My take on the iOS icon controversy

Hey it could be worse, they could look like this.

And now, the criticisms begin. After the shock of seeing that Apple can actually still innovate, the faithful have turned to analyzing the tiniest bit of minutia in Apple’s new operating system due on your device in about three months.

While the overall look has been praised as contemporary and interesting, the app icons have been the source of several critical articles. Gizmodo said,

“It looks childish.” That was the first reaction I heard to iOS 7. I’m not going to lie, when I saw it for the first time myself, I freaked out a little too. Like any good simplicity-loving designer, I was eagerly waiting for Jonathan Ive to reveal a fresh, clean take on iOS.

But the icons that were unveiled feel rushed. Lots of them look like the very first sketch was thrown right into the keynote.

Now is the time to have this discussion. These icons will probably stay with iOS for years. The last icon set barely changed since 2007 (and they looked like it.) There’s no reason that Apple can’t make changes now. (The Los Angeles Times and others report that they already have.) As a longtime iOS user I’ve hoped for a little more interactivity from the icons. Not the full-out amusement park ride that this the Windows 8 start screen, but maybe at least give some information on the weather and stocks apps.

As far as the icon designs go, some of them could still bear some work. I agree that replacing the relatively lovely Camera app icon with a line drawing of a 40-year-old camera isn’t really a step forward. What hasn’t been said is that the new Photos app owes a lot to a very old animation of the NBC logo, which has nothing to do with photos. The icons are a mix of obsolete references (as in, who has a Day Runner anymore? How many people even realize that the Calendar icon looks like a Day Runner?) and confusing meaningless ideograms (what is Game Center trying to tell us?)

But… they’re not that bad. As far as the obsolete stuff, sure the phone button looks like the handset of a 50-year-old pay phone but what else would it look like? The same with the E-mail button. No one gets mail in envelopes anymore but it will be decades before we forget that.

All in all I would say, the iOS icons are a good step forward. The icons they replace may someday adorn a museum, for some really are beautiful. But for today, they’re also hideously dated and some of them are just plain bad. I can’t wait until I can see them on my phone.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.