10 usability improvements in iOS 13

iOS 13 is just around the corner and expected to be released in less than a month (mid-September).
I decided it’s time for me to take a closer look and see what usability enhancements can be found in the new version of my favorite OS.

Here’s what I found after playing with iOS 13 all evening:

1. Pads vs. Phones

The biggest change in iOS 13 is the separation between iOS and iPadOS.
For years I’ve been dealing with the challenge of developing software that runs on multiple devices: phones at different sizes, tablets, laptops, desktops - it can work (cal it: responsive, progressive, passive, aggressive...), but there’s a high cost for sharing the exact same software binaries across so many devices with so many differences: usability.

The software runs but the users pay the price and many compromises are made, not to mention development complexities and shipping speed.
Think about the following iPad needs: a desktop-style home-screen, better multi-tasking, split-views, floating apps, mouse support, pencil support, new gestures, it’s hard to keep improving these guys, when everything needs to be 100% compatible (or quietly disabled) on the likes of iPhone 6.

The separation between iOS and iPadOS will give the iPad the attention it deserves in order to become a possible laptop replacement (for certain users at least), but it will also come with a price (because there are always tradeoffs and compromises): it’s going to be harder to develop apps for both iPhones and iPads, while in return, it’s going to be easier to port iPad apps into the Mac.

Bottom line: this change will help Apple release better and faster iPad improvements, which is good.

2. 3D touch is (almost) a goner

After being removed from iPhone XR and being replaced by the haptic touch - it’s now the operating system’s turn to kick 3D Touch out of the iOS game.
You can still “force touch” your screen (if your device supports it) with iOS 13, but a relaxed, slightly longer tap will do the trick as well.
I wrote about the reasons why I believe 3D touch failed. So far, I don’t see how iOS 13 fixes the discoverability issues nor the behavior inconsistencies, but one thing is certain: using the haptic touch is a lot nicer than having to “force touch” your screen when you're using your iPhone with a single hand.
Bottom line: if you haven’t been using 3DTouch until now, I doubt you’ll fall in love with "haptic touch".

3. A new Volume HUD

How many times did you have to restart a video after missing out all the good stuff due to that gigantic volume HUD that pops up right in the middle of the screen, hiding half of it?

This little, yet annoying scenario is now fixed, thanks to a new volume HUD that is located at the left side, right next to the physical volume buttons.
So trivial and yet so smart.

Bottom line: a bad micro-interaction that should have been solved 12 years ago, but we are all going to enjoy it.

4. Let’s have a toast! 

Oh, and while we’re talking, there’s also a new toast control that is used when switching to silent mode (see above) or when using the new undo/redo functionality (details below).
Toasts existed since the first version of Android (some believe they existed years before the first appearance of Homo sapiens in Africa), and have been widely used in mobile and web applications. The new iOS13 toasts are located on the top, which is no surprise if you think about Apple’s notifications system.
Bottom line: A nice addition to the operating system which will hopefully become a standard control (BTW, while writing this post I still haven't been able to find any formal documentation about it in Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines, which is a shame).

5. A much better typing experience

If you’re a heavy iPhone power user you’ll be happy to know that the typing experience (including editing text, copy/paste, etc.) has been dramatically improved.
Here are some of the improvements that captured my attention so far:
  1. The keyboard now supports swipe-typing (called: QuickPath)
  2. Easier to switch languages (finally! a dedicated button for emojis that doesn’t get in the way!) 
  3. Improved text selection
  4. Better cursor management (moving it around, placing on an accurate location) 
  5. Pinch to copy/cut/paste
  6. Undo/redo by using 3 fingers gestures

While the pinching stuff is a bit hard to get used to - the rest of the list is quite impressive

Bottom line: a huge improvement in iOS usability.

6. Improved screenshots functionality

If you are working a lot with screenshots you’ll find the new screenshots functionality extremely useful, especially the part where you can capture an entire web page as a long screenshot and store it in your files.

Bottom line: this one goes beyond usability as it includes some new features, but for me - it’s one of the best features in iOS13.

7. A new context menu… kind of… 

I’ve been complaining about iOS’s popup menus for quite a while. WhatsApp recently redesigned its’ popup menu and it then hit me that Apple must redesign its’ own menus as well.

"iOS 13 brings a new approach to context menus” - a bunch of words taken from Apple’s website, but how exactly is it different than what we had in previous iOS versions?
I will let you decide for yourself:

As you can see - the design has been revised a little bit (plus, some lovely icons were added, how lovely…) but the functionality is pretty much the same.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t include text editing, which still uses that weird little horizontal popup menu with those impossible to tap right/left arrows:

That's a shame.

Bottom line: not impressed.

8. Dark mode 

So dark mode is finally coming to iOS.
I loved the dark mode in my ancient Windows Phone (RIP), and can’t wait to start doing emails in an all-black email app.
I do have one complaint though: I think it’s time to get rid of that blue, it’s been there for way too long, and in the new dark mode it just doesn’t look good enough:

Bottom line: a great addition to iOS, hopefully, some UI enhancements will be added along the way.

9. Sign In with Apple

This is a huge deal for anyone that uses many apps and on a daily basis: being able to sign-up (and then sign-in) with one simple tap, instead of having to go through the usual email registration, will help save a few seconds each day while hopefully reducing the amount of email spam.

There are already a bunch of such useful features in iOS (instant pasting to a code activation received in SMS, AutoFill passwords, etc.) and I think the sign in with Apple is going to be a great addition.
Handle your app’s keyboard like a pro without messing up the usability.

Bottom line: love it as a user, but as an app developer - I smell troubles...

Side note: overall UI design changes

The deep-flat trend continues.

I wrote about this trend in mobile design a year ago: ever since iOS 11 was released, Apple is turning its’ flat UI into a deep-flat UI with vibrant gradients, light shadows, bold headers, chubbier icons, and rounded edges.

This trend continues in iOS 13: many of the icons were slightly modified, the ‘plus’ button now has a background and headers became even bolder:

Some UI element got a bit of a 3D love: the new toast has a nice drop shadow and the famous segment control got a significant depth:

I’m not a huge fan of those occasional 3D additions: I understand the trend, I’m not against it, but the changes are not consistent across the UI: some elements and icons are still very thin and completely flat while others are bold and have some depth or shadow. Even the new plus [+] icon is not consistent across all of the stock apps and the old plus button still exists in some of them.
It bothers me.

I’m not a huge fan of those occasional 3D additions: I understand the trend, I’m not against it, but the changes are not consistent across the UI!

And if you miss some good old skeuomorphism - you’re in for a nice surprise:

Bottom line: Flat UI 2.0 (or: Deep Flat) continues but as iOS grows and expands, the design is getting messy and there are many design inconsistencies.

10. Is that a kebab menu or are you just happy to see me?

The mobile UI is getting crowded. Features are added all the time, but the quest for clean, clutter-free UI continues, so instead of adding more buttons, iOS 13 introduces a new 3 dots button, that acts as a “more options” menu.
As with other cases - this is not a consistent design decision as the 3 dots button exists only in some of the apps (notes, messages, reminders, etc.) but not in all of them. Hopefully, this will be fixed in later versions of iOS 13.

Bottom line: a practical solution taken from Android’s material design - useful when there aren’t better alternatives.

So there you have it, 10 UI enhancements that are expected to influence the way we, iPhone users, are going to interact with our precious device in the next year or so...

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