SAN FRANCISCO - Apple is throwing out most of the real-world graphical cues from its iPhone and iPad software, like the casino-green "felt" of its Game Center app, in what it calls the biggest update since the iPhone's launch in 2007.
The new operating system, called iOS 7, strives for a clean, simple, translucent impression. Apple is redesigning all its applications and icons to conform to the new look, driven by longtime hardware design chief Jony Ive.
Apple demonstrated the new software at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco Monday. The new design direction will show up on iPhones, iPad and iPod Touches this fall, the company said.
Gone is the effort to make the icons look like three-dimensional, embossed objects. Interface designers call the new guiding principle "flat," but on the iPhone's main screen the background image will move subtly with the movement of the device, creating an illusion of depth. Other screens include plenty of white space. The software has "a whole new structure that is coherent and is applied across the entire system," Ive said in a recorded presentation. "The design recedes, and in doing so, elevates your content."
While design modifications could help Apple distinguish its devices from rival phones and tablets, the company risks alienating longtime users.
Raluca Budiu, a senior researcher specializing in usability at the Nielsen Norman Group, said the so-called "flat" design can confuse users, because it can offer fewer signals about where to tap or click. That's been the case, she said, with Windows 8, which has a very "flat" design. Budiu said it's too early to say if it will be an issue with iOS.
Among other changes, Apple's new iOS system will update apps automatically. It will store Web passwords online in Apple's syncing service, iCloud, making them available across devices. The AirDrop feature will allow sharing of big files with Apple-equipped people in the same room.
The Cupertino, Calif., company is also launching a Pandora-like Internet radio service, iTunes Radio. It will be built into the Music app and stream music for free. There will be advertising, except for people who pay $25 a year for the iTunes Match online music storage.
Apple updates its iOS operating system every year and doesn't charge for the updates. The new system will be available for the iPhone 4 and later models, and on the iPad 2 and later models, including the Mini.