The Big Reason Why iOS8 Sucks / by Gavin Lau

The bigger the display is, the less easily-accessible zone is, the more necessary is the adaptation of design to improve the user experience.

Before I dive into details I should take a moment to explain a couple of things. Let’s travel back in time of the iOS7 release. What has changed in the system compared to its previous versions?

  • User’s content got the highest priority.
  • No skeuomorphism in design.
  • Lightweight UI.
  • More focus on interaction.

Almost everything according to Dieter Rams. And that was fucking right and necessary move by Apple!

But what they did not change?

  • The pattern of usage!

It could be seen from the very first iPhone and to the iPhone 4s. The dimensions of the display were the same. Hence, the patterns of users behavior and usage of the devices were the same too. This allowed to transfer users to the new iOS7 almost seamlessly. And the reason of that — they instantly got familiar to the common UI elements: a navigation bar at the top, a tab bar at the bottom, a table view, etc.

The lineup of Apple’s iPhones is growing up in the dimensions and I think Apple have already reached the limit. No, I am not stating there could not be the bigger size. I’m just saying that if there is a bigger than iPhone 6+ display (5.5 in) then that will be absolutely different device. It is called — a tablet. Therefore, another usage, another user’s behavior, etc.

Apple knew and clearly understood that the increase of the display size was inevitable. Bigger screens will lead to a bigger size of every single system element. Thus, the load on the processor, network and so on… I think that’s indeed one of the main reasons why all those changes I’ve mentioned above were applied. But did they take into consideration the inherent behavior patterns that originated with the previous iOS to be extremely uncomfortable and ergonomically incorrect for usage on the larger devices? I suppose, they did not.


The basics

Take a look at your hands right now. Did your thumbs, palm and the hand overall become bigger? No? Hmm, mine too (Okay, if you are a teenager they could really got bigger as you are! Good for you…). I would even say they have become a little bit thinner because of the adaptation to a constant use of the iPhone. But in general, yeah, they are still the same.

And what about your phone? Which one were you holding three years ago and which right now?

The resizing of the devices inevitably involves a change of how we hold our phones, how we use them and so on. And since we are not growing over the years (human body stops growing between the ages of 18 and 21 years of age), the behavioral patterns in iOS interface which were laid out in previous versions, do not work properly since iPhone 5.

Here are three basic ways of how people are holding their phones:

1. Basic ways of how people are holding their phones.  According to research by Steven Hoober

1. Basic ways of how people are holding their phones. According to research by Steven Hoober

85% of observed users working with their phones using one hand. This is happening mechanically, on a subconscious level. Cradled method seems to be the perfect one. But it has obvious good and bad sides.

  • Mostly whole display is in an easily-accessible area.
  • Both hands are always busy.

But I’m pretty sure that Cradled method is a necessary measure, which appeared just because of the inconvenience of the usage of big sized phones. A human is a lazy creature and will not involve two hands instead of one when it’s possible. But let this be another topic called ‘User behavior on psychophysical level’ or something like that.


The problem

The following heat map shows sorts of the thumb zones applied to every iPhone display size since 2007.

2.1. Thumb zones. According to ‘ How to design for thumbs in the Era of Huge Screens ’ observation by Scott Hurff

2.1. Thumb zones. According to ‘How to design for thumbs in the Era of Huge Screens’ observation by Scott Hurff

Have you noticed that the typical navigation bar position is in the red area starting from iPhone 5? That stumbling block of the whole system which consists of the most important actions (Send, Done, Save, Confirm, Back, Close, etc.) is there because of the pattern which has been implemented on the system level. All the previous iOS versions, as well as the current one, accustomed us to use it. Even if it’s not convenient at all. And developers are forced to follow that pattern too, because they have no choice. Now it became a stereotype for a usual user.

I know a few great developers who are trying to change the situation on their own to improve user experience of their applications. But it’s not enough to destroy or even change a little such a strong stereotype. It must be changed on the system level. By Apple. In iOS. Only then it will be possible to reteach a user with a new, correct and more convenient pattern.

