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]

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97 Comments

  • Russ Reecer

    cheap, annoying always asking for a password..can't use the thing wihout punching 50 keystrokes just to get started

  • Russ Reecer

    and why does if f ing ask me constantly for a password????? I don't have a fuing voice mail password and i want that mother fin feature to fing DIEEEEEEEEEE

  • Russ Reecer

    and why does if f ing ask me constantly for a password????? I don't have a fuing voice mail password and i want that mother fin feature to fing DIEEEEEEEEEE

  • Russ Reecer

    and why does if f ing ask me constantly for a password????? I don't have a fuing voice mail password and i want that mother fin feature to fing DIEEEEEEEEEE

  • Russ Reecer

    apple keyboard is the WORST :PRODUCT EVER

    i can press directly on "N" 100 times and it will turn out M 50 times for no reason...or more likely backspace as if you tough ANY letter on that part of the keyboard it pretty much registers backspace...try it, press any of V, B, N, M...you get backspace...

  • Nicholas Wright

    When the shift key is pressed it stands out due to its boldness. It's a game of spot the odd one out, where your subconscious does the work for you.

  • Eric M. Forest

    The shift key changes colour when activated (and is underlined when caps is on).

    The keys on my laptop keyboard are also all uppercase, it doesn't seem to be an issue.

  • Allan Song

    The problem lies with how the shift key is used in each case.

    With your laptop, you hold down shift to activate it. There's no need to visually indicate whether the shift key is triggered, since there's kinesthetic feedback.

    On the iOS stock keyboard, there's only two colour schemes for regular keys. Shift blends in to either of the groups, depending on its activation. It's not impossible to learn, but wouldn't it be better to make a more intuitive design?

    You mention Caps Lock. It's a great analogy for the phone shift key issue. Imagine a laptop or desktop keyboard that doesn't have a caps lock indicator light.

  • C'mon! there are many issues but this is NOT a BIG one at all! Shift key is quite intuitive as the autocorrect normally makes the capital letter for you. Trust me that this is just a baby crime :) But fair enough, you are users with right to complain.. stand up for your rights! :)

  • This is how Jonathan like it - or his team maybe - so they put it that way. It is totally up to you which device and software to use. You can't just say "fixing the iOS keyboard is literally this easy" ... I bet if it was that easy, the team behind Apple would've already done that. Cheers!

  • Harshit Choudhary

    Mistakes like these are hard to grasp and on the top of all that people try to justify for ex- by comparing it to actual physical keyboard.

  • 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.