–UPDATE: Hello readers of Marco’s blog! I’m John Kneeland and enjoying my 15 minutes of fame. Feel free to follow me @SirKneeland on the Inter-twits.–
Apple’s iPhone wasn’t the first touchscreen portable device, but it was the first one that didn’t make you want to stab yourself (or the device) with its stylus. One of the many reasons for this was that they were the first big company to realize that a touchscreen should not simply take desktop metaphors designed around a mouse and cursor and shoehorn them into a tiny touchscreen being used with your fat fingers.
One of the most obvious ways in which this is apparent is the replacing of small tiny buttons designed to be hit with a fine point (a cursor or stylus) with much larger buttons that can be accurately tapped with a finger.
Except, of course, for when Apple simply shoehorns desktop metaphors into a touchscreen:
The most egregious example of this interface inconsistency is in the teeny tiny close buttons that pop up on the iOS interface when you want to close apps in the app switcher, delete apps from the homescreen, or close a browser tab. it’s even worse in Apple’s new iOS notifications system, which decided being hard to use wasn’t enough and it should be hard to see as well.
Naturally, since iOS made this mistake, Google made the same mistake when
copying iOS designing Android.
In fact, the Android one may be even worse than the iOS one because while the iOS button is located halfway outside the window object’s border and thus catches the attention of the mind that identifies these jarring aberrations in shapes, the Android button is completely nested in the window.
How to avoid using the close button then? People still need to close things after all. I think there are two valid methods. In increasing order of awesomeness, they are: holding down for a contextual menu (exemplified in Windows Phone 7), and swiping away to dismiss (exemplified in webOS).
Well MS stuck with the teeny tiny close button in their browser windows, they have made a great contextual menu system in other areas, such as app management on the homescreen: Hold down your finger on something, and a contextual menu of actions pops up.
This successfully avoids the problem of having the teeny tiny close button. It also is potentially extensible as it allows for a large number of relevant contextual choices (for example, archive vs delete in Gmail). but runs the risk of replacing the teeny tiny close button with a teeny tiny text menu and leaving it open for the user to accidentally select the wrong contextual option. It also can wind up being used by app developers as a lazy catch-all for actions, leaving users with too many options, rather than forcing the developers to spend more time thinking about minimizing complexity and putting these other options elsewhere.
Swiping things away is, in my opinion, the most natural way to dismiss things as it is the most similar to how one might get rid of things in the physical world–toss them away!
Of course, swiping has some problems of its own in terms of extensibility (it has none) and discoverability. In a few years the average user may be sufficiently ‘trained’ in expected touchscreen behaviors to know to try swiping, but for now any system using a swipe gesture should be sure to educate their users on the availability of swiping, ideally on device first-run.
Bottom line, to paraphrase Steve Jobs, is this:
if you see this button:
They blew it.
It should really be called the “blew it button.” I want to see a touchscreen OS that doesn’t have a single one of these (and unfortunately webOS added them in 3.0 for deleting apps on the homescreen). It’s one of those rare cases in which I can say Palm should take a lesson from Android and look at how removing an app from Android’s homescreen involves dragging an app to the trash: