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Apple designers reportedly divided over use of skeuomorphic UIs

post #1 of 122
Thread Starter 
Apple's slow push toward skeuomorphic interfaces in its iOS and OS X platforms is reportedly a polarizing topic within the halls of One Infinite Loop, and a new report claims company cofounder Steve Jobs was one of the first proponents of the controversial design scheme.

An in-depth report from Fast Company says that while Apple's products have enjoyed consistent critical acclaim, an undercurrent of discontent has been slowly gaining momentum regarding the company's design direction, namely the inclusion of skeuomorphic interfaces.

Skeuomorphism, as it applies to computer software, is the use of ornamental design elements that represent familiar objects in the digital realm. The technique was first implemented by software designers to help ease users into the unfamiliar world of computing. For example, digital folders are represented by folder icons and contacts lists can be displayed in a virtual agenda.

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Some say the ornamental flourishes have become a non-functional extra that merely adds clutter to an otherwise clean interface, something that is necessary especially for small-screened devices like the iPhone.

"It?s visual masturbation," said a former senior UI designer at Apple, who reportedly worked closely with cofounder Steve Jobs. "It?s like the designers are flexing their muscles to show you how good of a visual rendering they can do of a physical object. Who cares?"

Critics say Apple's use of skeuomorphic design is too pervasive, overstepping its intended purpose to simplify a user's experience and in some cases actually causes confusion. The Notes app's yellow sketchpad and the stitched-leather theme found in a number of newer iOS apps are examples of non-functional design.

Internally, higher ups like SVP of Industrial Design Jony Ive are said to oppose the push toward skeuomorphic design, while the movement supposedly has the support of iOS chief Scott Forstall. Apple cofounder Steve Jobs is thought to be one of the first proponents of the design change, evidenced in the Game Center app.

"Steve pushed very hard to have everything--the felt-cloth table, the game chips--look like they would in real life," said another former Apple designer. "Internally, a lot of people were shocked by the richness. Many think it?s gone too far."

Game Center


One app in particular shows how the move to skeumorphic interfaces affects an app's usability. Calendar for the iPhone employs a clean, no-frills UI that easy to navigate with one hand. The OS X and iPad counterparts, however, implement skeuomorphic elements resembling a classic wall-hanging calendar. While easily recognizable, it can be argued the interface is somewhat clunky.

"iCal?s leather-stitching was literally based on a texture in his Gulfstream jet," the former designer said. "There was lots of internal email among UI designers at Apple saying this was just embarrassing, just terrible."

iPad Calendar


When such an interface is used, designers are restricted by the limitations of that medium and in the case of iCal, that means turning pages and having traditional year, month, week and day views. If a completely new system is developed, much like the iPhone's simple yet intuitive Calendar app, designers are free to explore and invent new ways of presenting data.

iPhone Calendar


As consumers become increasingly tech-savvy, skeumorphism has in many instances been replaced with abstract icons, examples of which can be found in Apple's own iOS. Instead of the familiar folders, the mobile operating system allows developers to create their own iconography, usually taking the form of a company logo or cartoon illustration. Skeuomorphism is seen by some as a regression to the advancements made in UI design.

"I?ve come to absolutely dislike this trend in user interface toward skeuomorphism," said noted designer Yves B?har. "Using reality as a visual metaphor for the user interface rather than make the UI function on its own terms is something that has irked me for quite a while."

Behar takes particular issue with the wooden bookshelves in Apple's iBooks and Newsstand apps.

"The digital bookshelf doesn?t really work like a bookshelf," Behar said. "You?re throwing all this extraneous visual noise at me and it?s confusing. My brain, which is used to the physical bookshelf, is confused because of the differences in usability. It?s cute, but not particularly useful."

iBooks


Apple will debut a number of new skeuomorphic features when it launches the next-generation iOS 6, including a virtual paper shredder built in to the Passbook digital coupon organization app.

"I feel like [Apple] has concentrated too much on mimicking the visual skeuomorphic approach rather than concentrating on the actual functionality," said the former Apple designer. "To me, it?s lipstick on a pig. There?s no need to add glitter if the product can stand on its own."

