Co.Design

Apple's Biggest Design Crime

Why can't Jony Ive of all people design a goddamn useable Shift key?

Want to play a fun little game? Okay, great! Which of these iOS 7 keyboards has the Shift key pressed?

Ready? Go!

Geoff Teehan

Did you guess correctly? Congratulations! After almost a year of using an iPhone or iPad running iOS 7, you have somehow internalized the moonman-huffing-paint-fumes UI logic that Jony Ive deployed when he designed the iOS 7 keyboard.

Got it wrong? Don't feel bad. Just like me, you probably know what it is like to waste non-refundable seconds of a short and pointless life bookended by dread expanses of infinity typing and re-typing text into your iPhone.

Here's an example. Let's say I'm tapping in an email. I'm a stickler for proper capitalization on my iPhone, even when I'm writing my wife, so I'm often tapping the Shift key. But here's the rub: if, for example, I lose my train of thought, or look up from typing for a second, or become unsure if I actually hit the Shift key or not, there's no way to tell if the next letter I'm going to type is capitalized or not.

What's going on? The issue here is the way the letters on the keyboard appear: whether the Shift key is pressed or not, the letters on the iOS keycaps are always capitalized. And because the letters are always capitalized, no normal human being using iOS 7 can tell if the goddamn Shift key is on or off without a healthy amount of trial and error.

True, the letters on previous versions of iOS keyboards were always displayed as all caps no matter what the Shift key was doing too. The distinction is that in previous versions of iOS, whether Shift was on or off was given a unique visual affordance: it would glow like a light, when the Shift key was on. In iOS 7, this doesn't happen: when pressed, the Shift key is colored white, just like a regular alphanumeric key. You can't tell what's going on with it except by paying close attention.

This isn't good design. It's not even bad design. This is design crime; a dastardly digital caper pulled off by none other than the company that constantly pats itself on the back for its design. And while it's true that the iOS 7 Shift key used to be worse, there's just no excuse for it, because fixing the iOS keyboard is literally this easy:

Geoff Teehan

But even though iOS 8 just around the corner, its keyboard faux pas is an embarrassment Apple is unlikely to change, except in the most roundabout way possible: finally allowing iOS users to install third-party keyboards.

Any guesses on what one of the most popular third-party keyboard on the App Store will be when Apple finally releases iOS 8? I'll bet it's the one that fixes the fucking Shift key.

[h/t Geoff Teehan]

[Top illustration: Harkoo]

Add New Comment

82 Comments

  • Laurentiu Victor Balasa

    Had the problem with the Shift Key also on my iPhone. Never realised it before though. I talked to my team after reading your article. We were already on an iOS keyboard for a while and we've quickly integrated a working uppercase/lowercase letter changing Shift key in our iOS Keyboard ( http://color-vibes.com/ )

    Thanks for pointing this out John. Hopefully this problem is being experience by a lot of Apple users, making our keyboard more popular.

  • idember

    I solved the shift key problem along with the whole infuriating experience of hunt-and-peck or thumb-typing on a ridiculously small, unresponsive bitmapped keyboard.

    I use a physical keyboard.

    Folded, it fits in my pocket. If I'm typing more than 2-4 words on my iPhone, I pull the keyboard from my pocket and slide the (physical) ON switch. Then I can type even long messages without a massive number of errors and without shifting every time I want to add a damn comma or period or number. To hell with all that.

    Is this solution perfect? No. It means carrying an extra device, of course. Beyond that, many Amazon reviewers criticize the position of the (yes) shift keys. There are some other physical design tradeoffs, including the space needed in middle, between keys, for folding.

    It takes some getting used to. Per reviews, some people hate the folding keyboard altogether. I myself find it manageable — especially compared with the nightmare of texting on a smartphone display.

  • Do real world actual keyboard jump from lower case letters to upper case when you hit shift? Don't be hilarious.

  • cicfrisken

    Have you, or anyone you know, performed any form of usability testing on this theory? Besides your personal experience, and thinking about the issue outside of its environment (ie animated GIFs on the Internet), I would argue that this is a non-issue conjured up by designers.

    Apple have statistics (metrics) of usage, and you bet you're ass they're monitoring keyboard usage (mistakes, accuracy etc). If there was legitimately an issue with this, they would have fixed it. There is absolutely no logical reason why they would not have, bar the fact that it's not an issue.

    Looking at your above image(s) you could argue it's confusing and difficult to use. On the contrary, I have never once accidentally turned my shift key on, or failed to turn it on in regular use. Period. Maybe I'm the odd one out here? Or maybe someone should do some independent usability testing to actually see if it's an issue?

  • ianjameswelch

    You don't even want a shift key. In fact Apple will take away your shift key, just like it took away the 17inch macbook pro, and upgradeable computing. Apple is now a white goods, consumable hardware, 2-3 year lifecycle, tough shit kind of company. It's all about making money whilst appearing to be innovative and controlling the spin.

  • ianjameswelch

    You don't even want a shift key. In fact Apple will take away your shift key, just like it took away the 17inch macbook pro, and upgradeable computing. Apple is now a white goods, consumable hardware, 2-3 year lifecycle, tough shit kind of company. It's all about making money whilst appearing to be innovative and controlling the spin.

  • Carlos Carvajalino

    #ATT: There is a easy way to type caps and free yourself at the sametime. Just tap the shift key and move your finger to the desired key. Tap-Move-Release: Easy enough?

  • Alexey Strelkov

    Russians laugh at your problem. In Russian layout we don't even have a comma, but we have a letter "ъ" which is used in less than 1% of words you would ever type. I dunno why cannot they place it as an alternate version of "ь" and use the freed space to place a comma.

  • The solution shown has been used on android devices for years and I would imagine has already occurred to Apple's designers, I wonder is it copy written by Google.