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Five ways Apple could improve iPhone X usability

I stand by my claim that iPhone X is the best damn product Apple has ever made but that doesn't mean it can't and shouldn't get better. That includes how new features like Face ID, gesture navigation, Control Center access, and Lock screen buttons are currently implemented.

None of these will come as news or a surprise to Apple. Designers and engineers prototyped all of them and more for a long time before we ever got to see iPhone X. In some cases, there might be really good reasons for rejecting them. In others, the decisions may have been very, very close. Either way, Apple has changed and evolved its collective mind in the past, and they'll certainly do so again. Maybe. Hi.

But these are my pitches, taken from a lot of your questions and feedback, for tweaks minor and major Apple could make to improve iPhone X usability for all of us.

1. Rest Gaze to Open

One of the most frequent questions I've gotten since the iPhone X event: "Is there a setting so I can skip swiping up to go Home?" As currently implemented, Face ID handles unlock, but you still have to swipe to open the Home screen.

Yes, swiping up protects against unintentional unlocks. Yes, swiping up harkens back to the original iPhone "swipe to unlock" gesture. Yes, swiping up prevents you blowing right through Lock screen notifications. But some people still want the option to simply look at their iPhone X and have Face ID not only unlock but open as well. Some for accessibility reasons. Others just for convenience.

Touch ID-equipped iPhones have just such a setting for "Rest Finger to Open", which eliminates the need to click the Home button to open. A "Rest Gaze to Open" would do the same for the Face ID-equipped iPhone X. It would let you get in with just one look.

Filed with Apple as feature request rdar://35494753.

2. Hide Home Indicator

Probably the second most frequent question I've gotten is "can I hide the Home Indicator?" The Home Indicator is a bright white or pitch black line near the very bottom of the screen that replaces the Home button on iPhone X. It shows you where your finger should go to initiate the new navigation gestures, like swipe up to go Home or sideways to go back.

Apps can choose to hide the Home indicator after two seconds and media players can make it disappear while you're watching. In both cases, though, it'll come back as soon as you start poking around again. And, in neither case, can you the user choose to hide it.

A "Hide Home Indicator" toggle in Settings would let people who are already familiar with the gesture area, and for whom the Home Indicator is overly bright or otherwise annoying or distracting, turn it off permanently.

If that's too extreme, a "Fade Home Indicator" could set the transparency way, way down so it's not as constantly in-your-face.

Filed with Apple as feature request rdar://35494916.

3. Control Center in the Switcher

Since iOS 7 you've not only been able to swipe down from the top bezel to get Notification Center but swipe up from the to get Control Center as well. Until iPhone X.

Because swipe up has been taken over by the new Home and Multitasking gestures, Control Center has been forced to move in upstairs and live alongside Notification Center. It works, especially because the "horns" makes it easy to distinguish the two sides — Control Center is only accessible from the right. But it's much harder to access one-handed. I can reach it, but my thumb has to really reach for it. Those with smaller hands, not so much.

Apple seems to have seriously considered a second way to access Control Center: Through the Multitasking interface. Similar to iOS 11 on iPad, a swipe up would populate the left side of the interface with the standard content — in this case, the fast app card switcher interface — and the right side with Control Center. (A concept design by @marshalbock provides for an even legible, iPad-style treatment.)

It would make all the important toggles available right from the bottom of the screen and accessible to everyone regardless of thumb reach.

Filed with Apple as feature request rdar://35494975

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4. Rotation Lock… except for media

iPhone X has an iPhone Plus-sized screen crammed into a regular iPhone-sized body. But it doesn't have an iPhone Plus-classed body. Where iPhone Plus switches into an iPad-style "regular size class" layout in landscape mode, iPhone X stays iPhone-style "compact size class" layout.

Combined with the "horns", which are more noticeable in landscape than portrait, and it makes landscape mode on iPhone X a lot less valuable than it was on iPhone Plus, and orientation lock a lot more compelling. Except for apps with landscape media.

Some apps, like Netflix, override portrait lock for video and force landscape. Apple's apps, like Photos and TV, currently choose not to.

