It always starts with three little letters, right?
W h y
To manage your running apps on the iPhone, you must hit the home button twice. That triggers an animation that dims the screen and slides up everything on the screen to reveal a row of full color icons, sitting at the bottom of the screen.
At this point, it would appear to the average user that only 4 apps are currently running on the iPhone. If the user slides to the right from the starting position, iPod controls are displayed.
To manage the running apps, the user is expected to swipe the row to the left to reveal another set of 4 active apps. Swiping from right to left can continue for quite a while if numerous apps were running.
This design decision made me wonder why Apple chose to display only 4 icons?
Finder vs. Dashboard
In the Mac, Finder allows users to quit processes many different ways:
1. Force Quit via command-option-escape
2. The Dock via control-click on an icon
3. Command-Tab then Q on any icon in the floating row of icons.
Finder, however, is not the only app management service on the Mac.
Another was added a few years ago: Dashboard. Dashboard runs widgets, mini-apps that are technically not considered to be apps. Widgets are not affected by the Finder process termination methods. Dashboard functions in an entirely different way.
After activating Dashboard, users may click a “+” icon in the lower left corner of the screen. This brings up a row of icons that fill up the width of the screen and include pagination. These icons represent all available (not running) Widgets. Dashboard also places an “X” button at the top left corner of all running Widget “windows” that float above the row of icons at the bottom of the screen. Click an “X”—terminate a process/close a Widget.
Skinning the Cat
There are many ways the iPhone iOS allows users to delete one item at a time while viewing multiple items.
1. The list view with the either left aligned red circle with the white “-” inside.
2. The list view with a right aligned red “Delete” button.
3. The “Edit” button found in Mail that triggers a new set of actions (select then delete).
4. The Camera app does away with a “delete” button and uses the trash can icon.
5. The Photos app uses a curving arrow in the top right corner that, upon activation, transforms itself into a “Cancel” button also while revealing a new row of buttons at the bottom of the screen that includes “Delete”.
However, NONE of those solutions were used in the multitasking UX. Why?
I think the Dashboard has become extremely useful to iOS UX designers when solving for multitasking support on the iPhone. However, it still doesn’t answer the question of why use a single row of four icons at the bottom of the screen.
If I had the ability to mock something up, I’d modify the experience to this:
When a user double clicks the home button, the display would use the 3D flip animation. Whatever screen you were looking at when clicking the home button would flip over and reveal a full screen using the existing textured background behind the single row of icons. All running apps would be arranged into rows of icons like the current home screen, however, the bottom row will be replaced with the iPod controls. If the user wants to kill a process, they could simply swipe vertically or diagonally across an icon to trigger the poof effect. Icon sorting will ensue, but it will make the running processes screen more functional and intuitive to the user. It will remove excessive swiping and remove the need for the Delete button or a row of control buttons.