The supposed “flat” look of iOS 7 needs to be much more than a change in appearance.
This seems to be a popular opinion that the primary objective of the on-going redesign of iOS that will culminate in iOS 7 is to get rid of the skeuomorphic illustrations. Many even go on to imply that skeuomorphism is the major problem with iOS today. Though we are yet to see any glimpse of iOS 7, I think the suggestion that skeuomorphism is its bane is nothing but a fallacy. Yes, iOS in its present form is outdated and is a bit of a mishmash but suggesting that skeuomorphism is the reason behind its almost archaic nature will only serve to portray a lack of understanding of user interfaces and user experience. Unfortunately, many others have also adopted this reasoning.
Personally, I have no problem with the skeuomorphs in iOS. I actually like some of them. I should point out they have absolutely nothing to do with the way iOS works; they are simply ‘decorations’, wallapers and backgrounds. Sure, some of them can be distracting but they are not integral to the structure of the OS. It’s simply a matter of preference and is akin to preferring one background picture over another. In my opinion, the unconfirmed reports of Sir Jonathan Ive going for a “flat” look have been misinterpreted. The oft referred flat look of Windows Phone is a bit of a misnomer. What many are calling the flat look in Windows Phone is nothing but a visual style. i.e. the look and feel of the Metro Modern UI.
Image credit: Pieter Goris
Though I can only speculate what Ive intends to do, a flat approach goes way beyond the look & feel / visual appeal of icons, etc. I would say it refers to eliminating and simplifying some of the methodologies of the platform. The chief concern should be about offering quicker access to some parts of the UI. And this is what I hold to be the major problem of iOS today. Simple and mundane tasks require far too many steps to accomplish. iOS’s settings menu is heavily multi-nested. Switching on Bluetooth and Wi-Fi require a trip to the home screen, then the settings icons and so forth. This is what makes iOS outdated, not its skeuomorphic associations. If the skeuomorphs are all excised and iOS still retains its present idiosyncrasies and menu structures, then it would make no real difference. There are of course other problems with iOS such as the lack of Mass Storage Mode, non-implementation of a full Bluetooth stack. And like I said, not all the skeuomorphs are bad. The page turning animation when reading ebooks is a very good implementation of skeuomorphism.