I bought an iPhone 6S on release date this year and started experiencing an annoying issue that I have not dealt with in some time. It is often dubbed “thumb stretching” in where you stretch to reach icons that are on the top opposite side of the screen. However the trend we are seeing in phones today is 4.7″ to 6″ screens and it doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. While most would agree that a larger surface area to view things is preferred, it brings a set of challenges when dealing with a handheld device which most people use with one hand. I tend to hold and operate my iPhone with my right hand and I can reach everything on the right side of my screen. On the home screen, I cannot reach the two immediate shortcuts on the top left with my thumb.
So what am I talking about here? Well it is mostly a UX/UI issue we are currently dealing with in where it appears that not enough is being done to consider the one hand user. Apple has implemented a feature in iOS in where double tapping the Touch ID button will lower the rows of icons so that it is easier to reach the top shortcuts. While it helps, I don’t consider this as an acceptable long term solution as doing this removes the bottom 8 shortcuts you have on the given screen. Samsung also has a one hand user mode as well, but I don’t think it’s a neat solution either. Steven Hoober posted research he has conducted and posted at uxmatters.com which shows that 40% of users hold their phones with one hand as late as 2013. I would assume that the trends have changed a bit since bigger phones are much more common than they were over 2 years ago, but the point still stands – we have a problem to tackle.
So what are the solutions? I tend to believe that giving people options is ultimately the answer to our current problem. I have highlighted in the past that Windows Phone (or mobile) is my favorite mobile operating system today because of it’s flexibility in how shortcuts can be resized and organized. Many web developers know that nothing is fixed, different screen sizes and resolutions have been a topic of focus when it comes to website design for the better part of 8 years. I feel we are slowly reaching this same problem on mobile devices, but for different reasons. The one advantage that we have today with our devices is the ability to react to user inputs, so perhaps an extra step or two when setting up your iPhone is a solution Apple should consider. Wouldn’t it be nice if your iPhone asked you how you held your phone upon setting up? Then based on the response it will show you a preview of how the UI will look before proceeding? Zooming in on app shortcuts is not enough.
I cannot reach the top 2 shortcuts on the upper left with my thumb.
I cannot access the button on the top left as a result either.
How about app design? Wouldn’t it be nice if apps had 2 or 3 different layout options based on a question upon setup? Baruch Sachs highlighted design arrogance in a fantastic write-up last week and I tend to believe that is one of the problems we have when collaborating on projects. Arrogance is something that I consider necessary up to a certain point. One should feel confident based on previous works that they have done, especially if great results have come about based on your work, but there are times in where that stuff needs to be put aside in order to achieve a common goal.
My motivation this week comes from the AT&T “Paper Dolls” commercial that was released many years ago. Helping people have intimate connections via our devices has been my main focus with this project for the better part of 2 years now. We are all connected via these devices these days so I think it’s pretty important to allow people the opportunity to connect in a variety of ways. We have skype, facetime, and text messages to relay messages, but that often requires a direct online connection or quick response in order to do so. We don’t have many options to start an asynchronous personal connection offline and then sent to the receiver when ready.