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iOS 18 & macOS 15 are going to look to the past for new wallpapers

The original iPhone clownfish wallpaper came back for iOS 16

Not everything will be new at WWDC — Apple is planning to revisit some of its iconic iPhone and Mac wallpapers as part of the latest updates.

The report of retro wallpapers comes from Bloomberg, but there is already a precedent for this. As part of iOS 16 in 2022, Apple brought back the clownfish wallpaper from 2007.

This was the very first iPhone wallpaper ever seen in public, as it was the one on the model that Steve Jobs demonstrated.

You'll remember this if you ever had an original iPad
You'll remember this if you ever had an original iPad

Less well-remembered is that the original iPhone also came with a choice of wallpapers that included the Mona Lisa and Vincent Van Gogh's The Starry Night. Still less memorable options included one with a dot pattern that resembled a miniature game of Twister.

The Mac originally had nothing that could be called a wallpaper or desktop image. Then in System 7, Apple added desktop patterns — and in Mac OS 8 and 9, there came the ability to have images.

But it wasn't really until OS X came along that Apple began including wallpapers. At first, those OS X images were abstract colors resembling the operating system's Aqua interface.

Colorful aurora with bright pink, purple, and white lights spreading outward in the night sky, dotted with small stars.
Mac OS X Leopard in 2007 began an era of space-themed wallpapers for the Mac.

Then with Mac OS X Leopard in 2007, the sweeping blue shapes were gone, and a space-themed image was in. It was still a little abstract, though, until OS X Lion when Apple featured an image of a galaxy.

It's been since the change to naming macOS after places in California that the most famous Mac wallpapers have appeared. We've had many mountain ranges and sand dunes — and Apple introduced Dynamic Wallpapers.

These have a dark and a light version, and the Mac can switch between them as the day progresses. This still applies today, even though once Apple moved on to macOS Big Sur, it's reverted from photos to abstract colors again.

More dramatic and potentially useful dynamic wallpapers exist on the iPhone. Users can have their Lock Screen be a globe that spins around to pinpoint their location on Earth, for instance.

Rocky island surrounded by calm ocean water, cliffs covered in green vegetation, pastel sky at dusk with a peaceful horizon.
From Apple's location photography phrase, this was 2019's OS X Catalina

Or there's a weather wallpaper where the iPhone animates, for instance, clouds moving across the screen.

Abstract art with flowing bands of green, blue, purple, and red tones blending together smoothly.
Left: the Dark version of macOS Sonoma's wallpaper. Right: the Light one.

It's not known yet whether Apple will actually revive old favorites, like it did with the clownfish, or just have new wallpapers that are in some way reminiscent of the classics. Whatever Apple brings back as part of iOS 18, iPadOS 18, or the next version of macOS, though, it will have to update them for today's higher resolution screens.

Pixelated drawings of a smiling computer, a dog, and a bomb with a lit fuse.
A selection of Susan Kare's original Mac icons that surely should make a comeback

That may be all it does. But 40 years after she designed the icons for the original Mac, it would be fun to see Susan Kare's work updated to become high-resolution, dynamic wallpapers.

Apple will unveil iOS 18 and its other operating system updates at WWDC on June 10, 2024. It's also reported to be adding the ability to customize the look of app icons.