Where The iPhone App Dashboard Breaks Down

Joe McCann

Apple is undeniably one of the best, if not the best, user-focused design companies in the world. The marriage of industrial design with elegant hardware and software has created one of the greatest devices ever: the iPhone.

With as much thought and subsequent execution that has gone into the design and development of the iPhone, there appears to me to be a glaring issue around one of the most fundamental interactions on the device, namely, finding an application on your dashboard.

The problems is as follows: I want to find application "X", but as I repeatedly swipe through screens, I can't seem to find it.

As Apple is certainly one of the most distinguished organizations when it comes to usability it appears that even they (currently) do not have a solution to this problem.

Think about it, when you begin to look for say the "Kayak" application, you know that it is:

Then there comes the number number of iterations of the following:

  1. View current dashboard screen (either by pressing the home button or swiping to a new page on the dashboard)
  2. Scan all icons visually to determine if app is available on screen
  3. If it is not immediatley visible, maybe it is in a folder, which then requires a tap to open the folder, and then scanning of the contents commences
  4. If the app is finally located, then great, if it is not, then one swipes to the next screen and repeats from step 1

iPhone Home Page 1

You'll notice there are four apps with orange icons on this screen as well!

iPhone Home Page 2

This process appears to work just fine for a handful of apps and maybe a folder or two. But eventually you collect more apps than that. Potentially, a lot more. And so you experience "app location fatigue" -- when you think of something to do with a particular app, but you spend 15-20 seconds looking for it, that you end up getting interrupted, frustrated or distracted with something else that you end up not using the app at all.

Scott Jenson gave a great talk at Mobile World Congress (MWC) on something very similar and wrote a blog post a while back about why native apps must die (no, it's the reason you might be thinking).

Eventually, the load, scan and swipe screen process does not scale as one adds more and more apps, which begs the question, then what is one to do?

It's actually very relative to what happened in the early dot-com space in the late 90s.

Back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, Yahoo at one point was king of the internet. People went to them for everything. News, weather, sports, games, entertainment, etc. But eventually their UI became quite cluttered and difficult to navigate based on what the user was actually aiming to do.

Yahoo Homepage 2000

A company stepped in with a new way altogether of navigating the internet: search. That company was Google.

Google stripped away everything from the UI and provided one field, one input, one gateway to the interent. A very simple user interface which is now known as the "search box". Google has arguably become the most successful company in the history of world (when one looks at age of company, they are quite young relative to market capitalization and profitability - never a losing quarter in their tenure as a publicly traded company) and it largely has to do with taking something as simple as the "launch point" for internet users and building a business around that interaction (advertisements in the search results - 98% of Google's revenue to this day).

We are already starting to see this type of UI take effect on mobile. Have a look at everything.me (it only works on mobile devices).

Everything.me 1

It's a search box. Period.

Everything.me 2

It searches for anything and finds mobile webapp versions of your search results and displays them as app icons.

Everything.me 3

Everything.me 4

Why can't the iPhone (or Android) dashboard work this way?

In my opinion, fundamental changes will be coming to the overall UX of mobile app usage and location. Everything.me is just a start. Is the "Google instead of Yahoo" moment happening right now?