Versions of Apple's iOS 6 for iDevices are expected to debut alongside a next-generation iPhone at a special event on Wednesday.
post #2 of 122
I think it depends on what the software is and it doesn't need to be system wide.

I think the bookshelf in iBooks looks great. I think the leather effect in the calendar looks shit.

When all is said and done, all this comes down to personal preference.
post #3 of 122

Sure know how to pick articles that'll get the most comments, don't they… 


"I feel like [Apple] has concentrated too much on mimicking the visual skeuomorphic approach rather than concentrating on the actual functionality," said the former Apple designer. "To me, it?s lipstick on a pig," says the source intimately familiar with Apple?s design process. "There?s no need to add glitter if the product can stand on its own."

 

Pretty sure he means the opposite.

post #4 of 122
Another negative point is that it also bloats apps because they need to include multiple versions all those texture images for different resolution displays.
 
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post #5 of 122
Man AI is stretching here yet again for artificial news. Just because it is a slow news day doesn't mean you have to create news out of nothing. Sure the NY Times does it, but realize they serve a stupid population.
post #6 of 122

The whole article is a bit one sided here.  You didn't have enough space to even mention the positive side of skeuomorphism?  No time for background on the reasons why Jobs thought this was a good idea?  

 

Personally a lot of it gets to me also, but the many many articles on how "bad" it is, penned by tech-heads who don't actually have any of the problems that this kind of design tries to solve are starting to be a bit of a pain in the ass also.  

 

How about a reasoned discussion of the pros and cons as well as some acknowledgement of the fact that a great deal of the audience for Apple's iOS products is actually not a bunch of computer nerds (or design nerds for that matter), but in fact people who have never, ever, used a computer before?  

 

I also find it interesting that while the most egregious examples of it are probably the yellow paper in Notepad and the shelves in the book apps, no one ever complains about that.  All we get is endless complaints about the calendar app.  Why?  Because nerds use calendars a lot.  

post #7 of 122
It's definitely gone too far. To the point I now quite often click on the address book icon when I want the calendar app because it's the same fawn colour as calendar's new UI. It's unnecessary frippery. Snow leopard was visually the prettiest OS IMO, but then again I use Tinker Tool to turn the 3d dock off so what do I know...
post #8 of 122
Personally, I don't like them mainly because they detract from a singular stylized OS. Many feel a bit childish and dated, unlike OSX which is mostly very clean, moden. Even the little things like pull down notifications have a texture that don't really match, different designs all over the place.
I'd like to see a major overhaul to all the core programs as well as the general OS, think it's time to update beyond the basics, much of which was designed 6 years ago.
post #9 of 122
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

Sure know how to pick articles that'll get the most comments, don't they… 

 

Pretty sure he means the opposite.

 

He's definitely using "lipstick on a pig" incorrectly if that's what you mean. 

post #10 of 122
I think it has gone too far as well. I would rather have a clean, modern look. I don't need to be fooled into thinking I'm using something in the real world.
post #11 of 122
Quote:
Originally Posted by september11th View Post

Personally, I don't like them mainly because they detract from a singular stylized OS. Many feel a bit childish and dated, unlike OSX which is mostly very clean, moden. Even the little things like pull down notifications have a texture that don't really match, different designs all over the place.
I'd like to see a major overhaul to all the core programs as well as the general OS, think it's time to update beyond the basics, much of which was designed 6 years ago.

The problem isn't that it was designed 6 years ago, the problem is that they made it so that you have to customize the look of all of the fundamental UI elements (tables, buttons, etc) if you want your app to look polished.  In fact, they were promoting that at all of the iOS development talks.  So everyone took it in their own direction, and that's why it's become such a mishmash of styles without much consistency.  It feels a lot like a Windows desktop in that regard.

 
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post #12 of 122

While I don't mind Skeuomorphism when properly implemented, I agree that it's getting out of hand. OSX and iPad apps are starting to look more like Microsoft BoB than the clean, usable interface both are known for.

post #13 of 122

Skeuomorphic interfaces make no sense to me.  You can't touch the object because it is not tangible, not real.  Additionally, Apple is forcing it's designs on a majority of people who, like me, do not like shit brown leather calendars or grandpa's wood and felt game tables.  Why stop there?  How about some wafting cigar smoke across the screen and some Dean Martin singing in the background?

post #14 of 122
Who cares what a few egotistical designers think?

