We’ve had the iOS 7 design for a year now. It was about time someone decided that it needs to go. And because I can’t resist such debates, I’ll engage.
Jon Mitchell on his site, Everything is ablaze! has had enough of icon grids, be they shiny and reflective or flat and simplified. But more so than the look of the icons, he’s had it with what they do.
The problem is that these icons do not neatly correspond with the actions I want to take from my phone, and since they’re so indistinct, I end up staring, studying my home screen when I should be doing something and then putting my phone away. That’s frustrating.
I agree that this situation is frustrating, but what Mitchell assumes here, and throughout his article is that users want an action-based interface. The brilliance of the iPhone interface was—and is—in the simple genius of “Tap to open an app, home button to close.” If a user taps Mail, they get email. If they tap Calculator, they get calculator, Weather for weather, Calendar for calendar, and so on.
In a truly action-based interface, the Text action could possibly take me to any of these as well as Notes, Reminders, and countless others. What used to take me one tap in a familiar app now takes at least two taps, one of which includes a leap of faith that the action I’ve chosen corresponds to the secondary actions that might follow. So instead of finding the app that does my task I’m stuck trying to choose the type of content I want to create and what to do with it before I’m even in the area of the interface that lets me make the choice.
Let’s say I want to send an email. Instead of tapping Mail, I go to Text which could be used for anything text-related. Now, for me that isn’t a stretch, and it might even be nice if I want to send the text into or through various channels before it gets to the final destination of email. However, for someone less tech-savvy and geeky, this is a significantly worse situation. If I’m an ordinary user, I now in fact cannot find email or accomplish the task at all because Text does not necessarily connote email to me.
Mitchell’s article uses Launch Center Pro as the closest example available on iOS today. Not to go fully into the argument uneducated, I downloaded Launch Center Pro and used it as he suggests.
The first issue I encountered in working with Launch Center Pro is that it’s just plain complicated to convert the ideas of where you go to do something into what you want to do. Let’s say I want to search Twitter for a person whose handle I don’t know so I can follow them (virtually the only thing I ever want to search on Twitter). Step one is to make sure that my Twitter client is supported (and since I use Tweetbot, I’m lucky on that front). Now I need to assign an action that somehow does what I want. There’s one to search for a user, but then I need to add a prompt to the action so I can type in my query. If you’re able to figure all of that out, Launch Center Pro sends you out to Tweetbot which then gives an error that the user could not be found (I tested using a person who is in fact on Twitter, so there’s a problem somewhere). In addition, the app isn’t even in the right navigational area (according to my mental map) to search users, which in turn means that I can’t even search manually once I’m in the app.
Not a good experience, especially when I would argue that the ordinary user would never have gone past the “What action corresponds to my place-based mental model?” question.
Now, I know Mitchell has his reasons for such a post—not the least of which being that it’s fun to speculate and talk about design details—but I think it brings to light one of Apple biggest current challenges. Power users want a better way to work with iOS, whether work means tasks that are more commonly associated with the mouse and keyboard paradigm or simply just a way to do the things that iOS can already do in a faster and more efficient manner. On the other side are the folks who (though the likely don’t realize it) have gravitated toward iOS because it lacks these additional complexities, even if they were to be hidden.
Take a look at the recent apps tray from iOS 6 and the similar interface from iOS 7. Both are meant to help out power-users of iOS by giving the user access to information about the apps they have been running or that might possibly still be doing some kind of multitasking in the background. Both are fairly well hidden from the average user, requiring either a double home button tap or a multitasking gesture. The effect of this feature has generally been one of increased negativity. Power-users find it too limiting (which will be true until they have full control of every detail that is available on a desktop system) while ordinary users find that it only adds stress.
Think about it. How many stories (and real-life examples) do you know of in which a non tech-savvy person has made a ritual of opening the recent apps view and killing all of the apps within it? And then, on top of that, they usually describe it as a remedy for system slowdown or a way to keep their iPhone from filling up, meanwhile they can’t install the latest updates because every picture they’ve ever taken is on the device which only further strengthens their belief that quitting the apps will help them as their phone is constantly reporting that it is out of storage space.
It’s a design nightmare. How is that person going to navigate an action-based system? The answer is that they’re not. Perhaps with some future version if iOS made for a Pro caliber device, we’ll see actions and quick menus ala Launch Center Pro. I just hope that in that future very app is able to support the actions because in my time as an action-based iOS user that was not the case. My favorite apps didn’t support actions, and if they did, they didn’t behave how I expected them to. And that’s the name of the “computers for the rest of us” game.
When I interact with my device, does it intuitively do what I expect? If yes, we’re at least on the right track. If no, well, at least we nerds will have a new design feature to complain about.