The Home but­ton has gone: what’s next to go?

In­no­va­tion re­quires sac­ri­fices some­times, and Ap­ple has sac­ri­ficed a lot, writes Dan Moren

iPad&iPhone user - - CONTENTS -

Ap­ple has never been a com­pany to dwell on the past. In the last year alone, it’s killed off the abil­ity to sync apps to your iOS de­vice via iTunes, the head­phone jack on the iPhone 7, and the Home but­ton on the iPhone X. Even the ven­er­a­ble iPod line has (mostly) been put out to pas­ture.

Th­ese all come from a place of am­bi­tion: the com­pany isn’t shy about kick­ing con­ven­tion to the curb if it thinks it can re­place the old with some­thing new and bet­ter. (Ad­mit­tedly, not ev­ery­one al­ways agrees that what’s new is bet­ter, but Ap­ple doesn’t spend a lot of time so­lic­it­ing opin­ions.)

So in the spirit of Ap­ple’s mer­ci­less ma­chete, I started think­ing: what other long-run­ning con­ven­tions of the com­pany’s mo­bile plat­form might be due for an over­haul? Noth­ing lasts for­ever, af­ter all. So here are a cou­ple ar­eas of iOS that seem like they’re ripe for a re­think.

Con­tex­tual menus

Con­tex­tual popover menus have been a big part of iOS for a long time. (Al­though some of us re­mem­ber that dark age when there was no copy and paste for two years af­ter the iPhone launched.) But those menus are get­ting a bit old and tired. For one thing, they’ve al­ways been a lit­tle bit fid­dly: yes, you can tap to bring it up, but you can also tap and hold. And, de­pend­ing on how you do it, you might get se­lec­tion han­dles or the mag­ni­fy­ing loupe when you’re not look­ing for them.

More to the point, that con­tex­tual menu has got­ten a bit over­loaded on your av­er­age iPhone screen. In more than a few apps, you’ll gen­er­ally ended up need­ing to ‘page’ through a set or two of op­tions be­fore you find the one you want. In other places, like text for­mat­ting, you ac­tu­ally need to go through mul­ti­ple sets of th­ese menus, even though there’s no real method for nav­i­gat­ing them hi­er­ar­chi­cally. (If you de­cide you meant to copy text in­stead of bold­ing it, you have to go back and start all over again.)

As I see it, there are a cou­ple of op­tions for im­prov­ing this sit­u­a­tion. For one, it might help if there were an­other way to lay out th­ese op­tions, so you don’t have to nav­i­gate through mul­ti­ple tiny menus. I’d think that a ra­dial menu of some sort would be ideal – you

could even drill down in to sub-menus by slid­ing a fin­ger onto them and hav­ing them pop up in place.

But more to the point, Ap­ple al­ready has a good me­chanic for deal­ing with con­tex­tual menus, at least on the iPhone: 3D Touch. iOS doesn’t make a lot of use of this where text is in­volved, but it could: a hard press could bring up a float­ing menu that you could then slide your fin­ger or thumb to in or­der to se­lect the cor­rect op­tion and re­lease to per­form that ac­tion. (My per­sonal favourite use of 3D Touch in this man­ner is in iOS’s Mu­sic app – press on a song to bring up a con­tex­tual menu, then se­lect an op­tion like ‘Play Next’ and re­lease to ex­e­cute, all in one fluid mo­tion.)

El­e­ments of 3D Touch’s ‘peek and pop’ scheme feel like they have never re­ally caught on, and if Ap­ple’s go­ing to spend the time in­te­grat­ing this force-sen­si­tive ca­pa­bil­ity across its iPhone line, then it might as well put it to bet­ter use.

The home screen

Let’s all wave a big good­bye to the icon grid. Please. If ten years is long enough to get rid of the Home but­ton, please tell me that the home screen is next on the chop­ping block.

I un­der­stand the virtues of the home screen: it’s easy to use. Per­haps I should have said ‘virtue’, sin­gu­lar.

So much of the home screen feels like wasted space now. Yes, I have apps that I use ev­ery day, but more than a cou­ple of the ones on my home screen are just there for oc­ca­sional us­age. That goes dou­ble and triple for my sub­se­quent home screens, which con­tain apps I use ev­ery once in a while and fold­ers of

‘the rest’, re­spec­tively. Frankly, I’ve grown used to bring­ing up Spot­light and search­ing for any­thing that’s not on my main home screen, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

It seems clear that Ap­ple isn’t yet ready to em­brace a fully cus­tom­iz­a­ble home screen à la An­droid, but the com­pany has clearly made con­ces­sions to bring­ing more ca­pa­bil­ity to the home screen with the ad­di­tions of wid­gets and con­tex­tual op­tions via 3D Touch. But the home screen still calls out for dy­namic con­tent that you don’t need to swipe around to find – if not al­low­ing full-blown wid­gets then, at the very least, sim­ple com­pli­ca­tions akin to those found on the Ap­ple Watch.

If any­thing, the iPad un­der iOS 11 offers the best idea of what a dif­fer­ent de­fault in­ter­face could look like on iOS. With the re­design of the iPad’s dock and mul­ti­task­ing in­ter­face, there’s less need to visit the home screen – and if Ap­ple pro­vided a way to more eas­ily bring apps from Spot­light into the mul­ti­task­ing in­ter­face, I might rarely need that icon grid again.

The home screen is valu­able real es­tate, and it seems like it’s be­ing squan­dered merely by dis­play­ing app icons. This far along, I would be shocked if Ap­ple

in­ves­ti­gat­ing al­ter­na­tives – I’m just hop­ing we don’t need to wait an­other ten years to see what it comes up with.

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