As Apple has consistently pushed forward with iOS, some critics wonder if Apple is holding back the industry in one key aspect: mobile design. At one point, Apple was seen as a design innovator. Now Apple’s use of real world materials and metaphors in their design has put some people off.
More specifically, some question the use of “skeuomorphism.” Skeuomorphism is the use of a design feature that used to represent something functional, but is now merely used for stylistic purposes. Essentially, it is a vestige of an older time.
Even die-hard Apple bloggers question the use of skeuomorphism. TUAW, a blog dedicated to all things Apple, criticized the use of real world metaphors as “pointless, distracting, and a bit twee.” Not only are skeuomorphic elements distracting, TUAW criticized Apple’s use from a functionality perspective stating, “I believe that skeuomorphic UIs create false models of interaction.”
In my own observation of friends and family, it appears almost no one beyond the confines of tech community is bothered by these metaphors. Instead, they find Android’s relatively spartan interface cold and difficult to understand. On the other hand, when a family member picks up an iOS device for the first time, they feel right at home with the ripped pages of the Calendar app and the stitched leather of Find my Friends.It’s tough to discern if this ease of use is a result of their past history with these real world representations or if Apple has simply designed more intuitive applications. Furthermore, this may be a conscious choice on Apple’s part as an attempt to appeal to all generations, not just the younger demographic. While Android scares away many older users at first glance, Apple is able to appeal to a wide array of individuals.
Eventually, if Apple is unable to steer away from this purely skeuomorphic style, younger users who have not grown up with these real world metaphors might feel disconnected with iOS.
For individuals who have grown up entirely relying on their phone as a calendar, a “ripped page” to represent a physical calendar may no longer make design sense. This confusion can already be seen with the use of the floppy disk “Save” button. While the floppy disk may have once represented a common real world save function, those who have never seen a floppy disk are left scratching their heads.
As the younger generation grows up without the physical aspect of these design metaphors, these users might find themselves right at home with Android’s futuristic-holo theme. Only time will tell if Apple’s design choices will appeal to younger users or if that ripped page will seem as foreign as to them Android does to older users.
In the mean time, Apple seems to be content sticking to these skeuomoprhic designs as can be seen in their preview of Mountain Lion.