Apple’s user interface flattening was as much a strategic move as an aesthetic one

“One of my first impressions of the Apple Watch user interface was that it used a lot of black,” Craig Hockenberry writes for “This makes the face of the device feel more expansive because you can’t see the edges. But more importantly, those black pixels are saving power and extending the life of the display. It’s rare that engineering and design goals can align so perfectly.”

“I’ve always felt that the flattening of Apple’s user interface that began in iOS 7 was as much a strategic move as an aesthetic one,” Hockenberry writes. “Our first reaction was to realize that an unadorned interface makes it easier to focus on content.”

“But with this new display technology [OLED], it’s clear that interfaces with fewer pixels have another advantage,” Hockenberry writes. “A richly detailed button from iOS 6 would need more of that precious juice strapped to our wrists. Never underestimate the long-term benefits of simplification.”

Much more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Seems plausible. The more black, the more battery – plus the “Jony Ive look” exudes decidedly more modernity, too.


    1. Apple hasn’t released the tech specs for its OLED yet. I’ve been trying to post the link to a recent speculative article by iDigitalTimes, but WordPress is freaking out at my posting more than two links per article thread. (o_O) So search for “Apple Watch Specs Leak: LG OLED Display Confirmed With ‘90% Certainty’ By Industry Expert [EXCLUSIVE]“. It’s dated February 26th, 2015.

    2. LED/OLED displays are emissive devices, so black means “off.”

      LCD displays with LED side lighting or backlighting are often erroneously referred to as “LED displays,” but are actually transmissive devices with the LCD in front to control the output to the viewer. The liquid crystals block the backlight to approximate black. Even if your LCD/LED television supports local backlight dimming to improve contrast and provide a darker level of gray, it is still drawing power. Plus, the LCD response time is very slow compared to switching LEDs or OLEDs on and off.

  1. Makes sense .. But Why use so much white on ios …
    I have always disliked all the white and bright backgrounds… Specially in photos… Etc
    Hey Apple lets have a dark mode for ios !

    1. Because they can. It doesn’t affect power much. With OLED, however, it does.

      I’ve really wanted OLED for Apple display for a while. I know it’s harder to get accurate color with OLED, but still, I want my blacks to be black, not charcoal gray.

    2. OLED like plasma, CRT and giant LED outdoor displays is light emitting technology, when black is off and uses least power.

      LCD (and LCD lit with LED) is light blocking technology, where black uses the most power (all pixel blocks on max) and white uses the least power — albeit some displays with multiple LED back lights can dim particular back lights too.

      So on iOS white screens consume less power than black ones

      1. Remember when Apple concentrated on giving the best possible user experience? Most people do not find skinny grey on white to be a legible experience.

        Nobody would complain if Apple products were ~2mm thicker to accommodate more batteries to power a legible OS.

    1. Yea, I sometimes suffer from snow blindness looking at all that white on my iPhone 6 Plus, especially at night.
      (yea, I know there’s a brightness option)

  2. I plugged in my old original iPhone the other day (probably IOS3 or thereabouts). I was amazed at how beautiful the display was. Jony Ive did not do a good thing with iOS7 IMO.

    1. I do the same from time to time: just compare the original to current. The difference is that I prefer the modern, cleaner interface. I appreciate the original for its change of the world, but simplicity is preferable to my eye.

    2. I never upgraded my iPhone 5 past iOS6 because I can’t stand iOS7+ UI’s on the phones. My iPad Air left me no choice since it came with 7. I don’t mind it as much but still cringe at the overly white UI’s and white keyboard all over the place. I am still baffled to this day that I can’t change some fundamental settings for this. For example when in the App store I love the dark grey keyboard. Why the F is it a hiddeous white in other Apple apps and where the rest of the UI is too white already. UGh!

  3. I’d love Apple to bring out UI skins. I prefer a more “gothic” and skeuomorphic reliefs on my screens. This flatness is, to me, only one poor whim of designer longing to stick to “a la mode”, a huge break to creativity.

    1. I was hoping Flavours v2 was going to be the solution to the flatter, flattest Yosemite UI. But I’ve given up on them. Not a word out of the developer since last September. *sigh*

      Some day, SOME DAY! We’ll progress to a 3D element GUI, then onward to the 3D space manipulation GUI…. Until then, zzzzz

  4. Too many icons lost their intuitive meaning with iOS 7. Same with the redesign of iTunes. Now there’s all kinds of buttons where the icon gives little or no indication of what it will do. Combine that with skinny fonts and the result is less than ideal for sure.

  5. With OLED it’s more black LESS power! (and not as in the MDN take.)

    If you look at the Android GUI, it’s all black backgrounds because they use OLED and it looks (IMHO) terrible! I hate it! But on a watch, it looks classy. Just my 2¢ worth…

    1. replace the word “watchface” with “iPhone” or “iPad” and the logic is the same. Too much white is never a good thing. Jony’s flat look seems to have imitated the saturated tiles from Windows 8 and that is not a compliment.

  6. I understand that the flatness is because of the Apple Watch. I realized that as soon as Apple announced it.
    That doesn’t mean I have to like it.

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