Fixing the iOS Shift Key

On or off, who knows?

#interface #ux

For a company that takes user experience so seriously, Apple sure have made a mess of something that’s been around since the invention of the modern day keyboard, the shift key.

One of the problems I encounter daily when using my iPhone to type a new email or a new text message, is knowing whether or not the shift key is on or off. My brain simply can’t get used to whatever convention Apple seems to have employed which can only mean one thing, bad UX.

If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

It wasn’t always this way, dare I say it, but this problem only started with the release of iOS 7. I’m a big fan of iOS 7 and the improvements it’s brought to the platorms design but prior to its ascension from the skeuomorphism dark ages, this wasn’t an issue, users knew exactly when the shift key was on or off. Look how simple it was:

Like I said, don’t get me wrong, iOS 7 was a massive leap forward in terms of design and UX, but with something this simple, you’d think theres no way they could break it. Wrong:

Contrast is key.

You can see the issue. With the shift key not pressed, you can locate the key quickly because it appears different to the core keys, just like the backspace key, on the whole that works.

Even at a stretch, you could get used to the convention of having the key white as an on state if it wasn’t for the ‘auto on’ state used to begin text messages and form fields. This confuses the situation even more because the user is presented with what looks like a key that isn’t pressed when it actually is. The white ‘shift’ key is pressed even though the other white keys are not, you see the inconsistentcy here. (Side note, this wasn’t an easy paragraph to write)

Let there be colour.

So how do we fix this without ruining the minimalist simplicity that is now at the core of the iOS UX? Well there are a number of options but probably the simplest solution is to use colour. The only other colour that appears in the keyboard is blue. Blue buttons are used for call to actions, for example if the keyboard shows up for a search, the return key is replaced with a blue search button. So the fix is to make the on state for the shift key blue, simple.

I honestly can’t see any problems with this solution. In my opinion, the shift key is important enough to warrant the addition of colour, it adds contrast and gives the user a clear indication of the state of the key without going too crazy like adding a glow effect.