What will iOS 7 tell us about the future of IBM i design?

Posted by Brendan Kay on Jul 8, 2013 2:45:00 PM


iOS7 Design

I have been using iOS 7 on my iPhone for the last couple of weeks and it is a significant change in direction from Apple. I am curious to what extent it will lead the entire industry in this new direction.

As a long time iPhone user I am used to regular tweaks on the design and the user interaction but Apple has decided to be considerably braver when making changes this time around.

It appears that the change of leadership on the software design team from Scott Forstall to Jony Ive has had considerably more impact than I expected. I think that everyone new that the new iOS version would have a "flatter" design and remove some of the gratuitous skueomorphic elements in the interface. 

It is interesting that Scott Forstall was not considered to be the original impetus of skueomorphic design. Steve Jobs was credited as the inspiration behind some of the most noticeable elements. The commonly accepted story was that the leather binding on the top of the iOS and Mac Calendar applications was Steve's idea and based upon the Corinthian leather in his private jet. Although I was not a huge fan of the leather and stitching used in these applications, I have to admit that if I had a private jet then I would find something in my application to model upon it :-).

We now know what Jony Ive likes to see in software interfaces. It is interesting to me that his hardware designs use muted and unobtrusive colors but his software designs use a much wider palette and much more stark variations. I am curious whether this will be a journey like that of the Bondi Blue iMac to the iMac of today or whether it represents a long term trend towards the more liberal use of colors.

The other thing that immediately stands out is the increased use of transitions to create perception of depth at the same time that the UI elements themselves become flatter.

There are some really neat aspects to the new design.

To me the most striking aspect is the extend to which skueomorphic elements have been removed. I had not even realized the full extend to which that had permeated through iOS until they were all removed. Apps like the stopwatch, compass, voice memos and many others used skueomorphic designs that really felt like they just made sense. Without those elements the iPhone stopwatch feels like a very different experience to using a regular stopwatch (which is not necessarily a bad thing, of course).

There are also some aspects that feel quite foreign. I should add at this point that I have used iPhone for many years (since it was first released here in Australia) and I was a Windows Mobile user before that. Perhaps some of the shock that I am feeling comes from just being too comfortable with the existing design elements.

Like all things Apple, the changes have caused much debate and many different perspectives. Some people love the new interface and others think that is is simply "wrong". The majority seem to feel that there are some good things about it but also some areas that need further attention. Another very interesting perspective is that the design is specifically intended to make it difficult for others to copy (from Marco Arment who is always worth reading). One interesting perspective from Mike Elgan's article linked above is that the bold new colors are much more warmly received by global audiences other than European and American users.

So what does this all mean for user interface design on the IBM i platform?

I am very confident that it will mean that IBM i applications will need to adopt a flatter and more striking interface in order to feel modern. Fortunately for IBM i customers who are using well designed tools, this is relatively easy to achieve with update to global interface definitions.

I personally believe that this further establishes the benefits of technologies like RPG Open Access that allow separation of the business logic and presentation layers. It is critical to be able to update the presentation themes without having to modify the objects that implement the business logic and it is also critical to realize that you will have to do it again all too soon when design sensibilities change once more.

Topics: HTML5, IBM i, Mobile, GUI, RPG Open Access