Update: Allen Pike (a fellow Vancouverite) has written a similar rant over on his blog. I’m glad I’m not the only one to find this interface an absolute atrocity to usability.
iOS 7 has been around for a while now, so this complaint is nothing new, but instead of improving it in iOS 7.1, Apple has done an excellent job of making it significantly worse; so I finally decided to write (read: rant) about it.
Don’t get me wrong, for the most part I love the refreshingness of a completely “flat” UI, without all the pseudo-3d rendering that was so popular all through the 90′s and 2000′s. But religiously sticking with a new interface paradigm against better options can lead to folly.
Case in point: the iOS 7 shift button.
The iOS 7.1 shift button in its various states—can you tell which is which?
There is absolutely nothing intuitive about the styling of any of the states of this button. Looking at any one of them individually, you simply cannot determine what state it represents. The only way to figure out what the state of the button is is to compare it to its other states. This is horrible UI, and in my opinion is a perfect case where we should be using pseudo-3d to make the button look “pressed”. For the record, the states pictured above are, respectively: unpressed, caps lock, shift. The subtle (and I emphasize subtle) shading of the caps lock state is very easy to miss, and I am constantly mixing up the pressed an unpressed states of the shift button, because they both look unpressed to me.
To make matters even worse, there is exactly one other button on the keyboard that you can even compare the shift button to in order to figure out what state it is in, because the keyboard has three different stylings of button, and Apple is not even following any kind of common theme. Let’s examine them:
The horrible, horrible iOS 7.1 keyboard
Most of the keys are clearly using dark text on a lighter background. In the above example, only the delete button has light text on a darker background. Looking at the keyboard above, then, one might presume that the shift button is in fact not selected, because it looks very much like the 123, microphone and return keys, differing only in that the symbol is a slightly lighter shade than the black foreground of the others. However, the shift button is in fact pressed in this picture. Unpressed, it looks like the backspace button. That’s right, only the foreground colour of the button is changing (“on” is dark, and “off” is bright). The actual “button”, which by the way is actually still using a thin pseudo-3d shadow to make it look physically like a button, doesn’t change in the slightest. This is the most two-faced, hypocritical design of a new UI I have seen in some time.
To make matters worse still, when you first see the keyboard, it most likely has the shift button pressed (because most text fields default to auto-capitalization), thus impressing in the user’s mind that this is the natural default state of the keyboard. Of course as soon as you start typing, that shift button lights up (which means it’s off, remember).
Can it possibly get any worse? Yes. Yes it can. The caps lock mode of the shift key (which is the second image in the top picture) is quite frankly barely discernable from the unpressed state. Worse, to activate the caps lock, as any iOS user will know, one has to double-tap the icon. What happens if you’re a little too slow in your double-tap? Well consider that the first tap simply selects the shift key and puts it into shift mode (image 3). This means that depending on whether your are successful or not in your double-tap, the result will be either image 1 or image 2. In other words, the two states that look almost identical to each other!
Quickly glancing at a keyboard that has its caps lock on, it is very hard to miss this fact unless you specifically compare the background shading of the shift button to the 123 button below it:
The iOS 7 keyboard with caps lock on (did you notice?)
Tell me I’m crazy, but that is a subtle, subtle colour difference! Without those other buttons to compare it to, there would simply be no way at all to tell if caps lock was on or off. Even with the other buttons it’s not obvious.
Apple has taken a bad UI in iOS 7 and made it boatloads worse in 7.1. Do you agree or disagree?