Gestures are an integral part of touch-screen interfaces. By using ‘natural’ interactions such as tapping and swiping, a user can manipulate the interface directly to perform key tasks and operations.
Many common gestures are now second-nature to us. We know to swipe up or down to scroll a page, we know how to ‘long-press’ to reveal additional options such as select, copy and paste.
A critical part of gestures is their consistency. Gestures are useful when we consistently receive the same result when using them because this helps create an automatic reflex that we no longer even consciously think about.
However, when gestures are inconsistent, they become confusing and frustrating. Our automatic reflex may still be firing, but we’re halted in our tracks when the result we receive is suddenly unexpectedly different.
This frustration is occurring for users with multiple devices running iOS11. One of the key reasons behind this is an inconsistency in what the ‘swipe up’ gesture is used for.
What does swipe up do again…?
If you have an iPhone 8 or an older iPhone swiping up reveals the ‘control centre’ for quickly changing key settings.
If you have an iPhone X, swiping up is now used to return to the homepage and to reveal the app switcher.
Finally, if you have an iPad Pro, swipe up is used to reveal the dock, or a slightly longer swipe up is used to reveal a combination page containing control centre and the app switcher.
Whilst swiping up on iPhone 8 and iPad Pro both allow you to view control centre through slightly different methods, with the iPhone X you now need to swipe down from the top right corner to access this.
People who use both an iPhone X and an iPad Pro currently have to learn and remember two different versions of the swipe up gesture dependent on the device they are using. This makes the gesture less of an automatic reflex, and more something they have to consciously remember and commit attention to, dependent on the device they are using at the time.
I never would have expected that my iPhone X would end up pushing me away from my iPad, but that's exactly what's happening. An inconsistency event-horizon has been crossed.
— CGP Grey (@cgpgrey) December 3, 2017
Why has this happened?
Several things have lead to this problem. Firstly, Apple drastically revamped iOS for the iPad Pro – introducing brand new ways of multitasking to allow users to use two or more applications at once.
Largely this was a fantastic step forward for the iPad, making it closer to a legitimate laptop replacement than ever. However, it did create a need for a whole new method of interaction, to allow users to access a new ‘dock’ of applications, much like on Mac OS. Swiping up on an iPad Pro now reveals this dock, allowing a user to touch and drag a second app onto the screen to be used alongside another.
With iPhone X, Apple ditched the home button. Face ID replaced Touch ID, allowing users to unlock their phone simply by looking at it. It’s a remarkable piece of innovation, but removing the home button created a need for a new way to return to the home screen. It made sense to keep this action towards the bottom of the screen, so Apple turned the swipe up into the new ‘go home’ gesture.
Why is this such a problem?
A golden rule of good user-centred design is consistency. A user should not have to guess if an action means the same thing in different situations, it should always remain consistent.
Whilst the swipe up gesture is consistent within the iPhone X, and is consistent within the iPad Pro, Apple is failing to account for the fact that many users own and use both devices. This inconsistency across devices removes the intuitive nature of the gesture and makes it far harder for a user to learn and use automatically.
Will Apple correct it?
In time, yes. If early rumours are to be believed, the next iPad Pro will incorporate Face ID, allowing Apple to offer the same modes of interaction across both the iPhone X and the iPad Pro.
For now, we’re in a bit of a transition period. Apple took an unusually bold leap forward with the iPhone X and one of the repercussions of doing so is an inconsistent experience for users with multiple devices.
The gestures for the iPhone X are presumably the way Apple expects users to interact with iOS for the next 5 years or so and we’ll just have to wait for the rest of their product line to catch up.