A Requiem for ‘Classic’ iOS

on July 2, 2013

On the iOS 7 Design page, Apple says:

The interface is purposely unobtrusive. Conspicuous ornamentation has been stripped away. Unnecessary bars and buttons have been removed. And in taking away design elements that don’t add value, suddenly there’s greater focus on what matters most: your content.

In the weeks following the WWDC keynote, much has been written about iOS 7's redesigned user interface. The word that keeps coming up to describe the changes is polarizing. Some people like it, whereas others hate it; there seems to be no middle ground. However, I think it's fair to say that everyone can agree that iOS was long overdue for a facelift.

While I'm in full agreement that iOS needed its user interface refreshed, a part of me is genuinely sad to be losing the "classic", Forstall-era iOS. For all Apple's boasting about doing away with "conspicuous ornamentation". I very much enjoy several of the skeuomorphic elements of iOS, such as the faux wooden shelving in iBooks and Newsstand. Other graphical favorites of mine include the paper-shredding animation in Passbook, as well as Cover Flow in Music. These bits of eye candy give iOS personality and an air of playfulness, and I'm going to miss them. Conversely, there are elements I won’t miss, like the Corinthian leather in Find My Friends and the yellow legal pad in Notes.

The arrival of iOS 7 this fall will truly mark the end of an era. That iOS's user interface has undergone such a dramatic overhaul is great in the sense that it's more modern and fresh-looking, but it's also a clear sign that Apple has driven a stake through the heart of the canonical design. That's sad for me, because not only am I losing beloved graphical elements like Cover Flow, it feels like the iconic design is gone forever. In other words, the iOS that made the iPhone and iPad what they are today will soon be a relic, ancient history. ((To be clear, iOS 7, conceptually, remains true to the iterations before it. What I'm addressing here is purely the Jobs and Forstall-influenced aesthetic.))

Of course, the impetus for giving iOS a complete makeover is precisely because it was looking like an ancient relic. My feelings are conflicted, though: on one hand, I feel wistful towards the "classic" design, yet on the other I use my iPhone 4S running iOS 6, and it looks and feels old. It reminds me that iOS needed a change, and makes me even more excited for iOS 7.

I'm sure that once I've used iOS 7 for awhile that I'll love it, and complain that some of my "legacy" apps look dated within the context of the new design. My sentiments aside, I know updating iOS's design was the right thing to do, long-term. I understand that iOS 7 is about putting content first. I look forward to seeing how Jony Ive and his team evolve the operating system from here on out. It's an exciting time — iOS 7 lays the foundation for the next phase of the OS's life.

I think the iOS as we know it today will always have a place in my heart. I'm going to miss the page-turning animation in iBooks and the reflections of the icons in the Dock. I'll even miss the linen and the ON/OFF toggle switches. But I am undoubtedly excited for iOS 7 and beyond, and I realize change is good and inevitable. The good part is I still have my original iPad running iOS 5. If I ever find myself getting sentimental over the old design, I can always fire up the old iPad. That'll be a nice stroll down memory lane.

Well, until I see Game Center's green felt.