I like skeuomorphism and welcome its further development. Perhaps is "fails" only in the cases where it hasn't gone *far enough* towards realism--the purpose of which is to communicate visually and more effectively and intuitively how to control and interpret the app.

Objections to such may be borne simply from the designer's laziness or ineptitude in creating adequate realism in the UI.

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post #15 of 122
Quote:
Originally Posted by bdkennedy1 View Post

Skeuomorphic interfaces make no sense to me.  You can't touch the object because it is not tangible, not real.  Additionally, Apple is forcing it's designs on a majority of people who, like me, do not like shit brown leather calendars or grandpa's wood and felt game tables.  Why stop there?  How about some wafting cigar smoke across the screen and some Dean Martin singing in the background?

 

a) You're just making shit up, (in fact you have no idea how many people like/dislike the designs).

 

b) the smoke and Dean Martin thing would be pretty cool! 

post #16 of 122
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider 
There's no need to add glitter if the product can stand on its own.

This one bothers me because I've heard and seen this for decades from coders that have absolutely no class or taste. Part of the product is the glitter. You wouldn't buy a new car without paint or with different color panels that were thrown on even though it wouldn't affect the performance. You don't want to eat a burger that looks like it was abused by the cooking staff instead of looking like the photo on the menu even though it wouldn't affect the flavour. The little things are important to a product which is why Apple has the most mindshare in every HW category they are in.

Quote:
Originally Posted by juggernaut30 View Post

I think it has gone too far as well. I would rather have a clean, modern look. I don't need to be fooled into thinking I'm using something in the real world.

The goal shouldn't be to fool you but to make something more usable because it's already familiar to you because of the item in the real world. There are much, much worse examples of this outside of Apple but Apple does appear to be pulling toward it more with Mac OS X.

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post #17 of 122
Quote:
Originally Posted by bdkennedy1 View Post

Skeuomorphic interfaces make no sense to me.  You can't touch the object because it is not tangible, not real.  Additionally, Apple is forcing it's designs on a majority of people who, like me, do not like shit brown leather calendars or grandpa's wood and felt game tables.  Why stop there?  How about some wafting cigar smoke across the screen and some Dean Martin singing in the background?

 

I think that's the key.  I actually like the Notepad's yellow pages - but then I'm an attorney and I have lots of little yellow tablets all over my desk.  And if someone wants to put a little fake spiral on the side of something with pages, I don't really care.

 

But when you go further, you get into personal tastes and style -- a brown leather calendar instead of black leather, or aluminum, or just plain simple design -- and then you've gone too far.  It both turns some people off, and subconsciously ticks off others who probably have no clue why some app or program simply rubs them the wrong way.

post #18 of 122
Quote:
Originally Posted by bdkennedy1 View Post

Skeuomorphic interfaces make no sense to me.

You really can't understand how the turning page effect in iBooks (also an API in Xcode) could be useful for users?
Quote:
You can't touch the object because it is not tangible, not real.

And yet when I touch the screen the page effect works as I would expect it to in the real world.

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post #19 of 122
Originally Posted by Gazoobee View Post
He's definitely using "lipstick on a pig" incorrectly if that's what you mean. 

 

Yep. It's a 'pig on lipstick' by his belief.

post #20 of 122
This is all about the personal opinions of a very narrow coterie of elitist designers, who are definitely not the target of this design philosophy. Time and again these BS merchants fail to appreciate the minority of their position, and that for all the eventful drama of the smartphone revolution the iPhone kicked off in 2007, the genre is still in its relative growth infancy and needs to attract even more "newbies" into its fold.

Skeuomorphism, like it or not (I do, but that's irrelevant) brings familiarity, fun and context to otherwise sterile and baffling application environments which would all look the same without it (e.g. one has to glance at the top of an iWork window to remind oneself which app is being worked on).

Children, autistics and the elderly seem to intuitively take to the iOS UI easily enough, and that's no trivial observation. That's good enough for me.

