Chronicles of a Windows user gone iPhone (part 2)
If you missed part 1, this “Chronicles of a Windows user gone iPhone” series is a new take on a series we used to do many years ago. I haven’t used an iPhone as a daily driver in forever, so we’re looking at my experience with an iPhone 6s from the perspective of a Windows user. In part 1 I quit during the app store setup process due to the sheer volume of information that it was requesting of me. Today I’ve got more patience and actually finished the setup process. Again, this is written from the perspective of someone new to iOS and often it’s important to take a step back to look at things with fresh eyes to see if it really is well-designed or if that’s something we just believe because it’s what we’re told.
After getting my important email accounts set up, the next step is installing some essential apps that I’m used to using on Windows and Windows Phone. Just like with any other device, all I have to do is search for the name of the app and tap install… although on the iPhone first I have to tap “Get”, then “Install”, and then it seems to require a fingerprint scan every time, which feels a bit tedious to me though that can be changed in the settings. I suppose it’s better than having to type a password each time though, but why do I have to tap “Get” and then “Install”? Would I ever want to “get” an app without installing it? Anyway, we’ll talk more about the apps I’m installing in part 3.
iOS 11 Update
The new iOS 11 was released just the other day on 9/19 so of course I’ve got to install that. Downloading and installing the iOS 11 update was fairly painless. However, when it was done I had to enter my PIN code, agree to some more license agreements, enter my Apple ID password again, and ignore some 2-factor authentication stuff. Next there was an iPhone Analytics data collecting screen and dismissing that finally got me into the home screen… which looks exactly like it used to. So no changes there. Oh wait, I think the app store icon looks different, so there’s that. Some of my previously installed apps had to re-request permission to do things like access my photos or location.
The new iOS 11 Mail app looks much better to me. It now has a big bold typographic heading at the top. For example “Inbox” is shown in a big font above my email listing. This is good because it brings the interactive email list components lower down towards the bottom of the screen where my fingers can reach them. It also reminds me a lot of the old Windows Phone 7 Metro design language which really made a lot of sense. I notice Mail still does not support push IMAP IDLE mail receiving, so that still sucks for IMAP and Gmail users.
General UI observations
I really like having a real physical home button at the bottom of the iPhone. Being able to feel that click is really important for eyes-free operation. Unfortunately it only really has about 3 functions. At the turn of the century, Windows Mobile phones generally had at least 4 programmable hardware buttons and a 5-way directional hardware button that was also programmable. Those allowed for excellent efficiency and eyes-free functions that are important while mobile. Of course, nothing really has that level of usability or customization these days and if you’re going to buy the iPhone X, you’re going to lose that tactile feel completely.
Something I continuously hate about the iPhone’s UI is that the back buttons are generally in the upper left corner of the screen. Since thumbs don’t reach that far across a 4.7″ screen, that means I have to change hand positions or use two hands whenever I want to navigate within an app. I see people struggling with this on the NYC subway all the time. It’s extremely inefficient and frustrating especially compared to Android and Windows Phones which have their system navigational buttons at the bottom where they’re easy to reach. Yes, Windows Phone and Android also have terribly placed buttons at the top of the screen (such as the notifications tray), but I can ignore having to see notifications more easily than having to use the back button.
Okay, it looks like there is a “reachability” mode where I can lightly double touch the home button in order to make the top part of the iOS screen move towards the bottom so that poorly-placed buttons are easier to reach with my thumb, but still… requiring 3 taps to do something that should take 1 tap is a huge exercise in inefficiency. In all cases, requiring hand re-positioning, 2 hands, or activating a reachability mode are all involving far too many muscle contractions to accomplish.
Why not design the interface to be usable in the first place instead of implementing such an awkward work-around?
Actually, where did the back button go?
I noticed quite a few times that there was no back button at all! In some apps and in some cases, there is no persistent back button in the upper left corner. How can this be? It took me quite some time’s worth of trial and error to figure out that I had to do some sort of swiping gesture to go back to where I was before, or tap some unintelligible nondescript arrow that collapsed something and brought other parts of the UI back to where they were before.
Left to right swipes = back button?
In the comments of part 1, a friend mentioned the left to right swipe gesture as being a good one-handed alternative to the back button. The context of our conversation was the Apple Mail app, to which I responded that the left to right swipe gesture marks a single email as unread. It turns out that the left to right swipe gesture can do TWO THINGS in the mail app depending on how close to the left edge of the screen I start the gesture!
This is supposed to be easy? Well it isn’t! Hiding two functions within a single control gesture is a usability and user experience sin. Easy would be a single back button that was always in the same place and always did the same thing and always looked exactly the same. Adding multiple interaction methods and controls that do the same thing is too confusing for normal people and degrades the consistency of the system’s user interface.
The left to right swipe gesture almost never does the same thing too. Sometimes it flips back to the previous screen, sometimes it opens a hamburger menu, sometimes it launches some camera interface within the app, sometimes it does nothing at all. There are huge consistency problems with this phone’s user interface.
Alright, that’s enough for today. Stay tuned for part 3.