Namely with the iOS8 release Apple had to change that and adapt their design under the new dimensions of the iPhones. That was not done. And that is a big reason why iOS8 sucks! Therefore, a conclusion:

The bigger the display is, the less easily-accessible zone is, the more necessary is the adaptation of design to improve the user experience.

As a true proof of the reason why do we have to care about the big-screen-devices, please check out the graph below. And that is just a beginning!

2.2. Screen size and browsing share by phone size. According to  Adobe Digital Index, 2014

2.2. Screen size and browsing share by phone size. According to Adobe Digital Index, 2014

Now let’s run a simple test on a couple of apps I use daily.

  1. Mailbox. The whole and the only one bar with all navigation controls is on the red area. So, you have to shift your grip up to reach any element on it. Those guys launched their product 6 months after iPhone 5 has been released. That means they knew their product would be used on a bigger device and did not change anything in the native iOS pattern. And the reason is clear — a user should be familiar with the app from the first touch. But they got lost in the usability on the bigger iPhone.
2.3.  Mailbox . All navigation controls are hardly reachable on iPhone6.  Thumb Zone map . Right hand.

2.3. Mailbox. All navigation controls are hardly reachable on iPhone6. Thumb Zone map. Right hand.

2. Twitter. It is in the middle. It has a tab bar at the bottom which covers almost all navigation controls and it is easily reachable. BUT, the main fucking button ‘Compose a tweet’ is in the red zone… And there is no any quick gesture to start tweeting (e.g. for advanced users a long-tap on the ‘Timelines’ icon. Why not?). So, you should shift your grip up and down every time you want to tweet something.

2.4.  Twitter . Easily reachable tab bar and hard ‘Compose Tweet’ button. iPhone 6.  Thumb Zone map . Right hand.

2.4. Twitter. Easily reachable tab bar and hard ‘Compose Tweet’ button. iPhone 6. Thumb Zone map. Right hand.

3. Pocket. All the navigation controls are in the footer. They can be easily reached in case you hold your phone normally. In case you hold it in the middle, you should shift down your grip. But sooner or later you will need to do that anyway because of the Home Button.

2.5.  Pocket . All the navigation controls are easily reachable. iPhone 6.  Thumb Zone map . Right hand.

2.5. Pocket. All the navigation controls are easily reachable. iPhone 6. Thumb Zone map. Right hand.

So, as you might have noticed, the best area to place the main navigation controls — especially a key-button — is the bottom of the screen (or footer, if you want). This is an easily accessible area. Also, you don’t need to shift your grip up and down every time when you are surfing through the applications because of the Home Button and keyboard. But let’s dive a little bit deeper.


The solution.

Designed and implemented by Apple since iOS7.

What has been made by Apple at iOS to improve the situation? They have introduced a couple of new gestures:

  • left-edge-swipe for ‘Back’ action (since iOS7)
  • double-tap on the Home Button (since iOS8)
3.  Reachability at iOS8  by Apple

3. Reachability at iOS8 by Apple

The first one aims to solve the problem of the accessibility of the ‘Back’ button only.

The second one — the reachability of the upper part of the display. But many users still don’t even know that those gestures exist…

The back-gesture works pretty good, but the double-tap… Just imagine.

You wrote an email. You are ready to send it. What will you do? You mechanically moves your thumb to the upper right corner to reach a ‘Send’ button on your iPhone 6. Why did you do that? The pattern, stereotype… In the middle of the screen you stop. Now your brain can suggest two ways:
* Change the way you are holding your phone and shift the grip up.
* Or make a double-tap gesture on the Home Button.
Okay. You preferred a double-tap. Your thumb moves down to reach the Home Button. Double-tap. Now your eyes are watching how UI is sliding down. And only then a cherished ‘Send’ button can be reached without any additional moves or shifting…

Too long, too complex, too many taps, too… Bullshit, right? But, yeah, that can save you if you are the iPhone 6 Plus user.