Endgame will occur in a year's time, when every other mobile OS suddenly "adopts" Skeuomorphism, at which time the same anal-retentives poo-pooing it now will start proclaiming its obviousness, and how "there is no other way" to enhance and differentiate context...
post #21 of 122

I love skeumorphism if dont well. It beats having a damn text list over a white background in every app. Not only does it give personality, it reminds users what app they're in, keeps the environment unique,  and creates a connection with real life objects which is extremely important both functionally and visually. Now, not every app has to be skeuomorphic (ie. I don't care for it on the calendar) but that doesnt mean that skeumorphism itself is bad. I actually like it in most of Apple's apps, like the bookstore, etc. 

post #22 of 122
Quote:
Originally Posted by auxio View Post

Another negative point is that it also bloats apps because they need to include multiple versions all those texture images for different resolution displays.

How is it a bloat if the user never knows about it?! It is true that every apps needs two resolutions (in case of universal app you need four) but that is not a big problem for user. It is a little bit more work for developers though.

I personally think sometimes it is too much for some apps like friends finder but I like it for the calendar.


Edited by NasserAE - 9/11/12 at 4:39pm
post #23 of 122
SKEUMORPHIC CRAP JUST FLAT OUT DOESN'T MATCH JONY IVE'S ELEGANT MODERN MINIMALISTIC HARDWARE DESIGN. It bastardized Ive's work. That's what it is. I think Forstall is out of touch with reality and is trying too hard to be like Steve Jobs. The dude needs to go.

I'm not anti-skeumorphism. It's appropriate on certain things but it's been taken way too far by Apple it's really distasteful.
post #24 of 122

Apple makes its UIs look like stuff, sells millions. Microsoft makes its UIs look like glossy magazines, impresses designers, fails in the marketplace.

post #25 of 122
Great article. This design stuff needs to go away. OS X is starting to look distracting and stupid. Especially to the young crowd who don't know what a card table is and cant relate to this or other design elements.

Apple at least allow us to apply skins and turn the default crap off.

Been using Macs since the Mac Plus.
post #26 of 122
Quote:
Originally Posted by bdkennedy1 
Skeuomorphic interfaces make no sense to me.

Design, artwork, music, poetry is all there to conjure up an emotion or sense of purpose. You can't do that without association.

If you take away any association, all you do is create another one. Jony Ive was quite happy with the iPhoto software:

"Get it right, and you become closer and more focused on the object. For instance, the iPhoto app we created for the new iPad, it completely consumes you and you forget you are using an iPad."

but not with the leather:

'When asked about skeuomorphic design features like fake leather texture and stitching in iOS and OS X, he visibly winced in a way that the interviewer interpreted as a "gesture of sympathy."

"My focus is very much working with the other teams on the product ideas and then developing the hardware and so that's our focus and that's our responsibility," Ive said. "In terms of those elements you're talking about, I'm not really connected to that."'

http://appleinsider.com/articles/12/05/23/apple_designer_jonathan_ive_says_current_projects_are_his_most_important_work.html

The iPhoto app doesn't look or behave like a photo album that we would be familiar with in real life. It could be a shelf of albums and opening an album is like a scrap book with photos skewed across various pages with notes on them. Less functional and efficient perhaps but more creative.

If every UI simply had a sterile, efficient appearance, there would be no immediate famiiarity and that's more confusing to a user. This is one of the iPad's biggest strengths - the rubber-banding effect, the precise tracking of your finger, pinch to zoom, the visual rotation when you turn the iPad. These aren't essential elements for a computer UI but they are what we expect in real-life and that's what makes them intuitive.

There's an issue of quality and I'd say the textures and embossing could have been done a lot better than they are and should have been more subtle but I think they should maintain a sense of association and give their apps an identity.
post #27 of 122

There's a reason Jobs supported the idea (it was there throughout all Apple interfaces since his return) and there's a reason for Apple's success *with* the idea. 

 

Would it really matter at this point if there was a move away from it? I'm not sure. But Apple needs to maintain differentiation, and skeumorphic designs have been at the heart of it. I can certainly see its place.

 

Apple's interfaces are *already* unmatched in the industry. So, whichever they choose, there's plenty of reason to expect that to continue. 

