Concept: 8Ball-Single Gesture Multi App Switcher for iPhone

8ballclose3_medium

8Ball is a design concept to make switching apps faster and more convenient.

Most smartphones can keep multiple apps alive in background processes. The main benefit being to let you switch between different apps quickly without losing your place. For example, you might be reading something and want to quickly look up some related information. Or you might have received a message that you want to quickly respond to and then switch back to what you were doing earlier.

In some ways, it's a lot like switching between windows on your desktop device. Except that switching windows is much easier due to the ability to see what you have running and switch by a simple mouse click.

So how do the three most popular platforms handle app switching?

Android Android's ICS update has a cumbersome method whereby you need to hold a button for two seconds then spend time scrolling through a space inefficient representation of running apps. This comprises a selection of UX problems:

  • Delay.
  • Large amounts of movement.
  • Multiple hands on larger phones.
  • Delay in recognition and choosing.
  • Large amount of scrolling.
  • Multiple actions.

Windows Phone Windows Phone also uses a press and hold mechanism. This then displays a card style interface of running apps, whereby you can flick through the last eight apps. Due to scroll physics, a card style horizontal scroll is certainly better than a large sized vertical scroll, but again, it is hardly optimal. Problems are:

  • Delay
  • Large amount of movement.
  • Delay in recognition and choosing.
  • Multiple actions.

iPhone iPhone provides a relatively simply double tap of the home button, however, there are still a number of issues:

  • Difficult to do with one hand, especially on iPhone 5.
  • Large amount of movement.
  • Multiple actions.

8Ball

So, is there a better way? Perhaps there is.

Firstly, let's look where your thumb is most likely to be. Your thumb naturally points upwards when holding your device. It is also likely to be around the top navigation bar area. To this end, the least range of movement will be in the top left or right of your screen, depending on whether you are right or left handed.

Therefore, the 8Ball concept centres around the introduction of two new "pull zones" at either side of the current notification centre pull zone. The current notification centre pull zone is reduced, as it does not need to be full width, and is easily reachable from either side by logically condensing the pull zone. This allows for two new easily reachable pull zones to be freed up.

Pullzones_medium

Pulling down on either of these zones will then cause the 8Ball wheel to appear. It is carefully calibrated to take into account range of motion and size of screen. The last 8 apps appear as balls. Pulling downwards will spin the control so that an app may be selected. Releasing the thumb once an app is selected will switch to the selected app.

8ballphoto_medium

Releasing the thumb when an app isn't selected will spin back to the original app. Pulling the thumb all the way down, will cycle exactly once through the apps, and toggle the original app icon to appear as the home button, thereby creating an easy way to activate the multitasking bar at the base of the screen. Upon completion of the gesture, your thumb is exactly over the multitasking bar, should you need to use it.

So there you have it. A means of quickly switching between apps that involves an absolute minimum of effort. Just one gesture. Not even a single tap is required.

Here's a video of what it looks like in action (it's also in 720p if you have the bandwidth).

Perhaps there's a better way still? Who knows? Hopefully this provides some food for thought. I know one thing for sure. I would love to have it on my iPhone 5.

Edit: 3 December.

Thanks all for the comments. Even though I thought 8Ball was a wheely good illustration of the gesture, it has now evolved to become Zenbar.