Thoughts on the new official Apple app icon template

Last week Apple released a series of new templates as starting points for preparing images for iOS. Great! We’ve been waiting for good, precise design tools from Apple for a long time. Unfortunately, these aren’t really that.

People were quick to call out how mine and other people’s resources had now been rendered obsolete by this move:

Short answer: far from it.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love for Apple to provide great design resources for the various tools that we designers use. The reason why me and other people originally got involved in making resources was an effort to improve the tools at our disposal. If Apple or more people want to help that effort everyone should rejoice! There is no possesive aspect to this, so I take no pleasure in documenting how their official icon template won’t be replacing the tools I use today. But here’s why.

It’s not a squircle, it’s a roundrect!

Wait what!? That should be your reaction right now. The brand new official icon templates that Apple provides for developers making app icons for iOS uses a roundrect mask. Not a squircle. *gasp*.

Here’s the 512px shape from the official template with a squircle overlaid.

The official Apple Icon Template uses a roundrect, not the squircle.

If you’re thinking, so what? Then I’m not entirely sure what you’re even doing reading this. But the fact is that including a rounded rectangle instead of the squircle in the official templates is bewildering. So much have been said and done about the squircle on the platform– it’s such a subtle but important part of the iOS experience. So much so that it’s now also being introduced as the standard UI container shape in iOS 10. So to not care about it in the official design resources you provide developers is just wierd. Looking at it closer, you’ll see that the 512x512px version uses simple 120px rounded corners and not the much lauded super elliptic shape.

I think details matter, and using the wrong canvas can have consequences for your design. Apple will crop your icon in the squircle shape, so you’d better not try to do anything precise in the templates they provide.

There’s no vector shapes, it’s all bitmap.

Everything in their template is raster. There’s no vector outlines. Obviously, vectors aren’t strictly needed as the exports are specific raster sizes but it’s an odd choice not to atleast give people the best available and gracefully scalable tools.


All the stuff you’re not getting

Aside from the odd choices above, there’s also just a lot of other stuff that you’re not getting with the official icon templates. The templates found on appicontemplate.com, the ones that you can get from Bjango or the ones that Max Rydberg makes, all include some element of automation. These 3rd party resources have come a long way and they do a much better job of helping uninitiated first-time iconists into the world of creating icons. The templates I’ve got over at appicontemplate.com uses smartobjects to render out all the sizes and features one-click export actions. There’s some standard colors and gradients to get you started and you have previews of your icon in the native environment. You have to ask yourself, why do we have templates in the first place? To me, it’s about empowering people to more easily create assets, to understand and jump over the technical requirements and with greater confidence render their ideas.

I think it’s great that Apple wants to provide templates for the design resources they’re asking developers to deliver, but the ones they’ve put out is not only a lot less practical than the 3rd party resources available, they’re also factually wrong — using bitmap roundrects instead of the platform standard squircle. Until Apple feels like dedicating more time to helping developers deliver better assets, it looks like there’ll be plenty of reasons why we still have 3rd party resources around.

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Update: Apple has since I published this article posted an updated version of their app icon template. They listened! I wrote about that here:

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Michael is a danish designer, entrepreneur & keynote speaker. he loves making things, going on adventures and telling stories.

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