Thursday, October 13, 2011

Secrets of iOS 5

Jeff Carlson:

If you type with your thumbs while holding an iPad in both hands, or if you want take the new Show/Hide keyboard button out for a spin, check out the new Split Keyboard feature. To begin parting the Red Sea, drag using your thumbs outward from the middle of the keyboard to split the sections. To put the keyboard together again, put a thumb on each section and push them together.

This is one of the best features in iOS 5, but I don’t understand why there’s a preference and you have to specifically split the keyboard with a gesture. What would be the benefit in switching off the preference?

In Mail on the iPad, in portrait view, swipe left to right with two fingers to display the mailbox list, which slides as a panel from the side of the screen.

I don’t know why the list doesn’t appear as a popover, as it used to — perhaps Mail will become the iTunes of the iPad: the place where Apple experiments with interface.

It’s be nice to see some guidelines and consistency, but I like the sliding panel. Popovers seem better suited to tools and inspectors than to navigation.

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Note that you don't actually need a second finger; swiping with a single finger works. iPad Keynote implements a similar gesture during a presentation to display the slide list, though it requires you constrain the gesture to the leftmost ~1/16 of the screen. And of course, in Windows 8's Metro, swiping from every side of the screen is pretty integral to the UI. WebOS was perhaps the first to do similar things with its gesture area, though I've not used it enough to get a feel for its behavior.

iOS 5 has introduced several more gestures that don't directly "connect" to the items they're mainpulating. Examples are this mailbox swipe, the four-finger swipe upwards for the application switcher and the notification center. The notification center animation has a bit of a delay but will eventually "hook up" to your finger if you're slow enough, whereas the mailbox swipe/switcher swipe is constant speed regardless of your input. I'm not sure this constant speed activation is actually needed; an equivalent that's acceleration sensitive and can be triggered with a very small amount of finger movement, like the swipe to change home screens, seems like it'd be a better fit. The sensation there if you're making a small movement is that you're "throwing" an object, rather than making a decoupled gesture.

I notice some more "silkiness" — damping in some common animation curves in iOS 5; it just feels nicer to watch, like the way a high-end cabinet door closes quietly — and I'm really glad to see this continued attention. (Can't say the same for the gigantic step backwards that is the iOS 5 iPad's Music app—but you've seen me rant enough about that on Twitter.)

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