Re-Rethinking the iPhone 5 App Switcher

What prompted me to make this post was reading a previous forum post on Verge about rethinking the App Switcher on the iPhone 5. While imaginative, there were still a few areas that could be further improved upon, and other areas that were altogether untouched.

The Current iPhone App Switcher

Double-clicking the home button now is meant to gain access to one of the following functions:

- Access a previously used app in a frozen state

- Toggle the Orientation Lock

- Access the Music App, in addition to the Play/Pause and Previous/Next buttons

- Airplay button

- Volume Control

During the course of the day, how often do you double-click the Home Button? I use it primarily for switching between apps and for the Orientation Lock (90% it's on most of the time, but when there is a video that I want played in Landscape rather than Portrait, I'll dip into the App Switcher and swipe to the right to access it). After almost two years of owning an iPhone 4, I'll be the first to admit that the Home Button is not immune to Apple's superior industrial design. Like all moving parts, it is subject to wear and tear travel, stickiness when pushing down, etc. And while doing 'tricks' can alleviate the annoying symptoms temporarily, a lot of times it will involve mis-clicks and do-overs when trying to achieve certain actions because clicks weren't acknowledged properly or the timing of the double-click was off (it will register as a single click and send me to either the spotlight screen, or the home app screen [if I'm trying to double-click from a non-home app screen]). With that said, the double-click functionality of the Home Button, as frequent as it is used, should be changed.



Borrowing from the Notification Center

In order to invoke the Notification Center, one simple slides a finger across a one-pixel-high row at the very top of the screen and continues to slides down until the NC covers the entirety of the screen. There is no lowered opacity across the linen texture so that any apps are visible. In order to close the NC so that it "rolls" right back up and away from the screen, you tap and hold the bottom portion of the NC and slide the finger up. There are no button clicks, it is simply using the screen to access and leave a different area of iOS.

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The App Switcher is also another 'realm' of iOS, and its functionality should be similar to that of the Notification Center. Toss out the double-click of the Home Button—in order to invoke the App Switcher, slide a finger across a one-pixel-high row at the very bottom of the screen and continue to slide up. Swipe down from the top of the screen for NC (which comes down above the app screen), swipe up from the bottom of the screen for AS (which appears to be below the app screen).

The allows the Home Button to retain its primary functions:

- Exiting out of apps

- Waking the iPhone (it shares this functionality with the power button up top)

- Returning to the home app screen from another app screen by clicking once

Now Apple must ditch the physical Home Button and adapt a touch-sensitive concave Home Button that requires a one-second press in order to exit out of an app and to wake the phone. The third function above could be achieved with a simple press. Just as the screen has taken the place of the physical keyboard and other hardware counterparts, the Home Button too can evolve and improve its functional longevity.

The Improved App Switcher

I admired Sentry take on the AP, but it still wasn't addressing the even more added real estate of the screen on the iPhone 5. It was slightly taller, but still required the user to swipe through panels to access different functions, when, all these settings/functions could be located in the same place. And why not, the Notification Center uses the 'all-screen' approach with the Weather/Stocks widgets, Facebook/Twitter widgets, and all Notifications for apps.

Recently Used Apps

With users averaging at least 100 apps, why not have double the amount of recently used apps visible at one time? In its current iteration, it is not utilizing the screen to its fullest potential (on the iPhones before the iPhone 5, 1/5 of the screen, on the iPhone 5, 1/6 of the screen). Sentry's commentary touched on other concepts utilizing full screen app previewed icons and even two rows of apps without previews, but there is more to this. People who choose to go into the App Switcher already have an objective in mind: to switch to another app. Seeing a preview of the app that a user would want to switch to is irrelevant, they have already decided that the function they want to achieve is to activate the App Switcher, look for the app they would like to switch to, and then finally, tap on it and go into that app. If the app preview with the App Switcher involves no obvious advantage over not seeing an app preview, why have it? The previews can serve as visual representations of that app in the current frozen state, but how is it benefitting the user? At that size, the app preview wouldn't offer any visual sustenance and would actually slow the user down by asking them to decipher what the preview is depicting before they make the selection they already intended to make.

Example:

I'm writing an email in the Email app and need to copy and paste an address from the Maps app. I know what I am looking for before I even go into the App Switcher, therefore it would make more sense to look for the Maps icon in the AS rather than a visual representation of the map that's showing in the frozen state.

I would stick with the double row of apps without previews, allowing the users to swipe left and right, viewing eight at a time.

Music Controls

On the current AS, the Volume slider and Airplay button are on a different panel than the main Music Controls (along with the Orientation Lock button). Let's put all the Music-related controls all on the same panel.

Other Settings

Brightness and other settings are found on another panel (3G on a iPhone 5 isn't right, but I'm borrowing from Sentry's images).

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