If there's really a pressing need to let people see massively pillar-boxed content on iPhone, Apple could solve for it in a similar way to location permission — by offering a toggle between three behavior states. Instead if "never", "in-app", and "always", Apple could offer "no lock", "lock except for media", and "lock always". Then, the Control Center switch could reflect off and whichever "on" state was previously selected.

But that's messy. Forcing landscape mode for landscape media, like Netflix does, is simpler and better.

Filed with Apple as feature request rdar://35494996.

5. Customizable Lock screen shortcuts

iPhone X has two shortcut buttons on the bottom corners of the Lock screen. On the left is Flashlight. On the right, Camera. They work terrifically well — one of the best feeling and animated implementations of 3D Touch yet. But what if you don't use the Flashlight much, and what if the sideways swipe from the Lock screen to access Camera is already muscle-memory for you?

With iOS 11, Apple capital-f-finally enabled basic customization for Control Center. It won't let you set shortcuts to Apple Store apps, but it will let you add, remove, and otherwise change up what's in and what's out of the easy access panel.

Don't want Flashlight but do want timers for cooking or stopwatches for work outs? Don't need Camera but do need Voice Memos or Apple TV remote? It'd be great if the Lock screen buttons offered a similar level of customization.

Filed with Apple as feature request rdar://35495093.

More most-wanted?

These five come from the questions I've been asked and the friction I've encountered most often. If you have higher or different priorities, I'd love to hear them.

