A design exploration by Peter Zigich has been doing the rounds on tech blogs, exploring a possible future for the iPhone line. His aims were to improve on the iPhone 5, compete with cheap smartphones and also take on ‘phablets’—a very tall order. However, the ideas Zigich comes up with are often problematic.
His first thought is that the iPhone Home button takes up too much space, and so he repositions it on the side of the device. Presumably realising this causes problems for people who use their device with the hand that would cover the button, he then duplicates it on the other side of the device. From an ergonomic and usability perspective, this often-used button would become, at best, awkward in that position. Also, with Apple devices getting skinnier with each iteration, this design takes a discoverable, satisfyingly clickable, necessary button and makes it much smaller along with placing it in the realm of ‘secondary’ interaction. It’s no longer front-and-centre, but in a place where controls live that only occasionally need to be used. From an engineering perspective, you’re now also complicating matters with two identical buttons and also doubling the risk of failure through what was previously a single set of mechanical components. (On Twitter, @jseths also points out this would cause major problems regarding cases.)
The sole benefit from this change is a larger display, because the space originally taken by the Home button is now freed up. Again, though, this feels wrong from an ergonomic standpoint. I recently wrote about not being convinced by the iPhone 5′s form factor, but turning the area currently occupied by the Home button into a space for very regular interaction would require some spectacular thumb gymnastics. Zigich also complicates matters with ideas such as adding functions that combine the multiple home buttons, such as:
double click left Home button then single click right Home button
On this blog, I still get plenty of traffic for instructions on using AirPlay with the BBC iPlayer app, due to the AirPlay button’s poor discoverability. The thought of double-clicking one button and then single-clicking another is clearly a non-starter.
Zigich then expands the line-up. Along with his revised iPhone 6 (more or less the iPhone 5 minus its home button), he adds the iPhone 6 Mini (an iPhone 6 with two rows of icons hacked off) and an iPhone 6 XL (an iPhone 6 with a display that could accommodate five icons across and seven down, plus the Dock). This looks like a wet dream for anyone who wants the iOS device ecosystem to mirror Android, but some kind of nightmare for developers, who’d suddenly be faced with dealing with more resolutions and screen ratios. From a manufacturing standpoint, this would also be tricky; and from a user perspective, you’d have issues relating to buyer’s doubt and also basic usability with the larger model.
That said, the iPhone 6 Mini has some interesting ideas. The screen Zigich has used is identical to the one in the iPhone 4, it’s very pocketable, and it looks useful for people with small hands. That said, the lack of the existing Home button would, as already noted, be an issue. (My hope for another iPhone in the line-up remains a retooling of the iPhone 4 form factor, for the most part.) The iPhone 6 XL, on the other hand, just looks ridiculous. Zigich calls it “perfect for one-handed use”, although neglects to add “for giants”, and it strikes me as something Apple wouldn’t bother with, unless Cook went nuts and decided to fight for a relatively niche market (say, people who want to do a modern recreation of Dom Joly’s cell phone sketch).
Zigich’s final suggestion is to amend iOS. He complains finding apps on iOS is getting complicated, with the average user having 100–150 apps on their device. I’d personally like to yell “citation needed” at this point, given that I imagine the majority of iPhone users have significantly fewer apps than that. What’s odder, though, is his concept that he says could solve this:
In a few easy clicks users can, narrow the search for the right app on ther phone (even if you have 1000 applications installed). I call this process “Distill”
Maybe I’m going mad, but I’m pretty sure Apple already called that ‘Spotlight’.