In an early version of the BBC’s iPhone 5 launch story the main image was captioned ”Apple said the larger screen could still be easily operated with one hand”.
I read that and thought, still?
Last year I spent some time using the Guardian’s iPhone app and wondered why I found it so awkward to navigate when the Android app I was used to is basically the same thing just with some Android tweaks. The awkwardness came from needing to press the back button in the top left. I couldn’t reach it with my thumb.
I couldn’t reach the top left on the HTC Desire I was using either but it didn’t matter because you navigate back using the hardware back button at the bottom of the phone. Ben Lang on Carrypad points out that the (old) iPhone dimensions are generally better for one-handed use as the squarer proportions give the thumb more range, but it’s specifically the iOS design pattern of back top left that thwarts me. Other stuff appears in the top left on Android apps but not things i need for every other interaction.
Ben makes a similar complaint about the Android interface but I don’t find the notifications to be core interactions and centre-top isn’t as hard to reach left-top.
“Both the buttons… and the status bar, are always persistent, no matter where you are in the OS. You have to constantly use the Android buttons to navigate through apps and the home screen, and you have to pull the status bar down with your thumb to access any notification that comes through to the device. The core functionality of the device involves reaching your thumb from even further below the bottom of the screen to hit the buttons, then all the way to the very top of the screen to pull the notifications menu down.”
I guess on the larger screen sizes that Ben is concerned about even centre-top becomes a difficult reach. But top-left is a problem for me even on the 3:2 ratio iPhones.
Now I know I’m generally a smaller scale human being but I didn’t think my hands were exceptionally dinky. Hand anthropometry data confirmed my thumb is on the small size but not freakishly so.
Apart from Ben’s article I only came across one other piece on how (small) hand size might affect touch screen design. There seems to be more out there about larger fingers and the challenges they have with typing and target areas.
Interface Design for Single-Handed Use of Small Devices by Amy Karlson doesn’t go into huge depth about button positioning and thumb reach but she does mention:
“Additionally, thumb movement along the (top left – bottom right) diagonal direction was slower than for the other directions, suggesting a biomechanical constraint for that type of movement.”
So it appears that if my thumb and I want to use my phone single handed then I’ll have to stay away from iPhones. Given the trend with Android and Windows seems to be bigger and more rectangular, I may be increasingly out of luck there too. Can we have a small phone backlash please? And no important stuff top-left ok?