Wood and Brushed Metal: iPhone 5 Reignites Debate on Skeuomorphism

Skeuomorphism literally means “to have the shape of the vessel”, and for the majority of those reading an iBook for the first time, I’m sure having their reading experience look and perform like a real book is reassuring. Is Apple’s heavy reliance on skeuomorphism absolutely necessary, however, in moving their users digitally forward in life?

Hobbs provides the example of Kindle’s popular e-reader, in which Amazon’s designers did not feel the need to repeat the heavy dose of skeuomorphic features employed by iBook; rather, they relied on familiar layout, typeface and font styles to reassure the new digital book consumer. The user is expected to, once again, fall in love with the story she is reading, not with the app from which it springs.

It is in these small, systematic innovations that the wholly-open digital world opens up to designers, argues Hobbs, that we can uncover the incremental evolution of digital user experience, something he points out has been lacking in the last 20 years.

“The issue is that when people are critical and thoughtful enough to conceive new ways of instantiating interactions, truly interesting things start to happen.”

Just how emotionally tied to an app do we want to be, rather than the media it provides us? Another example Hobbs draws from is the wooden bookshelf UI used to put on display one’s iBooks collection.

Although familiar, warm and inviting, is it truly necessary to replicate this experience when displaying one’s virtual book collection? Why not the cover flow slider, or an absolutely new way of showing book cover thumbnails? The question becomes just how strongly we must cling to a carefully crafted wood and brushed metal schema, when we can create an entirely new world to hold our digital lives?

Hobbs is not alone in his consternation with the over-the-top recreated familiarity of Apple’s UI. Forbes’ Tim Worstall points to the Rolodex feel of Apple’s Contacts app, despite very few people holding an iPhone who own (or have ever used) the once-needed card-holding device.

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