Our Experience Design team discuss the new gesture interfaces and replacements and how they will impact UX and brand experiences.
The most noticeable change for everyday users of the iPhone X won’t be the headline features such as ARKit and CoreML, but the new gesture interfaces and replacements for what has by now become ingrained behaviour, namely Face ID replacing Touch ID.
It’s sparked debate in our Experience Design team....
Let’s start from the new gestures and the fact that Apple removed the home button. Thoughts?
Graham: Ok, so it’s obviously a big change. I’ll caveat this slightly saying that I have only used the iPhone X for a little while. Initially I thought it was hugely confusing because they changed so many things. Try killing an app for instance; it takes several attempts the first time you do it the new way. However, Apple’s UI, whilst mostly intuitive, has always required a bit of a learning curve. Whilst it’s clear how most things work right off the bat, you still find even now that people don’t realise you can do things like swipe to delete a message. The iPhone X for me feels like a step toward simplicity but with more information and interactions hidden behind gestures. The full status bar for example is only visible when you pull down to enter control centre now. For better or worse, the concept of something being hidden under a gesture is now part of the OS, which means UI designers now can look at an app and the screen and think slightly differently about how they use the space. I think people will get used to it very quickly, and I think freeing themselves up from hardware keys will mean that the design for the phone could continue to be even simpler in the long run. I guess in some respects it’s a continuation from the first iPhone’s dismissal of physical keyboards in favour of the touch screen.
Zeina: I do think that the control panel being accessed from the top is problematic. It’s an awkward location for thumb reach and it feels like Apple have designed themselves into a corner (see what I did there?) by removing the home button and trying to move existing functions around.
What do you think about the new screen?
Graham: It’s beautiful. I do think the much maligned and debated notch is a conscious design decision by Apple rather than a technical necessity. There are other ways they could have done it, but this gives the iPhone a distinctive shape you could recognise even just from the icon. It’s weird; in some ways it does make everything feel more fluid and almost free of the normal constraints of the screen, but there’s no getting around the fact that it gets in the way when you’re doing things like watching fullscreen video. What’s more interesting for me from a design perspective is actually the rest of the screen, specifically the really rounded corners. It means you have to think about the space differently, you can’t cram content all the way into the corners and use the whole screen in the way that we’ve been used to. It almost enforces some white space, and I think the result of that will be some lighter and more balanced content layouts. The lack of much in the way of an edge bezel also makes it feel more natural for content to go outside the screen edges. I think some of the concept designs that have already been popping up hint at people already embracing this slightly different approach to space.
And it seems the addition of Face ID is going in the same direction.
Zeina: Yes, with Face ID Apple is removing all effort in authentication. If you are looking at your phone there’s no need for any additional steps. Some people are complaining about having to actively look at the phone, but it is incredibly easy to use, and just as reliable as Touch ID, if not more so. Authentication for payment also becomes completely frictionless. When you remove the effort to login to your device the experience is just that more seamless.
What can the iPhone X tell us about the future of mobile computing in the next 10 years?
Graham: Ten years is an awfully long time in technology. The iPhone X isn’t necessarily the device that can answer that question. I think it’s more about the suite of other products surrounding iPhone. If you take a slightly wider view, the fact that they’ve now put an LTE receiver into Watch is the beginning of the disappearance of the phone as a standalone device. Nobody knows what’s going to happen that far ahead, but I think this is the beginning of a trend that erodes the phone as a central standalone device. Connectivity and digital interfaces will be in your headphones, your watch, in your clothing. Everything will become so ubiquitously connected that the concept of the phone as a single device which has all of your life on it will start to disappear; it is designed to be a part of a greater ecosystem, the smart self.
Will Face ID become an input interface?
Graham: The primary use for Apple is authentication, it’s likely to be the most reliable and predictable, but you only have to look at animoji to consider how it could start to be used as an input method. Imagine a head nod to Like when looking through your Instagram feed, or a ‘don’t show me this ad again’ head shake on Facebook. Apple tends to be very protective of how you can use hardware features like these, but there are definitely ways it could be useful beyond authentication.
Zeina: Not to mention the nuances in UX that could be achieved through attempting to track emotions, but that’s a bit scary (Facebook knows what you’re thinking) and likely a way off. However, it does take us closer to the promise of biometric interfaces that have been talked about for a while.
Graham: Universal authentication may also be an interesting evolution of Face ID. The relevant hardware will soon be present on your iPad, iPhones and can be introduced in other devices. There is this idea that Apple could use Face ID to authenticate you on all devices as “you” and provide you with your apps and data. Right now it’s all tethered to a physical module on your device, but I could totally foresee a future where you can pick up any iPhone and access your own data on it.
What are the key takeaways for brands?
Zeina: The clearest and most simple way for companies to take advantage of the X is to implement Face ID as an authentication method. Where Touch ID is already implemented the switch to Face ID is automatic (consider changing the language in your app to reflect Face ID instead of Touch ID depending on the device the user has). Otherwise it’s design considerations that make the best use of the new larger screen size.
Graham: Firstly, making sure that apps are updated and optimised to work with the notch and bezels, bringing important UI elements away from the corners and top middle of the screen. I find myself having lots of conversations where I’m encouraging people to think less about their app or website, and more about how customers interact with their brand as a service that spans every touchpoint. I think brands need to think about how they exist across the wider Apple ecosystem. Be it for users interacting with Siri through their AirPods or HomePod, or out with the Apple watch without their phone. Ultimately, the iPhone X is a beautiful device, and I do think Face ID will change how we think about authentication but it doesn’t really fundamentally change any of the other wider considerations we think about as crucial for a great digital experience.
We’ll be conducting some usability testing to gauge user reactions to the new gesture interfaces and replacements. Keep an eye out for the video!
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