The massive advancements made in UI design in the last decade, whether on smartphones or computers, has manifested itself in the form of a number of different visual design trends.

One such trend is that operating system GUIs are increasingly dynamic. Desktop windows are no longer static; they warp and whoosh across the screen in response to user input. Similarly, smartphone OS transitions are increasingly more complex and fluid—just look at Google’s Material Design ethos for Android. One area that is yet to be upgraded to this dynamic UI world is that of app icons.

Since the first iPhone, app icons have admittedly been more than just static. The Apple Clock icon, for example, refreshes regularly to display the current time. Similarly, smartphone operating systems now tend to have push overlays for icons, allowing users to know when they have received a notification from a certain app. The icons themselves, however, remain static.

With ever-advancing processing power, it’s arguably only a matter of time before animated icons become the norm. Let’s take a look at some of the advances already being made in animated icon design.

Animated GUIs in the world of jailbreaking

It may be no surprise to hear that the home of animated icons right now lies in the jailbreaking community. Jailbreaking has long been at the cutting edge of mobile UI design, with independent designers and programmers creating totally new features that often filter through to new iterations of vanilla smartphone OSes.

While we can’t assume that every feature introduced by jailbreakers will see an official iteration, it is interesting to look at the developments in animated icons in this sphere.

One such example is a tweak for jailbroken GUIs called Fingal. Fingal uses simple GIF-based icon sets based on the vanilla icons to give users an animated homescreen experience, as seen in the video below.

What’s interesting about Fingal is that it uses themes and app icon sets from the Cydia store. Zayed Rehman of Redmond Pie argues this could result in a “move by theme developers to offer animated icon packs as an add-on” for existing themes.

That doesn’t necessarily entail that developers like Apple are going to animate their stock icons—but a change in approach to GUI customisability could result in users moving to installing their own animated icon sets. This is particularly true of Android, which allows users to install customisable homescreen launchers, such as Nova.

Animation could completely change the way we approach not only app icons, but smartphone interfaces as a whole. App icons may no longer rely on static grids, but move within a more organic, dynamic digital space. This would ultimately require a modular, open, and free approach on the part of smartphone developers in terms of how far users are able to customise their smartphone experiences. With companies like Apple and Microsoft growing increasingly restrictive and protective of their OS and their hardware, this could be a challenge.

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Adam Parrish

Owner and creative director at Creative Freedom Ltd. Unbelievably cool icon design expert, husband, and father of two awesome girls. A proper decent chappy and thoroughly fab to work with. Ok, so I wrote my own bio…

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