A Requiem for ‘Classic’ iOS

Steven Aquino / July 2nd, 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.1

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.

  1. 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. []

Steven Aquino

Steven is a budding freelance technology writer, born and raised in the East Bay Area. He's a contributor to [*The Magazine*], [*Macworld*], [*TidBITS*], [*Tech.pinions*], and [Enhanced Vision]. Steven also writes regularly for his personal site, Steven’s Blog. Prior to venturing into the world of (paid) writing, Steven spent 11 years working for his local school district as a classroom aide to preschoolers with special needs. Steven's a cat person who loves sushi, and is fluent in American Sign Language.
  • Joe_Winfield_IL

    There is something ironic to me about being wistful about the loss of skeumorphic elements in iOS. I could understand if you were talking about the actual analogs that are being represented, like reel-to-reel, green felt, yellow notepads, etc. The irony is that many of these have disappeared or are disappearing in the real world (just like records players, bench seats, and a thousand other 20th century innovations). What we are losing with iOS 7 is a REPRESENTATION of things for which the real-world equivalent is ALREADY extinct. It’s a bit like being sad that a TV show about dinosaurs has been cancelled…and yet, somehow I completely agree with your sentiments expressed in this article.

    • steven_aquino

      Great points. Writing this, I had thought about these ideas, but I chose not to talk about them. What I really wanted to get across was that I’ll miss the iOS as we know it, in spite of the arguments against skeuomorphism, etc. When it comes down to it, losing the iOS of today will be sort of like when a good friend moves away. Whatever the logical reason(s), the most of what you feel is sentimental.

  • benbajarin

    I’m glad you wrote this Steven since its something I have thought about also. This classic version of iOS will go down as a classic and the one that changed the mobile landscape for the better. Even when I look at it today there are still things I appreciate about it and enjoy looking at. But it is time to move the needle and iOS 7 is looking like it may do that. Personally I still think the idea of iOS themes are a good idea but what do I know 🙂

    • Jurassic

      I agree, and iOS 7 is a major step in the right direction.

      After seeing iOS 7, I feel the same way about the original iPhone OS as I do about the design of Mac OS 9. I feel nostalgic about it, but it had its day, and we now have something better in its place.

  • James King

    Not at all a fan of skeumorphism but this is an excellently written article.

  • Defendor

    I will never understand the sudden onset of complaints about Skeuomorphism. Anything can be taken to excess. But those excesses don’t diminish the value of a concept, which has significant merit.

    The new aesthetic of emulating a flat white web page with text instead of buttons, is opposite extreme and I would argue a much less functional one. Personally, I detest it.

    With Apple now firmly on the Flat and Boring design bandwagon, they have lost an important differentiator for me.

    While I was content to have Apple dictate style when I actually liked their style, now that control seems oppressive.

    I have switched my plans from a next generation iPad purchase, to a next generation Android tablet instead. There at least I have more control over the aesthetic (and everything else).

  • Chris

    I already skipped iOS 6 (I hate the iOS 6’s layout), but recently, I have been under pressure because some of my favorite apps / new apps I’m interested in requires iOS 5.1 or iOS 6.X (I’m on 5.0.1, late iPad 2 32GB buyer, never had the chance to update to 5.1.1); So I decided to install iOS 7 on it

    Reading your article made me really reconsiderate on installing IOS 7 on my iPad 2; I guess I’ll just leave it on iOS 5, and bought iPad 5 instead when it’s released on my country

    • Chris

      addendum: I dislike iOS 6 app store the most

  • Gilbert Tang Jr.

    I’m still not convinced that iOS 7 is particularly polarizing for any group outside the tech and UX design communities. We’ve all seen the recent data saying that “normal” people seem to dig iOS 7 (myself included, icons and all), and in my own informal research I’ve arrived at the same conclusion. That being said, however, the most polarized of the bunch have two things going for them: insight and (for the most part) actual use. By winter of this year we’ll have a much better idea about how the average user feels. In the meantime, there’s much to appreciate about iOS 6 while it lasts.

    Great piece, Steven.

    • Defendor

      “…. outside the tech and UX design communities …”

      I read the exact same thing about Windows 8 betas. It was only disliked by elements of the tech community, but would be fine for “normal” people. How is that working out?

      My informal research shows the opposite of yours. My friends hate it. One buddy even showed it to his wife and tween daughter and they both hate it, despite a color scheme that seems to be targeting his daughter.

      I think this is going to be the first iOS release with significant hang-back among the user base.

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