than before. Gloss effects, less evident in the illustration, are also said to have been removed.
Very little reliable information has turned up about Sir Jonathan Ive's plans for changing the overall look of OS X and iOS in the next major releases prior to the conference. Ive was tasked with remaking the design philosophy of both OSes following the ouster of former iOS head Scott Forstall. Under Forstall's watch, and with the blessing of CEO Steve Jobs, some Apple applications in OS X and iOS took on a design concept known as "skeuomorphism," which seeks to recreate the look of real-world items. In some cases -- such as the "linen" background of the Mountain Lion login screen -- the style was seen as an improvement, while in others -- most notably the Address Book and iCal applications -- users felt the look hindered functionality and clashed with the polish of the rest of the OS.
It is worth noting that Apple's recent "Reminders" app -- launched on iOS and OS X -- may herald some of the current design thinking coming from Cupertino. The app features a dark black motif with very light use of shadows for depth on buttons and a mostly-flat design, however it retains a skeuomorphic element in borrowing the look of traditional lined writing tablets for the list portion. Color, however, is used mostly to bring emphasis to due or upcoming events. A recent screenshot that is purported to be of an early alpha of iOS 7 also (barely) shows icons with the same rounded corners, but lacking the shadowed "depth" effect.