08/10/2012

Forget about the Maps app. iOS6 has a bigger issue

So Apple's iOS6 is out of beta and everyone is lining up to take shots at the new Maps app. But this is not what concerns me about the latest operating system. Yes the map data available in most regions is limited. But this isnt't a software issue, it's a data issue. All the data is live, so it will be populated with fresh data on a daily basis. In a few months everyone will realise it's a great app, with some excellent features. But let me take a step back and look at the overall aesthetic. To summarise it's a jumble sale of visual design trends and philosophies. There is no longer any coherent binding to the UI design.



Back when OSX arrived it was a full-on pin striped, aqua, shiny, bouncy visual overall that took visual cues from the hardware design approach of the new iMac. A perfect marriage of digital and industrial design. More importantly, at the time, it was distinctly Apple. They owned this new aesthetic. It was now part of their brand furniture. Moving on a few years the hardware design become more reserved, some say cold. The clear plastics were replaced with brushed metal and tempered glass. Meanwhile the brand design was now moving in to a vibrant world of silouettes and high colour. Today those divides seem to have grown even further. iOS6 incorporates visual references to the original OSX release, plus some brush metal effects, along with a good dose of skeuomorphic design (notes, find my friends, passbook etc). For the first time, in a long time, I think that Apple's design teams are at odds with eachother. Apple no longer has an aesthetic it can call it's own.

Windows has cultivated its new style with Metro, which is rapidly rolling out to all its platforms.


Google has been revising all its product with its new visual langueage (although it hasn't reached Android yet).


In this instance it seems that Apple has lost ground to its competitors. So how did this happen? My guess is that it's a result of team structure. Jony Ive famously oversees all hardware design. Alan Dye directs all brand design. But who is controlling the UI design? I suspect no one person is working with the other teams to enforce a creative vision here. For me this problem is deeper than some dodgy data in maps and shows signs of what used to be a design lead company losing its direction.



iTunes (and the app store) recently had a full redesign, which shows signs of referencing the industrial design. Also iOS6 on iPad includes a redesigned clock app, which uses a beautiful glass effect UI. I hope these are signs of a new approach which will return Apple to an aesthetic we say is "distinctly Apple".