Did you ever play Myst? It was a 1990s-era computer game that took place on an island stocked with a bunch of strange machines that you had to figure out. The look of the machinery was that of top quality laboratory or industrial equipment from the 1890s. The overall effect was a weird combination of futuristic and nostalgic.
Using the Apple apps on the iPod feels kind of the same. The contacts application has a look of a fancy leather-bound address book with a tooled bookmark. The single-day view of the calendar looks like what a Day-Timer would look like if Day-Timer had great designers. The notes feature is a replication of a ruled yellow pad with about half the sheets torn off. In iBooks, your library is displayed against the background of a virtual bookcase. When you’re reading a book there’s a simulated turning of the page; it’s pretty realistic except that the page are looking at is always the right hand one.
Except for the cheesy simulated wood grain on the iBooks bookcase, all of these applications are graphically stunning. It just feels strange to be manipulating a computer that tries so hard to look like something else.
I wonder what direction computer interfaces will take in the future. Will there be ever-more-realistic simulations of bygone devices that performed similar functions? Or will the user-interface designers throw off the yoke of historical precedent and optimize the user interface for function alone?