The word skeuomorph has been used often in relation to interfaces designed by Apple, with it most recently being applied to its Podcasts application, whose player menu takes inspiration from a tape deck. However, Apple has been creating skeuomorphic interfaces for a while now, and it uses them so effectively that its products are easier to interact with.
Skeuomorphism: a derivative object which retains ornamental design cues to a structure that was necessary in the original.
While some speculate that Apple’s insistence regarding skeuomorphic designs is merely to counteract its lack of originality, it does serve a deeper purpose. That purpose is accessibility, which is something that Apple prides itself on. As we have seen countless times throughout the technology world, new interfaces can be simple and innovative, or they can be the complete opposite: complicated and unoriginal. The key is to tread the line between the two in order to obtain something that is fresh and intuitive yet familiar. That is exactly what Apple is trying to do with skeuomorphism.
Using the Podcasts app as an example, we can see that Apple has replicated a tape deck to add a nifty visual element, but also to give consumers a feeling of familiarity with an app they just downloaded. While there are users who will immediately adapt to the new interface, others may be bewildered. But this user may be familiar with the tape deck and therefore will feel at ease with the interface, knowing that it is not a completely foreign experience.
The same principle can be applied to many other applications that Apple has produced. For example, the iBooks app on iOS initially displays a bookshelf, with titles spread across the various rows. The same trend continues when reading a book. As is shown in many of Apple’ iPad advertisements, turning a page on a book is just the same as it is with a normal book. Although there is no hiding the fact that the iPad is not a real book, the experience has been replicated to make it feel more familiar to the user, and in most cases, more visually appealing.
The Contacts application on OS X has been styled to look like an address book.
While the jury is still out on the faux leather included within the Calendar and Contacts applications on both OS X and iOS, the intention is apparent. There is a feeling that this electronic application effectively mimics its physical counterpart.
The little details in the experience are what matters, and Apple is the master of fine tuning applications to visual perfection. Take a closer look at the Notes application on a Mac or iOS device. At the top of the yellow notepad you’ll find the remains of torn-away pages. All these minuscule details add to the skeuomorphic experience, which is achieved perfectly by Apple, now master of the user experience.