iPhone iSores

There is much debate over Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines these days. Not so much the content of the document, but the interfaces software developers create that often appear to be in direct disagreement with the HIG.

Some might say the document is outdated, or that the OS is being developed faster than the document can be updated. Both arguments hold some water. From a development perspective, it’s understandable that over time, buttons may slightly change location or keyboard commands may change. We can’t expect decisions made for v1 to be valuable or relevant in v7. So I forgive the HIG for the havoc we call Mac OS 10.4.

However, one unarguable fact of any UI design recommendation is that consistency should play a major role.

The kind of consistency I speak of is virtually invisible, most users simply take it for granted. The ‘copy’ command is under the ‘Edit’ menu 99.9% of the time, the close box stays in the same place for each window, scroll bars aren’t on the top and left side of windows, etc. Our beloved Apple menu is in the top left hand corner, and while it may be black, white, rainbow or anywhere in between, you can always bank on it’s location (we are all going to ignore Mac OS X Public Beta right now, no one is perfect).

So, while our a v1 iPhone doesn’t have a HIG document (yet?), it has created an interface that should be predictable after a few hours of use. Instead, the iPhone is noticeably lacking some important consistency. It’s as if the UI designers of each app didn’t talk to each other during development. And it seems most of the regular Apple GUI police have been lax to call this out, frankly because I assume its easy to be smitten with the device and over look such deficiencies. But now, 4 weeks in, I’m annoyed. Let’s look closer.

Disclaimer #1: The iPhone rocks. Some days I’m convinced it came to me from 2015. Only after extreme use do details start to emerge that provoke thought, and naturally, thoughts of how to improve.

The iPhone “Title Bar”…

The title bar runs the length of iPhone. It displays your signal strength, your undying devotion to AT&T, the time, and battery life. Occasionally it will display the Edge, WiFi and Bluetooth icons. Consistent? A resounding yes. But who decided some applications necessitate a different style title bar? I count no less than 3 variations:

The Black Title Bar
The Silver Title Bar
The Transparent Title Bar

Along with the changes in title bar, we get a slightly different look applied to the information contain within, most noticeable on the battery and WiFi icons.

Solution? Drop the silver bar all together. If Apple is going to commit to the transparent menu bar in Mac OS 10.5, let’s echo it here. Transparent over full screen operations like iPod, Camera, Photos and black the rest of the time (which is really just transparent over nothing).

Next up, the edit button identify crisis…

There are multiple times when the user is be permitted to ‘edit’ information on screen. However, the same functionality is presented in two different forms, in three different location.

Edit Widget
Top Left Edit
Top Right Edit

Some may argue the clever little ‘i’ for the Weather and Stocks is a throw back to Dashboard widgets. Unfortunately, 30% of iPhone buyers have never used Apple’s Dashboard Widgets. My money says viewing the weather and time for just Cupertino becomes the next generation of your VCR blinking “12:00” all day.

Solution? Get rid of the ‘i’ (its WAY too small for fingers anyways). Pick between the top right or top left as the optimal placement for the ‘Edit’ button, it should not alternate.

The ubiquitous back button…

The back button. A poor man’s reverse. In theory, I like the back button. I use it often. But after realizing everything on the iPhone could be considered ‘one step back’, I’ve relented. ‘Back’ belongs in web browsers.

First, we have the browser’s back button, otherwise known as just an arrow:Safari Back Button

Sure, it would be nice if the button were located closer to the top of the browser window, like it’s desktop Safari counterpart, but it looks nice down there.

But then we find a slightly different looking arrow, possibly a relative. This time at the top of the window, as seen in the Google Map widget:

Map Back Button

A similar arrow makes an appearance when viewing Photos or iPod:

Photo Back Button

iPod Back Button

Next, we get the dynamic back button, which is arrow shaped, but relies mostly on text to convey an action:

Dynamic Back Button

Finally, we have the action of moving back, without a button at all! The Weather widget allows us to slide between cities with a flick of the finger, with only a set of dots to indicate our current location:

Weather Back Flick

Solution? This is the toughest interface to correct. I’m fresh out of ideas and the HIG isn’t any help.

Disclaimer #2: I wrote this article on my iPhone.

 Jul 20, 2007  |