Apple Store has just unveiled its new homepage taking the design yet another step towards a cleaner, flatter look. The move betrays the company's overall shift in user interface (UI) design since John Ive took over as the boss of Apple's Human Interface. It follows the redesign of company's email campaigns, including iTunes and Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) emails, and apps such as iTunes MiniPlayer and Podcasts App. Moreover, it is likely to foreshadow a major redesign of the new iOS 7, which is scheduled to be revealed on the 10th of June, the first day of the 2013 WWDC, and is expected to mark a fundamental departure from Apple's traditional skeuomorhpic design approach.
Apple Website Redesign
The new Apple Store website now flashes a prominent Father's Day gift feature, while the overall layout has been significantly simplified. Some of the secondary navigation sidebars have been removed, giving it a cleaner and squarer look. The redesign has left the website devoid of elements with well-rounded corners or heavy textures.
The new design has a much less cluttered content. Most importantly the website adopted a tiled layout that in some might evoke a feeling a déjà vu. It follows a now popular trend called flat design, which has been long utilized in software UI of Apple's arch-enemy, Microsoft.
Flat Design Replaces Skeuomporhpism
If the leaks about the new iOS 7 UI becoming flat prove to be true, this will be a pivotal moment for Apple and an ultimate test of John Ive's instincts. Skeuomorhism, which is a design approach that advocates the use of life-like interface features, has been long considered a trademark of Apple. The debate regarding the usability of skeuomorphic design has been so far inconclusive. Its proponenets argue that drawing a bridge between design and real-life objects can make interfaces more intuitive. However, most user experience experts point to the visual saturation of skeuomorphic design, which is heavy on the eyes and can potentially overshadow the content. Moreover, it is not entirely clear whether realistic features are easier to recognize than their abstract minimalistic counterparts.
The skeuomorphic design culture was spearheaded by Steve Jobs and Scott Forstall, the company's former senior vice president. Following the death of the former and the departure of the latter in October 2012, the UI decision-making power was passed on to John Ive, who is believed to be a sceptic of skeuomorphism. The latest history of Apple redesigns seems to suggest a general move towards flat design, a minimalist approach that eschews 3D effects and heavy textures. The shift brings Apple more in line with modern design trends. However, it can also mean the iOS 7 will now start to resemble Microsoft's "Metro" UI in Windows 8.
We will need to wait till at least 10th of June to see the new iOS 7 but for those really impatient below is a concept design by Phillip Joyce.
What Will Apple Fans Say?
Whether the move towards flat design is a success or failure will be ultimately decided by Apple's fan base. Although John Ive's unquestionable talent, which helped to turn around the then faltering company with the introduction of iMac in 1998, his achievements to date have been on the hardware side of product development. It also doesn't help that in the case of iOS 7 Apple will be catching up with competition design-wise. Unless Apple introduces something genuinely novel and innovative to the flat design philosophy it might quickly lose its position as the creative technology leader.