Remember how we could actually use a phone with just a single hand back in the days? We could simply text a friend with just one finger pressing on all the buttons on the tiny phone, and accomplish every task we want with just one hand. Inevitably, this small form factor disappears over the years, and now, all we have in the market are the tall, slim, and ridiculously big phones that unexpectedly fit so comfortably in our hands today. Nonetheless, I think it’s time that both smartphone manufacturers and app developers start considering this usability aspect of tall phones.
iOS vs Android usability
From day-to-day tasks like email and Twitter to reading notifications from various apps, somehow, at some point of the day, we have to reach our fingers to the top of the screen to pull down the notification shade which lives at the top of the screen. Also, the icons for your Bluetooth and WiFi still stay up there (even iOS switched from the swipe-up to this pull-down interface in the iPhone X), and sad to say, some of your favorite apps are at the top of the screen too. Fortunately, with Android comes customizability and most phones offer one-handed feature which allows us to have the entire screen shrunk at one corner with a simple swipe or tap. For example, Huawei has included one smart feature that lets users reveal the notification shade by just swiping down from the rear fingerprint scanner. OnePlus has come quite clean with its OS and has one of the best solution to tackle this problem in my opinion, where it allows users to swipe down from anywhere on the home screen to access the notification shade. Other Android manufacturers have also come up with such solution of one-handed mode and very pleasingly, these features have been my go-to whenever I am busy eating with my right hand.
In iOS, reachability is not an issue as all you need to do is to double tap/touch the Home button (for iPhone 8 Plus and below) or swipe down at the very bottom of the display (for iPhone X) to get access to the one-handed mode where the screen will be shrunk to one corner for easy access to any part of the UI. It indeed is a well-thought idea from both Android and iOS but the extensively growing aspect ratio in displays mean they have to work more on such features to better enhance the experience when using such modes.
It’s time for app developers to do something
Solving the notification shade problem leads us to another, which is how most of the apps that we use have icons in their UI that are far above at the top of the screen. For example, the Facebook app has all the icons for stories, friends and notifications well displayed at the top of the screen, and WhatsApp has a three-dot menu resting on the right corner of the screen which makes me bend my wrist every time just to reach for the menu, let alone apps that have menus at the far top left of the screen (for right-handed users of course). The apparent reason why all icons seem to love the corners and the top of the screen is because all of our content are in the center portion of the screen, hence app developers are making it the general rule of thumb to squeeze everything else either at the corners or the top.
However, app developers are already slowly making refinements as we can see Twitter adjusting to the changes here because as of now, the icons which were once at the top of the display have now shifted to the bottom and it has brought about a huge difference in the way I use Twitter on a daily basis, basically a much better experience overall. If other app developers could also follow in the footsteps of such changes, it would be a much better experience with their apps alongside a tall screen.
Creative innovations for screen panels in smartphones
As screens are getting to a one-size-fits-all standard, we will not be seeing any drastic changes to the screen sizes for the time being which means app developers will have to do their part in making tall screens easier to use. While manufacturers still have to give in to the users’ demand of having tall screens, it is time they also start working with app developers more actively from the back-end on this issue. However, it is possible that smartphone manufacturers could be having another solution idea, which is to make a foldable phone because tall screens open up to more creative innovations and it might just be the right time to witness such great feats from different manufacturers. But also, the UI of such foldable phones will need to include reachability features if it means a tall screen is included. How smartphone manufacturers and app developers can come out with a solution is something we hope to see in the near future.
Despite all the complaints we have on such features, developers, specifically the Android platform, are making huge efforts in delivering a meticulously enhanced experience with tall screens. Smartphone manufacturers like Google and OnePlus have made changes to physical hardware placement like the volume rockers and the alert slider to allow better reachability. It seems that they are aware of the issues with tall phones and improvements are constantly being made to give users the needed satisfaction. However, it will be the OS developers who will need to sync their work with manufacturers to make reachability an option for users. It will be more interesting when we see how Android P will tackle these problems when it rolls out later this year and we are hoping to see how developers can tackle this situation and provide a more enjoyable experience.