Programming the iPhone : UX Anti-Patterns - Billboards

10/3/2012 2:19:10 AM

Despite the Human Interface Guidelines’ recommendation that launch screens act as visual placeholders for loading applications, a large number of applications use the delay as an opportunity to perform a bit of branding. In the cooperative interaction model, applications should feel as though they aren’t opening and closing, but rather pausing and unpausing. Users should feel that they are cycling through a suite of highly responsive applications, rather than having their experience interrupted by a full-screen logo, advertisement, or “About” screen.

For example, Tweetie is an application that reveals the user interface progressively, as described in the HIG. Figure 1 shows the opening sequence for Tweetie.

Figure 1. The opening sequence for Tweetie

Imagine a user who launches her email client and reads a message with a link to a website. Upon clicking the link, Mail closes and Safari launches with the site URL. The user decides to email the link to another person, invoking the “Mail Link to this Page” command in Safari. Safari quits and the Mail application launches with a new message pre-populated with the link to the site.

The flow between the two applications is highly cooperative. Each performs a specific role and works with the other to let the user accomplish her goal of sharing an interesting link. The user sees that the two applications are passing focus back and forth.

Now imagine the same flow if each application were to show a splash screen with a logo or advertisement. The user experience would suffer because the illusion of cooperation and seamless flow between applications would be destroyed.

Figure 2 shows the launch and main screens for the Streaks application. Though it is beautiful and informative, the launch screen can interrupt the flow between applications if users switch between Streaks and other applications many times in a single session.

The Wurdle application takes a similar approach to the loading screen. Figure 3 shows the launch sequence for Wurdle.

Immersive games are somewhat of an exception, but even gamers rarely wish to watch the same branded splash video each time they launch a game. The focus should always be on users, and all possible efforts should be made to improve their experience. Some applications abuse the sleep() function to purposely display the launch screen longer than the application requires.

Figure 2. The launch and main screens for Streaks

Figure 3. The launch sequence for Wurdle

Some applications look very different at each launch. An application that uses a tab bar may be programmed to store the number of the tab that is displayed when the application is closed, allowing the application to programmatically restart with the same tab focused. If each tab looks very different, it may be difficult to design a launch screen that smoothly follows the pattern Apple built into the launch sequence. Developers can often reduce the graphics to a bare minimum for the launch screen, even using a solid color or image as the background for all tabbed views.

Some applications use the concept of themes to let users change the colors and layout of elements on screen. For example, Twitterrific lets users choose from several very different themes. There is no common color or background among views, and even the system status bar differs among themes. In such extreme cases, a simple splash screen that transitions to the custom color scheme using animation could be an option. Misused animations can be as disruptive as billboards, so any such transitions should be subtle.

The goal of a launch screen is to create the illusion that an application loads instantly. Billboards are counterproductive to that goal. If the only satisfactory option is a distinct launch screen, developers should pass on the opportunity to create a loud, branded billboard and opt for something users won’t mind seeing multiple times per day.
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