The concept that Apple would devote significant resources to simply making their UI 'flatter' is troubling on many levels, and I remain hopeful that the emphasis such a design direction is receiving in the press is unrelated to the actual work that is going on. So, I'm hopeful that what Ive is doing is a great deal more sensitive and insightful than simply eliminating skeumorphism and dimensionality.
That said, I would like to suggest that almost nobody has asked the root question "what would make Ive qualified to lead software design?" he is clearly brilliant - perhaps one of the most brilliant hardware designers of our age. But what about his skill set extends, naturally, to the design of software user interfaces? I ask this because my observation is that people simply assume that Ive's skills in designing hardware will somehow just naturally map to the design of software user interfaces as well, and that assumption itself rests on another assumption: that what makes the hardware 'good' is exactly the same thing that will make the software 'good'. I think this basic assertion is highly questionable, however; I do NOT think it is a given that the minimalist design aesthetic we see in Apple hardware will translate magically into a pleasing and useful experience in software user interfaces. I am troubled that much of this direction, at least as described in the press, seems rooted in the assumption that what makes hardware designs good will somehow equate to what makes software UI design 'good'.
If it were just the press, I would be less concerned. But I see some indication, in the tea leaves as it were, that this is exactly the perception inside Apple. Cook essentially stated as much when he indicated that he put Ive in charge, here, because he wanted to create unity between the hardware and the software design. He expressed the view that because Ive had done so marvelously with the hardware, it was a natural fit for him to head the software design too. Nobody, apparently Cook included, seems to have paused to ask the basic question "does the stuff that makes a piece of hardware pleasant and well designed... equate to the stuff that makes a piece of software pleasant and well designed?" I think that is a very important, foundational question.
In my opinion, it is not at all clear that the minimalist design aesthetic which makes Ive's hardware designs so wonderful... is a solution course that will just naturally map to software just as well.
I remain hopeful that Ive is every bit as brilliant as his hardware designs would indicate, and that he is personally grappling with the question above, and seeking to find the designs which work best for the context. But I have to admit that I think, in software design, that minimalism purely for minimalism's sake is a very poor design direction. We have already seen what that looks like in the visage of Windows 8, and I don't think too many people like what they see. Windows 8 is very minimal in its design aesthetic, and it hangs together very well indeed in terms of the purity of its design aesthetic and the way the core UI adheres to its design language. The problem is this: that aesthetic and design language sucks. It isn't better just because there is less detail in the visual field.
So, I hope what Ive produces is distinct, beautiful, and a masterpiece of functionality and user experience. But I am not confident that what leads to an excellent hardware design is the same thing as what leads to an excellent software UI.