Skip to main content

iOS 7: Jony Ive's collection of pointless changes

A lot of people are calling iOS 7 "beyond flat." Wouldn't that mean indented or something?

I've been looking at the new mobile operating system, which to me seems to be more about change for the sake of change than actual true innovation. First of all, the icons are placed on top of rounded tiles. Luckily they are not as bad as Microsoft's ambiguous tiles, so that's a plus.

I personally find the new icons to be less compelling and almost vapid in their emotional impact. A lot of Apple fanboys are raving about how much better and less pretentious they are. When you look at them side-by-side, some are superior to the old designs but most are not.

The classic "settings" icon has been changed from gears to what appears to be a cocked Mercedes-Benz logo. It makes zero sense and I suspect it was a subconscious design dreamed up after Apple's senior vice president of design, Jony Ive, bought a new car.

The camera has gone from an apparent lens that looks like HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey to something that actually looks like the outline of an SLR camera. Genius! It's the only icon that has been truly improved.

Other icons saw little change except that they are flattened. So in the end it was a pointless exercise in futility.

Worthless change will dominate the new offerings of Apple for some time to come. While the new Mac Pro is wild and different, the company does not have a lot of leeway to fool around too much since it risks losing market share with each mistake.

This brings us to the inventor of this entire icon trend, Susan Kare, who as far as I can tell was the only person to recognise the relationship between the icon and its inherently known meaning. Her real skill was creating these icons in low resolution where each pixel counted.

The difference between then and now is that Kare was (and still is) an artist with an artistic temperament, whereas Apple's Ive is a designer with celebrity temperament. He is in the foreground; Kare was always in the background.

People are already referring to Ive as the next Steve Jobs. I'm not sure if you've noticed but Ive does not have CEO credentials for a company the size of Apple. That said, he heads the industrial design team at Apple and most experts will tell you that this team has no peer. In the world of computers in particular, it's laughable to make comparisons. As hard as they try, everyone else just falls terribly short. But if these icons are any indication of things to come I wonder what other weirdness will ensue.

Ive has received so many accolades over the past decade including being knighted at Buckingham Palace. You have to wonder how much he can take before he implodes. And note that the essential design motif of Apple products is a kind of Danish functional minimalism based largely on the philosophies of Ive's modernist mentor, Dieter Rams. Just check out Rams' 1954 design of a record player. Look familiar?

Such aggressive designs are risky and their appeal can vanish in an instant when tastes change, as they tend to do. In fact, the iPhone itself seems to be on the cutting edge of design appeal, which is worrisome. Older iPhones already seem dated and unwanted. They are not cool to own, use, or even look at. They lack the universal appeal of other Apple products such as the Mac Book Pro or even that record player by Dieter Rams.

Apple is still on top of this game, but nothing lasts forever.