Rene Ritchie
Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

37 Comments
  • I agree with everything and I am sure Apple are collecting analytics that show usage. If we don’t get some changes in the next point release I would be surprised.
  • I like all of these and would utilize all of them. Here’s hoping they come and not in iOS 12, but in a future point release. Come on Apple!
  • Home indicator line mainly. It really sticks out in kindle app (or even ibooks) when reading. I understand Apple putting it there but toggling it off in settings would be helpful.
  • YES!! i have to rest my thumb over it in Kindle to be able to read. Very distracting.
  • Good article Rene but how do you file feature requests with apple? I have a huge list.
  • https://www.apple.com/feedback/#mn_p
  • He's filing what are called "Radar"s through the developer program, but the best place for anyone else to do it is apple.com/feedback.
  • I'd like an option to always show the Battery Percentage in some way as I really miss that. Either on top of the battery icon, or separately like before. There is plenty of unused space at the top of the "horns".
  • Why not put the control center as a swipe left on the home indicator? In the past, if you were on your main home screen, you could swipe right and bring up the search screen etc. Now, with app switching on the home indicator, your active screen usually means there is nothing to the right. Trying to swipe left just bounces back. Make that the Control Center. Most times it will work if you're not actively switching apps and if you are, its' only a few swipes.
  • It's probably heresy to say this, but I'd like to see a back button at the bottom like on Android. Or make the Apple logo on the back touch sensitive. Swiping down on rear finger print sensors to access the notification shade on Pixels, Huawei and others' phones is a quite brilliant little feature. No reason why you couldn't swipe left to go back to save flipping between one handed and two handed use frequently.
  • The control center definitely needs to be rethought. One of my most used features has been made very difficult to access.
  • I too would like to see the battery percentage right on the home screen in addition to or in lieu of the battery icon. That’s something I want to be able to view with just a quick glance without having to swipe down control center or swiping to the widgets page.
  • When Apple develops a phone with an edge-to-edge screen and a stylus, I'll come back.
  • This phone does have an edge-to-edge screen, unless you're referring to the notch (which is actually there because Apple wanted to keep the screens going to the edge). Having the Apple Pencil work on the iPhone would be great though
  • As long as there is a Samsung Note 8, Apple can't claim that the iPhone X has an edge-to-edge screen with a straight face.
  • Apple made the edge-to-edge display to appease people like you, and you go and throw it back in Apple's face. If you're really that into Samsung, why are you here?
  • Because I am an Apple fan who is disappointed in the iPhone X. The author of this article asked what improvements I would like to see. I offered my opinion. Why does that make you angry?
  • Because you're literally saying it's not an edge-to-edge display just because it doesn't go as far to the edge as Samsung's does. Apple have their own reasons for designing it as they did, the main one being that it prevents accidental touches. And considering it does that, that actually improves iPhone X usability, it doesn't make it worse. What you're asking for is to do with aesthetics, not usability, and what you want would actually decrease usability.
  • It literally is not an edge to edge display if the display does not go to the edge. I would forgive Apple for this design if Samsung hadn't first developed a true edge to edge display. That's all I'm saying. As a Note 8 user, I can assure you that accidental touches are not an issue with Samsung's edge-to-edge design. I do agree with you that the Galaxy screens are more aesthetically pleasing.
  • It can happen, but anyway, Apple made their choice. I can't see them making it any thinner round the edges
  • I respect Apple and am sure there are good reasons for that design, but my expectations were sky high after seeing what Samsung was able to do with their displays.
  • There are too many phones with legit edge to edge displays to claim this one is, and not look like a complete and utter fool. Get over yourself. The bezels areound the screen as as big as the side bezels on an iPhone 6. It’s noticeably not edge to edge.
  • The only person looking like a fool is you. Apple knew the public wanted an edge-to-edge display, and they gave you that. But you still want to moan, so who looks like the silly one here? If it's not for you, then move to Android. I honestly think that the iPhone X looks great, it's comfortable to hold, I don't worry about touching the edges of the display.
  • I understand your phobia of touching the edges of the display. With all of the silly gestures that Apple introduced with this phone, I guess I would be too.
  • Samsung has lots of "silly gestures" to, in fact they have an easily accidentally-pressed button which activates "Bixby", a copycat of Google Assistant. Besides, I've tried out an iPhone X. The gestures worked great for me, just the Control Center was hard to reach as I'm left-handed, but that would be easily fixed by just allowing us to choose which side it's on
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  • Control Center workaround: If you want some extra shortcuts, check out Settings-->General-->Accessibility--AssistiveTouch. Under "Custom Actions," you can place a small "AssistiveTouch" icon on the screen that can be tapped for custom actions (works best if you have some open space at the bottom of the home screen, for example). I have two set up: one tap for Control Center and two taps for multitasking. Only problem is that that little sucker likes to migrate around a bit. Just tap and hold to put it back.
  • While I may not use them all, I'd love to see all of these feature suggestions added as an option that we could consider. --And I'll add one more: a setting so that unlocking the device goes to the home screen (instead of the last used app). It's actually pretty rare that I want to return to my last-used-app when I'm unlocking the phone; plus, it could potentially be embarrassing if you unlock the phone in public and forgot about that sexy pic your girlfriend had texted you or the controversial headline you had previously clicked on (etc etc etc). Just make it a toggle that you can choose or not choose to use. For now, I'm trying to get myself in the habit of swiping back to the home screen BEFORE I lock the phone.
