By Joe Levi | November 4, 2013 7:28 AM
Take a look at the homescreen on your smartphone. I don’t care who makes it or what OS its running, they all share this similarity. It’s not just today’s phones, tablet’s suffer the same malady — and they’re not alone. Even from the days when our phones weren’t “smart”, they all had one thing in common — one thing that we don’t need, at least not all the time: status indicators.
That’s right, those icons that are across the top of almost every screen on your phone or tablet take up a dozen or so pixels in height that you can’t use for anything else. Until recently I thought they were a necessary addition to every consumer electronic device.
I was wrong.
When I originally got my Pebble smartwatch I hunted around for a very long time trying to find a watch face that included a battery icon. I was concerned with how much run-time I’d be able to get out of it, and was hyper-aware of the battery state. Eventually my obsession with the battery gave way to simply enjoying the watch. After several days of use I noticed something: a “low-battery” indicator on my “pretty” watch face. How did that get there?
It turns out that someone at Pebble made the decision to hide the battery indicator by default. This does a few things. In addition to making the it look better by not having the clutter of an icon somewhere on the screen, it also made the battery last longer. With the indicator absent, I went another three or four days before plugging my Pebble into the charger.
Part of the reason for this was placebo: I didn’t care about the battery as much when it wasn’t always in my face. It probably took less compute cycles and display logic to present the battery information to me as well. Combined, the result was an almost doubling in perceived battery life.
Android 4.4 KitKat was just released, though only lucky Nexus 5 owners (and some very techie guys and gals) are running it today. (That will change soon enough.) One of the new features KitKat is bringing to the OS is called “Immersive Mode”.
When you’re reading a book, playing a game, or watching a movie, you don’t care about anything but those activities. KitKit will hide the soft buttons and the status bar — which only serves to distract you from whatever activity you’re trying to accomplish on your phone.
How is this different from anything else you do on your phone or tablet?
A radical new approach
When you interact with your device, you’re probably not interested in how much battery life you have left, or how strong your signal is. You simply want to make a call, look up information, or something else — but probably not the things that occupy such an omnipresent position your our device. So why not take them off?
We’ve had that status bar on our phones for so long, why not simply get rid of it. Sure, let’s make it simple to get at that information, but let’s hide it by default. When we need to know that our battery is getting low, or that our signal strength has dropped very low, then show the information to us. But if we’re well-charged and have full-bars, we don’t need to know. Give us back the screen space that we’ve sacrificed to this information for so may decades, and let us focus on whatever it is that we want to do.