Creativity is just connecting things.
— Steve Jobs

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Multitasking on iOS

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.

My Turn

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.

iPhone 3.0 Nits

Some quick notes on what I think can be improved:

1. Why do we now have two separate applications for note taking? One is verbal (Voice Memos) and the other is textual (Notes). I could easily imagine a Notes interface button with the old style microphone as its icon that brings up the audio recording interface.

2. Why does SMS get renamed Messages and still stay separate from Mail?

3. The idea that swiping to the left to get to a simple search function is a sad solution. The ultra tiny magnifying glass icon tucked into the list of open windows blows that UI metaphor apart. Why not have the user pinch the screen? We do* have more than just left/right swipes at our disposal right? The pinch could use the same zoom+fade in motion as found on the desktop OS.

4. Why does the Contacts app support screen rotation and re-orientation but the Phone app doesn’t?

5. Because Mail is such a monstrous piece of shit, I’ll tackle that in a separate post when I have time to redesign the whole fucking thing. I’m tired of that app and wish it was more useful than it is.

6. Can we please have more information in the top status bar throughout the OS? Why do I have to back all the way out to the home screen to see if any Pushed emails are present? Why can’t I tap the battery icon in the top right and get a percentage? I know it’s there because it was shown to be so in a hack. Obviously, don’t repeat info shown when on the Springboard but that goes without saying.

7. Is YouTube still so fucking important that it needs to reside on the home screen? Why can’t this be on a second page of lame apps like Stocks or the Weather widget?

8. Why can’t we hide apps from the Springboard? Sorry Apple but not every app you make is something everyone wants. Let us decide please.

9. Why doesn’t the Calendar app icon on the Springboard display a badge when an appointment is nearing?

10. Why in the iPod app’s Artists and Songs screen do you hide the search field at the top? Same goes for Audiobooks, Composers, Genres.

11. If you don’t have a certain type of content on your iPhone, wouldn’t it make sense to provide a button to the iTunes store from the iPod’s Videos, Audiobooks, and Podcasts screens instead of just saying “You can download something from iTunes.” Guess you’re really not trying to sell content to users.

12. Why not share the same iconography from the iTunes store when browsing Genres in the iPod app? Reading text lists in the iPod app is not sexy or fun.

13. At what point in the future will you standardize the placement of the Edit and Create New Item buttons in your apps?

Messages: Create New is top right and is a Pencil icon in a button.
Calendar: Create New is top right and a Plus icon in a button.
Mail: Create New is lower right and a Pencil and “paper” shape – no button.
Notes: Create New is top right and a Plus icon in a button (but it’s brown!)
Contacts: Create New is top right and a Plus icon in a button.
Clock: Create New is top right and a Plus icon in a button.
Voice Memos. WTF

14. Photos. Why can’t I create a photo album on the phone and assign photos to it from the camera roll? And why is the “Photo Albums” header background transparent? What is the benefit of doing this?

15. Mail, can we please mark a message as read without having to literally tap into it? One would think that the Edit button would offer this option, but it doesn’t.

So how’s that for a 15 minute evaluation? 😉

Sharing an iTunes Library Between Users the Easy Way

For a while now, I’ve been trying to share my iTunes library with the other 2 user accounts on our home computer. Apple has a suggestion of placing the Library that has the music in it into a shared location on your computer but there’s an easier way that’s much more reliable.

All you have to do is log into the account that has all the music, turn on “Share my library on my local network” in the master iTunes account (iTunes > Preferences > Sharing), switch to the other user account that wants to listen to the music and open iTunes. The shared library will be in the source column and you can play whatever you want.

iPhone Audio Cracks Me Up

Not sure if anyone else has had this problem…

I have a first gen iPhone and find it really helpful to plug in the stock earbuds for the drive home from work. Lately I’ve noticed that if I push the earbud cable all the way into the headphone jack, the audio playback is garbled and has lots of weird what I can only describe as “digital” bleeps and bloops. If I slowly back the connector out a little bit, the audio totally clears up.

Looks like it’s time for me to take it to the Apple store and see what the problem is. I think it’s actually the audio jack and not the headphones.