  • Agree with pretty much everything listed. Before getting my X I used control center all the time. Now I maybe use it once every day or every other day. To me that’s the biggest gesture issue with the X. Apple needs to come up with something better. Reaching the top right (or left notch) is a PITA and unless you have gigantic hands you have to use 2 hands to use it. Maybe a 3D Touch on the bottom bar (home button replacement one) or something else. Control Center got a ton more usefull with iOS 11 just to be forgotten again with the X. I would eventually love to see Apple allow certain types of apps to add functions to control center. Yeah there are widgets Notification Center is even harder to invoke for right handed users, but rarely use it so not a big deal to me. If I need to see my notifications I just lock the screen. This isn’t something they can fix through software, but IMO it would have made sense to add a second right side button to the device. Maybe not as big as the one already there, but something. A single tap could take you home, double tap for control center and tap and hold for notifications. Accessing the app switcher isn’t the worst gesture, but I hate having to swipe up and pause ( or swipe up them a little right - sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t). Then if there is an app you want/need to kill you have to do a medium long press and either click the red close button or swipe away as before. This just seems clunky and not “Apple Magic” like. Also, watch out if you choose to swipe to close because almost every time it closes an app I didn’t mean to close. It may just be my fat fingers. The reachability gester is also a PITA. I get it right probably 40-50% of the time. It seems like Apple could have r made much better use of 3D Touch with these gestures to simplify them. Swipe to switch apps is great except sometimes if I try to swipe back right to get to the previous app I find that it is now occupied by the app I was switching to in the first place. Not sure what they could do to improve this or if it’s something I’m doing wrong and need to do better. The horns: I don’t find them and I am glad that Apple included them (at least until they found figure out a way to put all of that massive/freaking cool tech under the screen. The issue is the information that is displayed. It either needs to be user customizable or make the information smaller and double stack it. Just the time taking up the entire left horn seems like a waste. Why not make it a tiny bit smaller, and move it up and include bluethooth indicaton under it. I hate not having my batter percentage show up. On every I Apple device I have ever owned (which is pretty much all of them) one of the 1st things I do is change the battery indicator to show the %. Apple should allow users to pick between the battery icon (useless IMO) or the battery %. The icon has made me not worry about my battery % as much, but it has also caused me to get the 20% of batter life left notification way more than before (which was pretty much never). Despite all of this, the iPhone X is still by far the best iPhone, or any phone for the matter, that I have ever used. A lot of these issues can be tweaked through software (save for adding another side button), and I’m hopeful Apple will refine it in future versions of iOS 11. And while I love my iPhone X, I am hoping (pretty, pretty please) that next year we get an iPhone X Plus/ iPhone XL. I loved the size of my 7 Plus’ body, but just wanted more screen. The X is a little slimmer, which has caused me to do some retraining of my brain for when I type (keyboard buttons seem smaller more cramped). If Apple does an iPhone XL I will gladly give them all of my money. P.S. Apple please do something with the empty space below the keyboard! I’m thinking it would be the perfect place to add some automation type buttons from that awesome app you acquired (Workflow).
  • Would like the option to completely eliminate the "home button" line at bottom after logging onto the phone. Swiping up is no different than any other gesture that has to be learned, so why not give us the option to have it go away on all apps? For those that need the reminder they can simply leave it as default. Also agree with other person that would like option to see battery in percentage. versus the b&w image of battery. And lastly, would love to be able to turn off apps old school way by swiping up versus having to hold then press red x on each app.
    .
  • You can swipe them after you get the red x's to appear. I tried out of habit, and they swipe right away! Just have to get the red x to show, then swipe them all away like before.
  • The most important change for me would be a way to quickly shift my Airpods to the iPhone from my other gadgets. Right now I have to go to the control center, press hard on the icon in upper right corner of Now Playing and choose Airpods. Seems there should be a snappier way.
  • +1 for battery percentage indicator in the right horn in place of the vague battery gauge.
  • It's a small thing but I bet Apple addresses it. Before iOS 11, if a Message notification popped up and I didn't respond, it'd repeat a bit later. Same with 11, but now the notification is privacy-protected until unlock. However, on the iPhone X, if I glance at a Message notification, it'll show me the actual message. That's GREAT! What's NOT so great is that this doesn't mark the message as having been seen; a bit later the notification—again, private with no user-private info shown—pops up again. No, Apple, I saw it but didn't need to do anything. You knew that.
  • Thousands of years ago, word was that the slow start to Watch sales was due to Apple having little idea -- maybe less -- what mix of watches and bands to manufacture.
    I know that the X's problem was due to component issues but I wonder whether there's also a problem with an 8/8 Plus/X mix. Indeed, there seems to be an issue where the 8 was apparently over-produced in that the demand is for the more expensive 8 Plus and X.
    As for the Home Line (I like that better than Home indicator): I've played (but have yet to purchase one) and I'd like to see the choice for swiping down as either for Reachability or Control Center. That said, I was putzing around with my 6s and relatively small hand and found that I could reach the closer top corner without a problem. Then again, talk about 1% problems, needing two hands to get to Notification or Control Center.
  • All I came here for was to ask where I can get that OG iPhone 2G promo wallpaper!?!?!?!
    I hate that Apple used that wallpaper in their promo shots but never put it on their phones.
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