At Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in 2006, top executive Bertrand Serlet stood on stage mocking Microsoft.
Two years before, Apple launched a new Mac operating system at WWDC. It hung banners at the event that said, “Redmond, start your photocopiers.” Redmond is the home of Microsoft. The not-so-subtle implication was that Microsoft was going to copy whatever Apple did.
And sure enough, in the eyes of Serlet, that’s what happened. He talked about the banners, saying, “It was only a joke, but they actually took it seriously.” He then flashed images of Apple’s Mac operating system and Microsoft’s Vista, accusing Microsoft of copying Apple.
At this year’s WWDC, things could be reversed. It could be Apple standing on stage, showing a new design language it copied from Microsoft.
Apple is reportedly going to unveil a new look for iOS, the software that powers iPhones and iPads. Apple blogger Mark Gurman hears from a source the new iOS is going to be “very, very flat.”
“Flat” is the latest fad in mobile design. It’s an extreme reaction to look promoted by Apple, which has a lot of shading, animation, and illustrations that mimic real life objects.
Microsoft committed to a flat design before any other major company. Its Windows Phone design has coloured tiles with no shading, and copies no real-life objects. Another source tells Gurman Apple’s new design could be approaching Microsoft’s level of flatness, which is pretty extreme.
If Apple is really going to start taking design cues from Microsoft, it should be careful. Too much of a thing can hurt.
Windows Phone, and Windows 8, which also uses a flat look, have not been smashing successes. Windows Phone has just 3% of the smartphone market last year, according to Gartner. Windows 8 has been accused of causing the PC industry to shrink faster than expected.
The look of Windows isn’t the only reason its phones aren’t selling. It doesn’t have enough apps. It doesn’t have the brand, or marketing power of the iPhone. It doesn’t have the support of phone-makers like Android.
However, if people really liked Microsoft’s flat-design, it would probably have more users.
It’s true that Apple’s design can be a bit excessive at times. Fake legal pads, fake leather, digital stitching, and fake gaming table felt can look gaudy.
However, overall, the shading and highlights in iOS make the phone comfortable for first-time users. Dropping all of that to chase the latest fad is a big risk.
Plus, it’s going to be mighty awkward for Apple, a company that routinely mocked Microsoft for copying Apple’s design, if it suddenly starts to make iOS look like Windows.