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]