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The challenges creating virtual representations of physical layouts

The way that Apple represents a physical space in a virtual environment is really starting to bug me more and more. With the advent of IOS 7 and the heightened ability to see apps visually next to one another in a virtual space has made the need for a rethink more urgent.

Switching between apps may seem easy, but depending on how you switch between apps, the apps change their order based on which one you’re using at the time. This was slightly annoying in the previous versions of iOS, but it becomes just downright frustrating in iOS 7, where zooming out (4 finger swipe up) shows you a thumbnail of the apps that you’ve used in the last while. The app that you select from this list then moves to the beginning of this list. If you want to go back to the app you were previously using, the intuitive motion would be the 4 finger swipe from left to right, but instead of just leaving the app in the current position and making it active, iOS moves this app to the beginning of the list so there are no apps to the left! You have to swipe from right to left to get to the next app, or the one you were using last.

app switching issues
Why change the order of things?

I question the way that Apple implemented their ‘multitasking’ in the first place. You can only work on one app at a time in iOS anyway, so why have the paradigm of the home screen with its static app layout and then also provide the user with a counterintuitive Multi-tasking arrangement of apps that are currently ‘in use’? How could a user be expected to remember the order in which they last used their apps? If I’m switching between apps on my iPad, I usually only need to switch between 2 apps to do basic copy and paste tasks. Anything more than that becomes tedious on an iPad and I’ll usually resort to using my laptop.

IOS is supposed to keep your state when switching to another app, so why not simply keep the recently used apps in the order in which you used them?

I would really like to see a more consistent handling of physical space translates into virtual environments. This can be the make or break for interfaces. No matter how unique or innovative virtual interfaces are, as humans, we have specific ways (barring cultural and a few other exceptions) that we expect to interact with the world around us. If the order or placement of items in a virtual world is not what we expect, we’ll be confused and less likely to use the interface, or reach the desired outcome.

I’m also keen to start looking into a new paradigm for mobile (and indeed other devices) OS design. The current home screen and app list feels very siloed and is making less and less sense to me.

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