Anyway, that is not a good solution. Also, don’t forget that iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus became much more slippery, because of the smoother edges than the previous bricks. So, any inaccurate movement or shift of your grip and your iPhone is flying away.


The solution.

Designed and implemented mostly by third-party designers, as we are.


And now let’s think over a question: What can we do to improve user experience in our applications and products as third-party UX designers? Here are some solutions that already works. And some new ideas that can solve the problem too.

  • Tab bar. Use it for the navigation through the application instead of the upper navigation bar — leave it only for some secondary information and functionality. Tab bar is native for iOS. So users will be familiar with it instantly. It may be context-dependent. It may be customizable. It may include popups through a long-tap for additional functionality (e.g. Tweetbot). And the most important thing, it may include the key-button (e.g. Instagram, Path) — Compose, Add, Create, Send, Start, Take a photo, etc.
4.1. Tab bars at  Tweetbot on the left, and  Path  on the right.

4.1. Tab bars at Tweetboton the left, and Path on the right.

MatButt (as I call it). Use it on the specific screens or in case there is no need for the tab bar. It can be context-dependent. It is easily accessible. It may attract a lot of attention, what can be useful in case it is necessary to encourage some action (e.g. ‘Compose email’, like at Inbox by Gmail). Also, you can hang on its gestures like long-tap, swipe (if it’s big enough), double-tap (why does nobody use this gesture?) to attach some more functions (e.g. Path, the old one).

4.2. Matbutt. Old version of  Path  on the left and  Inbox by Gmail  on the right.

4.2. Matbutt. Old version of Path on the left and Inbox by Gmail on the right.

Gestures. Use more gestures for navigation that can be easily done by one thumb or other fingers. But in that case, you must follow three rules. They are simple in words, but difficult on realization.

  1. Get rid from the duplicate-action buttons as much as possible (e.g. Medium). A user will not make a gesture — in most cases, of course — until there is a button for that action. Why? The pattern…
  2. Show and teach a user how to use your gestures. User must get to know what he can do from you, not from the ‘Monkey method’!
  3. Use animated transitions to show a user what happened. This will keep a user in the context, what is really important at that case.


  • Voice Commands. Use voice recognition to allow a user to control application or at least some of its functions. Just like James Bond.
  • Force Touch. It already came to us with Apple Watch and trackpad on new MacBook. I hope the next generation of the iPhone will have it too. I’m sure, Force Touch will bring a lot of new capabilities of how a user may interact with a smartphone (e.g. force click, accelerators, pressure-sensitive drawing, etc.).
4.3. The new Force Touch trackpad with the Taptic Engine  by Apple .

4.3. The new Force Touch trackpad with the Taptic Engine by Apple.

Control Center. System control center can be blocked (with a status bar). So, you can use the swipe-up gesture from the bottom edge to get a quick access to some functions (e.g. settings dialog). But that is possible when you are at the full screen mode only.



We don’t grow with years and our fingers don’t too. But our phones do. The way how we hold our phones has such a big impact on the way we use them.

And all of that is a huge reason why designers and developers MUST adapt their designs to the bigger phones. It must be done for the sake of improving user experience, to make it as convenient and smooth as possible. I hope, Apple will listen to us again.

Be responsible. Create better user experience. Don’t follow bad patterns and stereotypes. Don’t forget about ergonomics.



One more thing…

You may want to ask me, why I said nothing about any other platforms. You can find the answer in the charts below without any additional comments.

6.1. Total domination of Apple devices on the browsing. According to   Adobe Digital Index, 2014

6.1. Total domination of Apple devices on the browsing. According to Adobe Digital Index, 2014

6.2. Apple Q1 2015 Results: $74.5 Billion Revenue. According to

6.2. Apple Q1 2015 Results: $74.5 Billion Revenue. According to