James Higgs rips into Apple over the disparity between clean hardware design and overly-textured software.
It should probably be obvious that my own preference is for design without ornamentation, certainly without a hint of sentimentality, and that I detest these new apps. Why?
Simply put: it’s because they are lies. They attempt to comfort us (to patronise us) by trying to show how they relate to physical objects in the real world when there is no need. How are we helped to understand what Find My Friends does by the addition of “leather” trim? And how difficult can it be for someone, even a relative digital newcomer, to understand a list of books? Difficult enough that the only possible way they could understand it is to present them in a “wooden” bookshelf format?
John Gruber counters:
I think Higgs is overthinking this, though. These themes aren’t lies. They’re not designed to help users understand how these apps work. They’re just decoration. They’re per-app branding. Apple no longer endorses system-wide visual uniformity. Special apps are supposed to look special. Why is Find My Friends wrapped in rich Corinthian leather? Because someone at Apple likes (and, sadly, if my guess is right, better said liked, past tense) how it looks.
We used to have the iPod app, which is now simply called “Music”. The previous app icon was a picture of an iPod, because that was the simplest way to explain what was going on with a single image. What was hardware is now software. With iOS 5, the gap has presumably been bridged, and the anachronistic iconography went away. On the other hand, I’d venture to guess that the Phone.app hardware handset icon isn’t going away for a while; the iPod was never an emergency device, and phones have been around a little longer than digital music players. I might not even know where to find a handset telephone in 2011, but the image as an icon is completely unambiguous.
Texture-rich, literal UI isn’t merely an affectation, and it isn’t there to comfort us, exactly; the purpose is to connect. For those of us who have been playing with technology since we were small children, a list of books—or any other kind of data—is second nature. For the generations of people who aren’t so technologically immersed, a wooden bookshelf adds context and warmth to what is otherwise perceived as a cold machine. Apple’s strength is connecting technology to human beings, and skeuomorphic design acts as a bridge between what we already understand and what must now be learned.
With the iPhone, we started communicating with technology via touch in a meaningful way for the first time. Apple added more touch gestures in Lion, and it’s probably a safe guess that the trend will continue. Semi-realism and texture invite touch. They invite interaction. Laugh at the leather and torn paper, but it’s a hell of a lot more inviting to touch than a cold hunk of metal and glass.