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Apple seeks to chart new course with rollout of iOS 7 software

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Design seldom makes front-page news, but Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference is always a big story.

The company, which once stood head and shoulders above the rest for its attention to both hardware and software design, is increasingly challenged by Google’s Android, by Samsung and even by Microsoft. Now it seems to, in some ways at least, be playing catch-up to companies it once derided.

“Can’t innovate anymore? My ass!,” Apple executive Phil Schiller lashed out.

Apple has just unveiled a new version iOS, the software that powers its mobile devices, for a fall release. In a major shift of the company’s aesthetic, the look is “flattened.”

“There was a fake three-dimensional quality to everything that really started in 1984,” Bonnie Siegler said.

Siegler runs a prominent design firm, and is chair of this year’s most important graphic design conference.

“They got fancier and fancier until everything on a Macintosh was chrome-looking, faux felt, faux wood, faux leather,” she said.

The design term for this is skeuomorphism. It’s a training-wheels concept that was stuck in the 20th century and jumped the shark when the company last year introduced a much-derided podcast app styled like a reel-to-reel recorder.

Many regular users literally didn’t know what it was supposed to be.

“It’s evolutionary,” Siegler said. “Survival of the fittest of the new characteristics. Apple invented the thing” — the consumer-friendly user interface of smartphones — “and the other guys caught up and differentiated. This guy made a bigger screen, this guy made a different operating system. Apple looked around, took the things that have been proven to work best, and incorporated them.”

The “flatter,” more classically modernist look is more similar to what Windows has been doing, but Siegler sees Apple’s attention to detail still in play.

She admires its translucency, like a shower curtain, used to communicate different layers of operation. 

The shift comes in the wake of hardware design boss Jonny Ive also being given oversight of software design. It's also a radical shift away from what Apple founder, and savior, Steve Jobs had preached. Ive and Jobs had a very close working relationship.

“It has to be a difficult moment for him, this being the first huge announcement since Jobs died. At his level there must be things he’s dying to do and I hope he gets to do them now,” Siegler said.

She gives credit to Ive for being such an icon for Apple — being the personality behind the way Apple products look on the outside and, increasingly, on the inside.

"I always thought it made Apple more compelling. There is a man, a human being, behind all these ideas and this vision. There isn’t that at any of the other companies. Who’s the Samsung guy?” she asked.


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