Apple Changed Its Design Language in iOS 7: What Does It Mean?

Nowadays there are many sorts of electronic devices. And during recent years, the interfaces of electronic devices have changed a lot in order to offer better experience. For instance, the operation system of iPhones and iPads, iOS has been improving continuously since it was initially released in 2007. And the design of its interface gets a big change every two or three versions. The most recent significant improvement of iOS is iOS 7 (the successor of it, iOS 8 is based on the design of iOS 7 with many small modifications). If we compare iOS 7 with the previous version, iOS 6, we will find something interesting. The interface of iOS 7 looks very different from iOS 6. To explain this difference, I think we can see the various design languages: IOS 7 is based on the new design which is called “flat design”, and iOS 6 is based on another design language, skeuomorphism.

What does the change of design languages mean? By recalling the term “material metaphor” from Kathrine Hayles’ Writing Machines, I think there’s something worth discussing about the material metaphors inside the change of the design languages.

The material metaphor is about the implication of another medium which can be found in a medium, I think it shows some associations between two media. And the material metaphor can be easily found in iOS 6. The Icons and interfaces of iOS 6 remind me of many things in the real life. This design is based on skeuomorphism. For instance, while I was reading some kind of texts on some sort of background on the iPad with iOS 6, I remembered that the background of “notes” was just like a real page of a writing pad. Other icons were also similar to something which really exists. I think Apple just wants to make people feel comfortable when they are using their devices. People may say surprisingly when they find these designs: “Wow, it looks real”. People will easily get used to use their iOS devices soon because they can find many things they are familiar with. So I think that’s an important reason why iPhones and iPod are successful products. IOS 6 tried to be a skeuomorphic, and the material metaphor is just like what the “notes” shows. The “notes” actually has some features from the real writing pads.

But with the release of iOS 7, Apple started to use the flat design language. The interface isn’t based on the skeuomorphism anymore. Things in the iOS 7 give users limited material metaphors about traditional media such as notebooks. For example, with the flat designs, when people open the “reminder” in iOS 7, they will find that there’s nothing like a real page on the notebook except lines and the sequence of reading which is just like the paper notebooks. In addition, they can get another message from the design itself: you are now using an electronic device. IOS 7 has less material metaphors related to some other media like printed books. It becomes more independent as a medium with more features about itself.

By comparing iOS 6 with iOS 7, I find that many material metaphors on electronic device vanished. IOS 6 contains more material metaphors than iOS 7, in other words, the older version tried to emulate some traditional media like printed books somehow. And the newer iOS 7 tried to create an interface which emphasizes properties of electronic devices as new technologies, although there are many remaining aspects from traditional media such as the sequence of reading (that’s from printed books). I think electronic devices like iPhones will be likely to be a new kind of “traditional media” in the future. Now I can draw a short conclusion by the analysis of iOS: once a specific kind of medium owns more things about itself and less material metaphors about other media, especially some traditional media, it will be a truly independent category of media which is newly created by us.


  1. Hayles, Katherine. Writing Machines. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2002. Print.
  2. “Apple IOS 7 Review – CNET.” CNET. CNET, 18 Sept. 2013. Web. 05 Feb. 2015.


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