Comment: iOS status bar on iPhone and iPad needs a redesign

Apple’s conservative approach to the iOS status bar on iPhone and iPad is easily one of the clear design victories over Android’s unruly approach. Android, by design, will show separate icons for each Twitter mention, Instagram comment, Facebook alert and any other alerts, which I personally find overwhelming and just plain ugly. iOS does not allow app icons to clutter the status bar. Instead, it uses temporary banners, lock screen messages, app icon badges, and the notification center curtain to show you what you’ve been missing. But I’ve noticed a few instances recently where the iOS status bar has gotten sloppy and needs some real attention before iOS 10.

My first example is the one I first highlighted in my iPhone SE review. Apple seems to design iOS for the 4.7-inch iPhone and then scale from there for the 5.5-inch and 4-inch models. The share sheet is my best proof: the icons here are too far apart on the 4-inch iPhone (the padding was greatly reduced on iOS 7 before the big iPhones). You get used to it, but then there’s the status bar. Did you know it scrolls text when it can’t fit everything in one view? Here is what I wrote in April:

But on the iPhone SE, you’ll sometimes encounter a layout that looks cluttered or just isn’t optimized for the small screen.

I don’t recall this being an issue when using older iPhones before, so I’m pretty sure it’s an issue with targeting the default mid-sized display. The status bar and the action sheet are perfect examples. Wi-Fi calling is a thing now, so my carrier name sometimes points to Wi-Fi after AT&T to signal the mode change. The result is a cluttered line of text on the lock screen with a scrolling carrier name.

The iPhone SE has almost the same external design as the iPhone 5s it replaces, but I still didn’t expect those quirks. Partly, that’s because I think earlier versions of iOS (including iOS 7) were designed alone for the 4-inch screen, then iOS 8 and later was tweaked slightly to look better on larger screens at the expense of the then aging 4-inch iPhones.

I love almost everything on my iPhone SE except the status bar. I actually changed the way I use my iPhone to avoid clutter. I turned off wifi calling because it changes my carrier from “AT&T” to “AT&T Wi-Fi” and almost always hits the clock in the middle. I turned off my battery percentage for the first time (although that was quite nice) and moved all my regular alarms to Apple Watch to remove the clock icon.

Before

After

Form over function – frustrating but it works.

My second example is the Now Playing screen on Apple Music and Podcasts. I guess this is supposed to look modern, but iOS shows large edge-to-edge artwork below the status bar and a hide button.

This looks fine on simple illustrations, but still changes the appearance of the illustration and often interferes with readability. Apple tends to do a great job with accessibility, but even settings like Bold Text and Increase Contrast don’t increase readability here:

Bold White Album

This is where I think the problem starts: it looks fine when exploded on my Mac, but even with decent vision my brain takes a second or three longer to decipher what the status bar is saying on my iPhone. White-on-gray text is almost invisible when brightness is also reduced to normal indoor levels.

Then there’s my last example, which is what got me thinking yesterday: text on text.

podcasts

Nobody wins in this situation. iOS started doing this before The Ax Files podcast started, and Apple’s Podcasts app is probably where many subscribers listen to this podcast, but Apple shouldn’t force designers to get around the bar. iOS state and close button. If Google did that, I would call it arrogant or ignorant.

9to5Mac’s Happy hour podcast the illustration is OK (thanks Michael Steber) by accident, just like The Talk Show:

But then there are other shows with podcast artwork that look just fine…until iOS takes over:

In the best-case scenario, the iOS status bar on the artwork looks sleek, and the floating dismiss button becomes part of the artwork. But there are far too many examples of this unusable “cool” trick. Here’s hoping iOS 10 at WWDC rethinks how it works, and bonus points to Apple if the status bar gets improvements on smaller iPhones.

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