 

And before any of you go on and rag on Forstall, he's the man behind iOS. He knows his shit, and apparently, is the most Jobsian of the bunch. Which is a *good* thing. 

post #28 of 122
I understand what they're trying to say about skeuomorphism but for the love of god please don't ever go the direction Microsoft is now. Instead of images that suggest anything at all, Microsoft has replaced everything with colored squares. That makes it impossible to understand what anything does without stopping and reading text. Simply terrible. I'll take a "cute" interface over a grid of unidentifiable sameness any day.
post #29 of 122
Backwards and stupid! Very limiting.
It a a computer interface. Not a physical object!
Get rid of what there is already.
post #30 of 122
Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin View Post


Design, artwork, music, poetry is all there to conjure up an emotion or sense of purpose. You can't do that without association.
If you take away any association, all you do is create another one. Jony Ive was quite happy with the iPhoto software:
"Get it right, and you become closer and more focused on the object. For instance, the iPhoto app we created for the new iPad, it completely consumes you and you forget you are using an iPad."
but not with the leather:

 

I'll admit, this is a good point. 

post #31 of 122

Apple does indeed have UI schism deep within the company. A sore spot on an otherwise spotless company. The leather bound stuff is atrocious. This is not an opinion, it's fact. 

post #32 of 122
Originally Posted by Yojimbo007 View Post
Backwards and stupid! Very limiting.
It a a computer interface. Not a physical object!
Get rid of what there is already.

 

Right, computers should be completely foreign to everyone using them.


Originally Posted by macinthe408 View Post
The leather bound stuff is atrocious. This is not an opinion, it's fact. 

 

Except that's a complete lie.

post #33 of 122
Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin View Post

If every UI simply had a sterile, efficient appearance, there would be no immediate famiiarity and that's more confusing to a user. This is one of the iPad's biggest strengths - the rubber-banding effect, the precise tracking of your finger, pinch to zoom, the visual rotation when you turn the iPad. These aren't essential elements for a computer UI but they are what we expect in real-life and that's what makes them intuitive.
There's an issue of quality and I'd say the textures and embossing could have been done a lot better than they are and should have been more subtle but I think they should maintain a sense of association and give their apps an identity.
Yes, a sense of association is definitely important as it helps the user. But clearly some of the elements mentioned in the article have gone too far and look corny. The partially ripped page remnant is just fancy vanity. The iBook page turn otoh is functional and helpful.

I think a big part of this is 'fun'. UI design, IMO, should also be fun, clever, and pretty. Design is moving target, it is always evolving, and it is hard to stay fresh. But I for one is done with the leather bound books, the quill, the 50's typewriter and all that 'ye olde' retro iconography.

Please, allow the designers to dazzle us as well as create usable, awesome, and helpful design. But please, use some restraint. The bookshelves, the leather and stitching, and the game center et all, needs to be smothered before it goes any further. It's embarrassing.
post #34 of 122
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wurm5150 View Post

SKEUMORPHIC CRAP JUST FLAT OUT DOESN'T MATCH JONY IVE'S ELEGANT MODERN MINIMALISTIC HARDWARE DESIGN.

I'd say Jony Ive's minimalistic hardware design is what lets the hardware get out of the way so we can focus on software. Jobs always said at the heart of it, Apple is a software company.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Yojimbo007 View Post

Backwards and stupid! Very limiting. It a a computer interface. Not a physical object!

And what's a computer interface? Are you old enough to know those black screens with green text? Those were computer interfaces...
Quote:
Originally Posted by macinthe408 View Post

The leather bound stuff is atrocious. This is not an opinion, it's fact. 

That's an opinion. You're entitled to it. It just doesn't apply to everyone.
Quote:
Originally Posted by PaulMJohnson View Post

I think it depends on what the software is and it doesn't need to be system wide.
I think the bookshelf in iBooks looks great.

Agreed, how else should Apple do a bookshelf? Just a list of books? Oh yeah, you can change the interface to that.

Quote:
Originally Posted by juggernaut30 View Post

I think it has gone too far as well. I would rather have a clean, modern look. I don't need to be fooled into thinking I'm using something in the real world.

What is a clean modern look? Metro? Android? I'll take Apple's UI over the others anyday.
post #35 of 122
Quote:
Originally Posted by paxman View Post

Please, allow the designers to dazzle us as well as create usable, awesome, and helpful design. But please, use some restraint. The bookshelves, the leather and stitching, and the game center et all, needs to be smothered before it goes any further. It's embarrassing.

