iOS 11: A Usability Audit

If you know anything about me, you'll know I love Apple's computers. They tend to have a fluidity of use and care for the experience of the user. In particular, I'm a huge fan of iOS, even given how closed the system tends to be (for the user's benefit). Apple's latest version of their mobile operating system, iOS 11, has been available to the public for over a month now, and since I've installed it on my iPhone 7, I've kept an eye out for how it's changed and how it's improved (or not), and I've written out my top points to share with all of you.

Point 1: Setting up the phone is much easier

photo courtesy of  imore.com

photo courtesy of imore.com

Let's face it, setting up a computer can be somewhat daunting, especially if you don't consider yourself "tech literate" (which is a whole other topic). One thing that Apple has done in iOS 11 is make it far easier for someone to set up their new device.

During the set-up phase of a brand new phone, one is given an option to engage in what Apple calls "Quick Start". All that is necessary in this process is to bring one of your other devices near the phone being set up, tap a few buttons, line up the camera of the new phone with an undulating sphere of dots (much like the set-up of Apple Watch), and voila, most of the set up is taken care of for you.

This feature earns high marks with me, considering how intimidating set up can be for people who don't speak the language of technology. While there is a bit of confusion-potential in this feature, including having to have another iOS 11 device within about an inch or two of the phone being set up as well as having to align the aforementioned spherical collection of dots in the view of the new device's camera, anything that helps simplify the set-up process is a winning feature in my book.

Point 2: Notifications are so much better

iOS's new unified notification center

iOS's new unified notification center

One gripe that I've had for a long time regarding iOS's usability is the disparate nature of notifications. Apple has in past versions tried various ways to organize notifications, including grouping them by app (thanks, iOS 9 😒), by status of "missed" or by date. Today in iOS 11, there is a much more cohesive collection of notifications I may have missed accessible to me through a simple gesture. While this isn't radically different from how notifications have been organized in the past, it feels like I'm getting everything in one place.

It should also be mentioned that notifications now have an option to only display the text of a notification only when the phone is unlocked, which both grants me a greater level of privacy while also allowing me to read my text messages in full without having to actually open the messages app. Nice one, Apple!

I think this notification center grants the user a much more cohesive view of their notifications, which is instrumental in the use of a phone like this. That being said, if I had one thing to correct, it would be the fact that the notification view, when accessed from an unlocked phone, looks like the lock screen, which to me is a bit confusing. All in all, however, a huge forward step in giving the user of iOS 11 a complete picture of their phone activity.

Point 3: Control center grants me much more... control!

iOS's new control center, a pretty collection of  squircles

iOS's new control center, a pretty collection of squircles

Control center, the collection of settings accessible from the bottom of the screen, has also been in flux over the last few generations of iOS. The last iteration in iOS 10 consisted of two panels side by side, which necessitated a swipe left or right to access the other. For someone like me who plays a lot of music on my phone, it was a struggle and I consistently made mistakes in using it.

So you can imagine my relief when Apple recreated the control center in iOS 11. It now exists as a collection of squircles (trust me, it IS a word) that grant the user a great deal of control in one place. In the top-right exists all of the settings for wireless connectivity (a mobile phone's bread and butter), followed by music controls, intuitive sliders for brightness and sound, among other quick settings. On an iPhone 6s or newer, one can 3D Touch any of these icons to expand the setting for more control.

I love this interface, but see a few opportunities for improvement. One thing that still kills me is that while I can see specifically which WiFi network I'm connected to (which is a plus), I still can't SELECT A NEW NETWORK from this panel. This bugs me to no end. How easy would it be for Apple to implement this functionality?? I can select which audio source my music plays to, but not quickly change the WiFi network I'm using. For that, I still have to dive into the settings. This disappoints me, but I know Rome wasn't built in a day, I'm optimistic that one day Apple's engineers will figure this one out.

All in all, iOS 11 is a positive step forward

The mobile operating system of today has come a long way since iPhone's launch ten years ago. While there are still numerous opportunities for improvement and growth in the iOS of today, it's so much more usable and you can tell Apple's software engineers are making a true effort to make it easier to use their devices.

I'll continue to have my gripes about iOS being somewhat inaccessible and cryptic to brand-new users until they feature a tutorial option like the first level of many video games or create a "simple-mode" that helps new users or people with limited technical experience still benefit from a smartphone without burying them with menus and tech jargon. With that said, I do think iOS is becoming a more enjoyable experience every year, and I look forward to what another ten years of iOS will enable us to do with our beloved little light-emitting rectangles. Until then, if you have any questions, comments, or words for me, feel free to drop me a line!