02 October 2019

iPhone Home screen proposals

From a Twitter thread —in which I made a few iPhone Home screen #UI proposals for my friends at Apple.

Get rid of the damm Notch

I realize that part of what is killing me about the Notch is that Apple has made a strong design brand commitment to rounded rectangles, which are part of Apple deep lore ... except they allow the Notch to introduce two sharp corners. There is a good defense of the shape of the Notch — it did emerge from real skullsweat Apple has devoted to curves. But no Notch would still be better.

And yes, the Dynamic Island which replaces the Notch is clever, but I would still prefer a stable black top strip with that status stuff floating in it, like I have tricked my iPhone Home screen into showing with a wallpaper image:

Gray dots for less-urgent notifications

The red dot signaling notification on an iPhone app was good but naive on Apple’s part -- they did not forsee so many apps screaming for attention when they first introduced it. Trying to fix this with the Notification Center was even more frustratingly naïve and inadequate, but I will grant that it is a very hard problem.

In the very least, I would like iOS to introduce a gray dot option for an app to indicate “hey you have something here, but it isn’t Red Dot Urgent”.

The first order of trouble with notifications on the iPhone and other devices is that the system does not provide a subtle enough vocabulary of notification options for responsible application makers, but of course the harder problem is apps which are hungry for attention. Facebook obfuscates the distinction between important notifications and trivial ones, forcing one to spend time on it sifting though the queue in order to avoid missing things one actually cares about. It is unmistakably a deliberate design choice.

It is not obvious that Apple can force Facebook to more responsibly differentiate the priority of different notifications. If FB withdraws from iOS, how does that showdown shake out? Twisting the arms of partners was one of Steve Jobs’ superpowers, but we do not have him any more. (I still want someone to tell the tale of how he managed to jiu-jitsu the music publishers, saving them from their own shortsightedness.)

We are in a weird moment where commentators are starting to recognize the failings of the tech industry but the critiques are also dangerously naive about the ways in which the problems are legitimately hard. Most suggestions for what Twitter should do to prevent harassment before Musk came along to make a hash of things were well-intentioned but dangerously stupid. The problem is actually hard.

And bad incentives encourage bad actors. The problem of addictive notification overload from software tools is ultimately grounded in the deep structure of the “attention economy”. To fix that you kind of have to overthrow market capitalism. I can say from direct professional experience that managing the scarcity of user attention is a battle within the product development organization. There are “growth hackers” and marketing people whose job it is to argue for exploiting user attention. User experience designers should be advocates for protecting users’ attention from “addictive” UXD patterns, but our skills, objectives, and positioning in product development are often directed otherwise.

But at the OS level, a Gray Dot option at least helps make it possible for apps to do the right thing.

And make Red Dot tallies accurate!

While we are on the subject, the OS should better support making these indicators rigorously accurate & responsive, almost on a par with responding to pointer & keyboard inputs. It is immensely frustrating to open an app with a red dot with a counter reading “3” to find 6 things — or 0!

User-defined directory icons

The grid of tiny app icons indicating a “folder” is nearly useless.

Allow users to pick an emoji and a color for the directory. Suggest directory colors which marry with the palette of the emoji they choose!

Limit UI color saturation

I have tried the hack of switching one’s phone UI to grayscale to make it less addictive, which is a good idea but the lost ability to differentiate elements is annoying. Instead, an OS should enforce limits on use of saturated colors.

Have a Recently Used slot

Copy the Dock behavior from the iPad & Mac to show one Recently Used app. This is great for re-organizing one’s Home screens.