Oh come on, are you really embarrassed? You're ashamed to be seen using it?

I think Game Center's interface is clever and beautiful, unique specifically to it's app. I don't even use it.

Tell me how you'd replace the bookshelf? Empty grid? Because showing the book covers is of visual importance. Yes you can have a scrolling table of book titles. It's minimal and functional. It doesn't excite or give a good feeling at all. It's BLAH. Go to Android. That's visual vomit.

But then again, I'm a developer and I won't give the time of day to a crappy looking app. May have the world best feature buried in it, but if it looks like empty garbage, I'm not going to buy it because I want to feel good using it. But I also understand that everyone is not the same.
post #36 of 122
Quote:
Originally Posted by paxman View Post

Yes, a sense of association is definitely important as it helps the user. But clearly some of the elements mentioned in the article have gone too far and look corny. The partially ripped page remnant is just fancy vanity. The iBook page turn otoh is functional and helpful.
I think a big part of this is 'fun'. UI design, IMO, should also be fun, clever, and pretty. Design is moving target, it is always evolving, and it is hard to stay fresh. But I for one is done with the leather bound books, the quill, the 50's typewriter and all that 'ye olde' retro iconography.
Please, allow the designers to dazzle us as well as create usable, awesome, and helpful design. But please, use some restraint. The bookshelves, the leather and stitching, and the game center et all, needs to be smothered before it goes any further. It's embarrassing.

Well said. Spare function use is fine, but don't let it distract. Obviously easer said than done. IMO(which counts for zilch) they have over done it on some things(leather looks blah to me, page turn, microphone, tape recorder are fine), let Sir Johnny make the call.
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post #37 of 122

These UI design elements have their place.  I feel they warm up the interface.  Balance of course is important so Apple UI designers & their management team do well to try to manage its use in the OS.  On a personal note, I don't really like the Game Center UI, but I understand the point Apple wanted to get across to its users with the look and feel it creates for the gaming environment.

post #38 of 122
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wurm5150 View Post

SKEUMORPHIC CRAP JUST FLAT OUT DOESN'T MATCH JONY IVE'S ELEGANT MODERN MINIMALISTIC HARDWARE DESIGN. It bastardized Ive's work. That's what it is. I think Forstall is out of touch with reality and is trying too hard to be like Steve Jobs. The dude needs to go.
I'm not anti-skeumorphism. It's appropriate on certain things but it's been taken way too far by Apple it's really distasteful.

 

Who else at Apple needs to go? Please go ahead and make us a list. Ive should go too, everything Apple has come out with lately has looked the same. Wheres the innovation, right? Cook needs to go to. Hiring that tool Browett, whats up with that, eh? Cause you clearly know what's up. Nevermind the fact that Forstall is the architect of iOS since it's inception, not to mention being considered one of the most important and critical people at Apple, up there with Cook and Ive. But yeah, he's 'disconnected from reality' because you don't like something, and 'needs to go'. You can have an opinion without being a complete ass about it. 

 

Grow the **** up. Forstall is the closest thing to Steve Jobs left at Apple, and possibly the most important person there. 

post #39 of 122
This debate reminds me of the architect Louis I Kahn, who once said, "To make a thing deliberately beautiful is a dastardly act" -- and meant it. Some of these designers who are such zealots that that just eschew every slightest embellishment...
post #40 of 122
Quote:
Originally Posted by Quadra 610 View Post

There's a reason Jobs supported the idea (it was there throughout all Apple interfaces since his return) and there's a reason for Apple's success *with* the idea. 

 

Would it really matter at this point if there was a move away from it? I'm not sure. But Apple needs to maintain differentiation, and skeumorphic designs have been at the heart of it. I can certainly see its place.

 

Apple's interfaces are *already* unmatched in the industry. So, whichever they choose, there's plenty of reason to expect that to continue. 

 

And before any of you go on and rag on Forstall, he's the man behind iOS. He knows his shit, and apparently, is the most Jobsian of the bunch. Which is a *good* thing. 

 

I'm waiting for you to have one NON completely rational, intelligent, well thought out post on this board, and I haven't seen it yet. You pretty much hit the nail on the head each time and make me think twice about whether I should bother to post. 

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