The family was sitting in the dimly lit dining room of a rural pub. Phones had been noticeably absent during a weekend of walking, biking and hearty dinners inspired by the arrival of autumn. However, the party was preparing to disband and car journeys home were looming, so phones were produced and the question of ‘who has reception?’ raised its head.
One member of the group, 60, took out his iPhone 4, held it at arm’s length and narrowed his eyes in an attempt to focus on the signal strength indicator in the top corner of the screen.
Unable to see the screen himself without his glasses, he asked one of the other members of the party, of similar age, sitting next to him.
“What does that say?”
“Um… Slide. To. Unlock.” She replied, reading the words aloud one by one.
A certain amount of teasing from the younger members of the party ensued and, eventually, it was established that it was the tiny row of dots in the top corner of the iOS lock screen which indicated that coverage was alternating between ‘none’ and ‘a little’.
Apple’s decision to move to a linear row of dots from iOS 7 onwards, instead of the traditional ‘ascending bars’ found on older iPhones (and almost every other mobile device), has already been widely discussed elsewhere. However, it seems to boil down to a single question: what did Apple gain by changing this UI convention, other than being different? Part of good design is understanding when the ubiquity of a certain approach is a recommendation in itself, even if it means making compromises with your own aesthetic.
Could a manufacture achieve competitive differentiation by taking an alternative route? Perhaps utilising LED indicators or new forms of luminescent casing material to create a device which changed colour, chameleon-like in response to signal strength?
There’s another user insight which arises from this situation: the correlation between getting older and wanting a big screen device. Burgeoning sales of mobile devices with 5+ inch screens have led to analysts to question whether they can even be thought of as ‘phones’, but for certain user segments – where eyesight is naturally deteriorating with age – that is exactly how they are perceived. The decision to purchase a device with a 5 inch plus screen is not always driven by a desire to be consume large quantities of video or browse web pages, but can simply be a result of ‘liking the big text’ – a phrase I’ve heard repeatedly from users in this category.
Also worth noting is that display resolution is not usually a primary concern among this group, not least because as eyesight becomes less accurate, so too does the ability to discern individual pixels. With most 5+ inch devices now boasting at least 720p resolution, it is the size of onscreen fonts and icons which takes priority over raw pixel density.