Is Apple Killing the Icons That Jobs Built?

One of the guiding principles that has allowed Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) to build a consumer electronics company that briefly allowed it to become the biggest company on Earth was to make things that were sleek, intuitive, and instantly recognizable as premium devices. This was a part of Steve Jobs' vision, and a central reason why the company has had so much success to date. A recent report from 9to5Mac's Mark Gurman suggests that Apple is on the verge of throwing out some of the most recognizable parts of iOS as a part of an overhaul that is known as "Innsbruck." At a time when investors and consumers are clamoring for the next big thing from Cupertino, killing the icons that Jobs built seems poorly timed.

Source: Apple.

The Jobs look and feel
Pursuant to Jobs' vision, current icons and graphics have a glossy, polished look and feel that speak of the premium nature of the products they come installed on. Additionally, Apple iOS software representations of tangible objects are designed to look like what they are -- the calendar looks like a physical calendar and the notepad looks like a yellow legal pad. This was fundamental to how Jobs wanted his products to function and aided the sense that Apple made things that were easy-to-understand upgrades from classic tools.

The Innsbruck iteration of iOS, assuming that the rumors are accurate, will be a shocking departure for most current users. The glossy, 3-D representations will give way to flat ones, and the visual cues that tie physical tools to virtual ones will be abandoned as well. Gurman compared the "flatness" of the planned icons to the appearance of the Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) Windows Phone Metro user interface. This would be the first major overhaul of this kind to iOS since the iPhone made its debut.

Chasing Microsoft?
While Microsoft builds powerful and functional products, the company's user interface missteps are legendary. The idea that Apple may be scrapping its identity for something even similar to a Microsoft UI seems like madness. So coveted is the Apple look and feel that Samsung, Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) , and others have long been accused of outright copying.

The impetus for the change is Apple's top designer, Jony Ive, and a growing contingent of those in Cupertino looking to move the company's image forward. Without any desire to sound like an alarmist, and allowing for the reality that we are dealing in rumor -- although Gurman has a reputation for getting good information -- this seems like a very dangerous proposition. Customers and investors have already expressed concerns that Apple isn't innovating quickly enough; changing one of the things that people like the most is a huge risk.

While there are times when refreshing what has become stale can be a good idea, suddenly fixing things that are not only not broken, but also the basis of your success, is the hallmark of mismanagement. Apple should continue to do what is does better than any other company in the world and not alter those key building blocks that got it here. Jobs' vision may not be able to last forever, but radically abandoning it is not prudent.

Apple fans have long bristled at comparisons between Jobs and current CEO Tim Cook. This may be rooted in the fact that filling Jobs' shoes is a practical impossibility, but legendary leaders frequently leave vacuums in their wakes. The potential of a cheap iPhone, a cheap iPad, and now a redesign of some of the most fundamental parts of iOS demonstrate that Apple is heading down into a new era. Investors should pay careful attention to this story, because an iPhone 5S that no longer looks like an iPhone could be a significant blow.

There's no doubt that Apple is at the center of technology's largest revolution ever and that longtime shareholders have been handsomely rewarded, with more than 1,000% gains. However, there is a debate raging as to whether Apple remains a buy. The Motley Fool's senior technology analyst and managing bureau chief, Eric Bleeker, is prepared to fill you in on reasons to buy and reasons to sell Apple and what opportunities are left for the company (and your portfolio) going forward. To get instant access to his latest thinking on Apple, simply click here now.


Read/Post Comments (6) | Recommend This Article (4)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On May 01, 2013, at 2:13 AM, JamesNYC wrote:

    Jony Ive is going to find out the hard way that HIS engineer tastes have no connection to the customers who buy Apple products. How disconnected can Apple be? Jobs knew what his customers wanted, these guys don't.

    When Apple starts trying to become more like MS, it's bad news. The death spiral is starting. So sad.

  • Report this Comment On May 01, 2013, at 2:51 AM, JT1951 wrote:

    OK....... for so long EVERYONE in the media has been on the rag about how Apple's icons look dated and were lagging behind Android and everyone else.

    Now that there is an indication Apple will revamp the icons in the next iOS the media is saying... " Oh no, Apple is throwing away something great that Steve Jobs helped create. Sound like the media complaining about EVERYTHING.

    If there is a problem with the new look I am sure it will be possible to stick with the old interface. Much like if you had WindowsXP and didn't want to upgrade to Vista because like most Microsoft upgrades it sucked.

    However with that said.... I think Apple is smart enough to do a good job on iOS7 to please most users.

  • Report this Comment On May 01, 2013, at 4:20 AM, alexkhan2000 wrote:

    Another dumb click-bait write-up. I wish Motley Fool articles weren't on the front page of Yahoo! so I don't have to keep clicking on this drivel.

  • Report this Comment On May 01, 2013, at 6:07 AM, LADJ wrote:

    This article is 100% conjecture and completely worthless without at least a screenshot of the icons in question. Jony Ive developed the original icons with Steve Jobs, so it's not as if some know-nothing has come along and wiped out Jobs' life's work. Apple products are collaborations. Read the book. Then perhaps your writing would be informed by at least a smidgen of fact rather than pure click-baiting fancy.

  • Report this Comment On May 01, 2013, at 7:45 AM, jdmeck wrote:

    If true it is a very bad idea. Apple products need new functionality, not a new look. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

  • Report this Comment On May 01, 2013, at 7:58 AM, gaplato wrote:

    This article is poorly written and alarmist. It assumes that any change to Apple's iOS will be a misstep. For the first time, I bought an Android phone in October. I was immediately impressed by the "flat" icons. The trashcan delete icon is flat, and despite its lack of metallic coloring or riveted edging, I was able to easily recognize its function.

    Also, when did Apple start trying to be like MS? If anything, Apple is trying to stay competitive with Google. The market has been ambivalent with respect to Windows 8. High quality Android phones continue to eat into iPhone sales.

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