iOS 11 Multitasking – Show them the way

With iOS 11 Apple added some superuser functions for the iPad, split screen interactions, drag and drop functionality etc. etc.. I welcome these changes because it makes the iPad feel more like a “for work” device. These features, though, often go unnoticed by casual or typical users.

The tips app that is built in is nice to help people, but we can do better than that. Let’s take one experience iOS 11 introduced and changed. How can we add a signifier to improve multitasking for the typical user, you know like our moms?

How can we implement a signifier to the iOS multitasking feature to make it more accessible for casual users?

Affordances are the Key

“…the term affordance refers to the perceived and actual properties of the thing, primarily those fundamental properties that determine just how the thing could possibly be used. […] Affordances provide strong clues to the operations of things. Plates are for pushing. Knobs are for turning. Slots are for inserting things into. Balls are for throwing or bouncing. When affordances are taken advantage of, the user knows what to do just by looking: no picture, label, or instruction needed.” (Norman 1988, p.9)

Basically a physical object implies its use by the physical properties that it has. Have you ever tried to use the blade end of a pair of scissors and cut things with the handle instead? Probably (and hopefully) not. This is because the end with the handle and its holes implies (or affords) its use. Affordance.

Signifiers Add Visibility to Affordances

But what about your iPad that has an unlimited amount of affordances, with no physical objects to guide your brain? iOS11 multitasking, for example, falls down in this respect because there is no way to know how to use certain features, or that they even exist, unless you are trained. iOS for years has been successful because its interaction design has been one that typical users could figure things out. Try to explain, without showing, to someone how to invoke split screen in iOS 11. It’s difficult.

Enter signifiers. A signifier is anything that can help a user infer those affordances without a tutorial. We need to give our scissor blades orange grippy looking handles. iOS should somehow say “Psst, there’s this great thing called multitasking and if you just [do this] the interface will [do that].“ without actually saying it in words.

For the sake of my mom and yours let’s add a signifier to the interaction shall we?

There is much to consider because the multitasking interaction can be very complex. But for the sake of this exercise let’s look at how it works currently and one way a signifier can help.

A user has to:

  1. Swipe up to show the Dock.
  2. Tap and hold just long enough for the icon to lift off the dock
  3. Drag the icon over the active application
  4. If you to go into split screen; touch and drag down on the indicator at the top and voila

What can we do?

Let’s keep all that, but add a simple popover on tap of app icon in the dock.

The popover can be as simple as this:

So the new interaction could look something like this:

In iOS 11 if you tap on the icon it simply opens that app in full screen. It is likely though that a user in this state really wants to put that app in a slip screen configuration. By adding the popover suggested above the user it put back in the driver seat without ever loosing their current context.

They simply:

  1. Swipe up to reveal the Dock
  2. Tap on an app icon
  3. Select configuration

Certainly this could seemingly get in the way of a user that does know what they are doing. But the beauty of this solution is that if you know what you are doing you’ll rarely see it. If you prefer the current flow you can still touch and drag. If you do, this popover won’t get in your way since it only would display on touch up inside interaction on the icon.


What I’d like to see:

  1. A continued effort to make the iPad more Pro
  2. Apple add signifiers to affordances for all features of iOS that make typical users able to use them

By far the sharpest dresser of the group, Rob is the closest thing we have to a teenager, but thats not saying much (He is 30). When he’s not designing apps, he's playing his guitar at the local coffee shop. He speaks a little French and Spanish and lives in New York but is from Cajun country.

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