Apple Loses iOS Designer Greg Christie - InformationWeek
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Apple Loses iOS Designer Greg Christie

Greg Christie, designer responsible for iPhone user interface, will retire as Jony Ive is given more control.

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Apple confirmed on Wednesday that Greg Christie, one of the key figures in making the iPhone a reality, is retiring at some point this year. Christie's team will now report to Jonathan Ive, Apple's hardware designer who was put in charge of iOS last year. The change will certainly affect the development of iOS and its general look and feel moving forward, but there's no reason to panic.

When the story first broke, some of the earliest reports suggested that Christie's departure was preceded by disagreements and in-fighting between Ive and Christie. Ive replaced Scott Forstall, who left Apple rather unceremoniously in 2013, as the head of the Human Interfaces group. Ive has long maintained control over Apple's iconic hardware. Apple CEO Tim Cook felt Ive's team could also handle creating the user interface of iOS 7, which debuted last September.

iOS 7 was given an entirely new coat of paint compared to previous versions of the mobile operating system. It ditched the idea of skeuomorphism and adopted a flat, modern look. The user interface no longer employs the idea of using real-world objects and textures, such as bookshelves and wood grain, to represent them in the digital space. These are all gone, replaced with a brighter palette of colors and a lot more white space. iOS was long overdue for a new design, but iOS 7 has received mixed reviews. Given Christie's involvement with creating iOS, it is reasonable to believe there were differences in opinion between him and Ive. That's not the reason behind Christie's departure.

[Meanwhile, back in the courtroom: Read Apple V. Samsung: More Secrets Emerge.]

"Greg has been planning to retire later this year after nearly 20 years at Apple," said a company spokesman. "He has made vital contributions to Apple products across the board and built a world-class human interface team, which has worked closely with Jony [Ive] for many years." Christie's retirement was announced internally several weeks ago. He will stay with Apple at least for a little while to work on special projects.

Christie started with Apple in 1996 and originally worked on the Newton, according to The Wall Street Journal. The Newton was a personal digital assistant that preceded the likes of the Palm Pilot. It is generally regarded as a market failure, though it is now beloved. Christie is listed on more than 100 Apple patents, and his name appears on 31 more that are still being examined by the US Patent and Trademark Office. Some of the patents in question are behind key features of iOS, such as "slide-to-unlock."

The question is: What direction will iOS design take now that Ive is fully in charge? Christie's team, which used to report to Craig Federighi, will report to Ive instead. Given the significant redesign between iOS 6 and iOS 7, the operating system is not expected to have a new look once iOS 8 rolls around. If anything, iOS 8 will offer refinement to iOS 7 as well as bring new features to the table. The refinement is sorely needed. iOS 7 may, in general, look clean and neat, but there are a lot of minor inconsistencies and problems throughout. With any luck, iOS 8 will include usability improvements and capabilities it doesn't already have.

Apple is expected to preview iOS 8 as soon as June 2 during its Worldwide Developer Conference.

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Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio

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