|Old and new – iOS 6 on the left and iOS 7 on the right|
One way skeuomorphs can be useful in interfaces is that they assist users in working out the function of a particular feature: 'this looks like a button, so I assume that when I press it a feature or function will be activated'; 'this looks like a notepad, so I assume I can use it to write notes'. The importance of this particular aspect of skeuomorphism, especially when relating to interfaces for touchscreens, is that they can assist greatly in introducing inexperienced users to new concepts, ideas and functions. For example, touchscreens. More specifically, the multi-touch type of touchscreens first made widely available in mobile devices by Apple back in 2007, with the launch of the original iPhone. Until then, our experience of mobile phones was characterised by screens that were screens and buttons that were buttons. Suddenly, there's just one button and the screen is now the whole phone; pretty radical to say the least. Within a few years though, almost every phone on the market has this kind of technology and everyone and their mums can use a touchscreen without freaking out and reaching for a 3310. Why? Because, among other reasons, the interface was intuitive enough to allow them to get to grips with this new way of interacting with stuff.
|The good old Nokia 3310|
But not all is as it seems. Skeuomorphism is still very much a part of the interface, in the behaviour of the features as well as what they look like, only this time around it's just that bit more subtle. The translucent, 'frosted glass' effect on the Control Center, for example, creates a sense of dimension and space, and the mysterious parallax effect on the homescreen seeks to give that space a physicality, a natural behaviour. And let's not forget, icons can be skeuomorphs too, from volume control to mailbox to calendar to compass to making a phonecall (crucially, Windows uses many of these skeuomorphs in its icon designs too). It seems with iOS7 Apple hasn't scrapped skeuomorphism at all, only used it more intelligently and in a less invasive manner, in a way that enhances the experience of using an iPhone and (finally) takes iOS to a new level. With a launch this autumn, the sense of anticipation is palpable, but one thing's for certain: although it might not feature a single thread of leather stitching, skeuomorphism is going to be all over it.
(written by Rosi Digne-Malcolm, Junior Designer at Assembly Studios)