By now it’s almost inevitable given the company’s track record: No matter what Apple unveils tomorrow at the Yerba Buena Center (an iPad Mini? iPhone 5?), pundits will herald the company for its innovative thinking and bold hardware design. But the elephant in the room will be Apple’s software, which many inside the company believe has evolved for the worse in the last few years.
Despite consistently glowing reviews from critics and consumers alike, iOS and OS X, Apple’s operating systems which tie Macs and iPads and iPhones together, have rubbed some the wrong way in recent years with their design directions. During my reporting for Fast Company's upcoming feature on design at Microsoft, set to go live this week as part of our October design issue, I spoke with a number of designers, Apple veterans, and industry insiders hostile towards Apple’s approach to software design. Equally eye opening was the number who genuinely praise Microsoft for its novel approach for Windows 8, the most radical redesign to date of the world’s most ubiquitous operating system. The criticism and controversy, much of it revolving around a trend called skeuomorphism, reveal chinks in Apple’s armor rarely visible to those outside One Infinite Loop.
What’s skeuomorphism? If you’ve ever used an Apple product, you’ve experienced digital skeuomorphic design: calendars with faux leather-stitching, bookshelves with wood veneers, fake glass and paper and brushed chrome. Skeuomorphism is a catch-all term for when objects retain ornamental elements of past, derivative iterations--elements that are no longer necessary to the current objects’ functions.