Apple drinks the Microsoft Kool Aid, bases iOS 7 on Windows 8 "Metro"

Apple, the aficiando of all things cool, is throwing away its old-style iOS interface in favor of the flat design pioneered by Microsoft in Windows 8 and Windows Phone. So say several reports. Could the move backfire and help Microsoft gain on Apple?

9to5Mac reports that the upcoming iOS 7 interface will be "very, very flat," so much so that one source:

"...framed the new OS as having a level of 'flatness' approaching recent releases of Microsoft's Windows Phone 'Metro' UI.

The New York Times says the Apple redesign represents a recognition that Microsoft knew before Apple and others that a basic shift was needed in the basic human-machine interface. While Microsoft was moving in the right direction, Apple and others were headed the wrong way, the newspaper reports:

"While Microsoft was flattening its interfaces as if it were a child pushing down on a bulge of putty, its competitors -- including Apple and Facebook -- were focused on skeuomorphism, a type of look in which, say, a note-taking feature on a Web site or in an app would look like a spiral-bound notebook, a reference to the real world look of a notebook."

The Times notes that "There are cultural and technological reasons for this [Microsoft-led] new look and feel." One reason is that in the digital design favored by Apple and others, things "have started to look cliche" in the words of Steven Heller, co-chairman of the M.F.A. Design Department at the School of Visual Arts. Another reason is that many people use smartphones to access Web sites, and that is driving the new flat look everywhere, from Web sites to interfaces. The Times quotes Justin Van Slembrouck, design director at Digg, as saying:

"[Design] is increasingly being driven by mobile, where you're designing for the lowest common denominator so you can't load a site up with heavy graphics...The end result, with flat design, is that it all feels less cluttered."

The new flat iOS 7 design is being driven to attract new users, according to 9to5Mac. But I think there's a chance the new design could backfire, and help Windows 8 as well as Windows Phone.

Windows Phone's interface has been an outlier in smartphones. It looks different from iOS and Android, which have similar interfaces, and people tend to stay with the tried and true. But if the new iOS design mirrors Windows Phone, existing smartphone owners looking to upgrade may give it a second look.

As for those considering buying a smartphone for the first time, Windows Phone already does well with them. Kantar Worldpanel ComTech says that Windows Phone is gaining market share, particularly among those upgrading to smartphones. Analyst Mary-Ann Parlato says:

"Of those who changed their phone over the last year to a Windows smartphone, 52% had previously owned a featurephone...with over half of the US market still owning a featurephone, it's likely that many will upgrade over the coming year, which will ultimately contribute to more growth for the Windows brand."

The new flat iOS look will also habituate people to the Windows 8 look and feel, which could help that struggling operating system.

To a degree, Apple built itself on being the anti-Microsoft. And now, in mimicking Microsoft's OS designs, it may help its biggest competitor.

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