Undiscovered Power Gestures

December 3, 2018

A few weeks ago, Twitter blew up about an interaction on iOS that people discovered. This behavior allows users to navigate through a text field by pressing down on the device.

How come you guys never told me this iPhone trick? I feel duped.

— Krissy Brierre-Davis (@krissys_kitchen) November 18, 2018

This feature has been available for 3D Touch-enabled devices since the iPhone 6. However, the release of the iPhone XR probably re-surfaced this discovery.

This sparked a lot of criticism by people on social media. Some were upset that Apple was not explicit about this to users and just rolled it out as a feature. I’m writing to challenge the criticism and say that it is not bad UX for Apple to roll out a feature like this without clear instructions. No, it’s not because of company allegiance or fanaticism, but on principle.

Let’s start by being clear that I’m not in the business of blaming the user. Is it wrong that users don’t know this? No. Should users have to watch an Apple Keynote to know how interactions work? No.

This interaction is an accelerator gesture, which is a supplementary way to achieve something. The beauty of multitouch interactions is that there are multiple pathways to achieve something. I believe the primary interaction has to be intuitive and clear. However, for secondary interactions, it does not have to stand out like the primary one. In this case, the primary interaction is tapping on the area you want to edit.

When Android rolled out this feature (prior to Apple) there was a similar sense of discovery with about the same level of onboarding and education.

Primary interactions need to be clear and obvious. However, secondary interactions and accelerators can often be something more broadly accessible, and can be a moment of delightful discovery.

The “No NUX” (New User Experience) rule does not seem to apply to Apple as much these days. There is a dedicated app for Tips and now onboarding has been introduced to iOS devices. That being said, here are a few reasons in defense that this design decision is not bad UX.

Interaction Accelerator

Multi-touch often also means multiple ways to use it. A few more examples of interactions like this on iOS:

  • Tab and hold to bring tabs you recently closed in Safari
  • Tap and drag to select photos
  • Tap and hold to archive emails instead of deleting
  • Swipe to delete digits in Calculator
  • Hold the compose button in Mail to see drafts
  • Interaction accelerators do not necessarily need to be discoverable as long as the primary interaction is clear.

Shortcuts that can be discovered and mastered

A mentor of mine once taught me the idea of interactions that can be mastered. He used the example of a light switch. It’s so simple that after interacting with it, it can be mastered. His point was that if you installed a light switch backwards, it’d be moments for someone to learn how it works. Multitouch gestures behave in a similar way. The more you use it, the more one understands how the ecosystem works.

The user should always feel empowered, and Apple has an opportunity to raise awareness of features without expecting people to sit through a Keynote event.

However, to call this “Bad UX” is a bit of a stretch.

P.S. Thank you Rosa McGeefor edits and feedback.

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