The Beauty of Boring

We are in the midst of the latest iPhone frenzy, from last Wednesday’s announcement to next Friday’s release. The initial reactions, based on, at most, a very quick hands-on, range from ho-hum to boring and predictable to Apple is losing its mojo. No doubt the actual reviews as they trickle out over the next week or so will follow this pattern – the iPhone 5 is competent but not earth shattering and iOS is becoming stale.

But the beauty of this boringness means the design language remains the same. That is, the navigation bars and buttons, the scrollable tables with drill down to more details, the swipes and pinches, are all the same. Not only does this breed familiarity amongst users but it means that apps do not have to be redesigned to meet a new style. Or more comprehensively, there doesn’t have to be two versions of an app, each appealing to the old and new approaches.

Sure the new iPhone 5 is slightly taller in what amounts to an extra row of icons on the home screen or two new rows in a table, but most apps, including Taste ZiNG!, will be able to easily incorporate this change. There will have to be another variant for splash and background images, but views that present a table of information will automatically show more rows. The only possible changes will come on views that are not designed to scroll, so developers will need to decide whether the extra space is left at the bottom, or whether it should be evenly spread amongst the existing presentation. There is not enough new space, unlike the difference from an iPhone to iPad, to start incorporating more data.

What gets lost in the call for larger screens is the impact this has on designers and developers. Apple appreciates the subtle interplay between the widgets on a screen and the negative or white space between them. Dramatically changing the screen size has a detrimental effect on app design. Just scaling a layout by a constant multiplier depending on device size is not always the best decision. A wider screen can seduce the designer to place more buttons on a toolbar, but at some point this can become overwhelming and it might be better to reduce all the buttons to a single action button that only reveals it’s options when necessary. Indeed this is the latter option taken by the Taste ZiNG! app on the iPad. Even though there is significantly more screen estate, the set of actions that are available on each view is presented behind an “actions” button, providing a common interaction pattern, reducing noise and clutter, and allowing the use of words instead of icons.

Look for a update to the Taste ZiNG! app explicitly supporting the larger screen of the iPhone5 in a few weeks. We are in the middle of some other changes that will need to be completed first. And of course, we want to test the app on actual device before submitting a new version (and that may take awhile as pre-orders sold out in one hour!).

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