Dear Apple -
As a long-time consumer and fan, I’d like to congratulate you on your rise from the ashes to the top of the tech world. Against all odds, you single-handedly redefined the computer and mobile phone markets. You also recreated an entire category, the tablet. It must feel good to know that the annual revenue from just the iPhone is larger than the total revenues for Microsoft – your once mighty competitor. Well done!
The iPhone 5 looks to be a fantastic phone too. It must have save considerable design time simply making the screen a little bit bigger. I am sure Jony appreciated the time off.
However, there is one thing that you should be aware of. Your UI is getting long in the tooth. The UI (for both OSX and iOS) is the thing that we have to look at all the time. Whether glancing at our phones or staring at out computer screen all day – your UI is ever more present. The funny thing is, this used to be your strong suit. OSX always looks like it was polished compared to the amateurish Windows. But the times, they are a-changing’.
In short, I used to enjoy the beauty of your UI design. Now, I simply tolerate it. Apple, it is time to get superficial – it is time for a UI Refresh for OSX and iOS.
A loyal Apple fan
OSX, I remember installing the Beta back in the early 2000′s. Unfortunately, the look just the same as you did back then. Now that is not a necessarily bad thing, but since then conflicting design elements have been added to the mix.
There have been ‘polished metal’, ‘fabric’ and ‘faux leather’ elements added to the UI. These elements seem to be used in random areas of the OS. If you open Calendars and Notes programs and put them side-by-side you will see the problem. They look like programs from different operating systems. The core programs should share the same design sensibility as the original OS did back when it was first released.
Application icons are also wildly inconsistent. Some icons are round and shiny, others round and metallic, some have a glass effect, others are stand-alone little pictures, and others don’t even conform to the dimensions of a square. These should be all redone to be consistent.
Bring back the color! For whatever reason, you decided to strip the color out of the system icons in finder in Lion. Bring this back. The grey on grey icons are not only boring, but they also make it a bit more difficult to tell things apart.
Another point, fonts. Apple is currently using several different (albeit similar) sarif fonts across all their OSs. Create a beautiful one yourselves, and migrate everything to that.
In summary, Mac OSX, it is time for a UI refresh. Not a ridiculous and disastrous reboot like Microsoft just created, but a comprehensive refresh. Implement an OS-wide refresh of all icons, fonts, OS screens, and programs. Give it a name and a reason for being.
iOS has been around for far less time than OSX, but its UI finds itself far more out-of-date. There are 2 primary reasons for this – in-house development and competition. In-house, their iOS team has chosen some very inconsistent paths. Some apps use a bluish menu, some a blackish menu, others even use a white theme. These should all be made consistent. In fact they should be updated to look better. In 2007, they were fine, but now they look unpolished. Additionally, the competition has caught up. I am not talking about Android of course (their UI is ugly). I am talking about Windows Phone 7 and WebOs.
I think Apple could learn a lot from the design sensibility of WebOS. In fact, I don’t think it would be a bad idea if they swooped in a hired all their UI gurus (if they haven’t all scattered to the wind). WebOS took iOS’s initial design and refined it.
I think iOS could also learn a lot from Android. Primarily, don’t do what they do. The Android platform outsells Apple, but this is not because their UI is superior. This is because when you wal into a phone store, you are faced with 50 Android models and 3 iPhones. Android looks cheap. This is the reason that Android tablet don’t sell well. Are you willing to pay $600 for a tablet with a cheap looking interface? Probably not. However on a little phone, it might not be so apparent. However Android does offer customization features Apple is going to have address at some point (such as widgets, homescreens, etc.). I discuss this in the customization section below.
It kills me to say this as a dedicated Apple fan, but Windows Phone 8 beats iOS in looks and style. They (somehow) have taken the Apple design fundamentals (which Apple has become complacent with in recent years) of simplicity and constancy and ran with it. One font, squares, bold colors and NOTHING else – not a pixel out of place – very unlike Microsoft. On top of that, they added the concept of ‘live tiles’. The combination has created something quite extraordinary. I hope that the iOS design team will take a serious look at this UI and integrate some of the most successful elements in future iOS versions.
This is something that Apple needs to finally address. When otherwise normal people go to the lengths to jailbreak their phones in order to make simple tweaks to the UI, it is time for an Advanced option in system preferences. It doesn’t have to be in a place that the typical person would happen upon, but it needs to be there. Little things like removing app names, scrolling bottom dock, etc. should not be impossible to implement.
I also think that the time for widgets have arrived. They don’t have to be gaudy full-screen Android type widgets. Hell, even if they were just apple system widgets, this would be better than nothing. A clock for the main screen – a little bit of live feed news and or social content – is this really beyond the capability of an iPhone?
Apple, I hope that you take this advice. You have released a lot of revolutionary technologies and platforms on the public over the past decade. Technologies that have changed the way that people get information, communicate with each other and spread knowledge. Well done! But now it is time to get superficial. It is time to return to the day when your UI design was years (if not decades) ahead of the rest.