The iPhone 6 Plus and One Thumb Use

It was a sunny Friday when the new iPhones went on sale on the 31th of October. The carriers opened up the doors and let the crowds in to see the new iPhones. Especially interesting was the new kid on the block, the iPhone 6 Plus.

Since the introduction of the 5,5 inch version, numerous posts have appeared on describing the challenges for making the navigation of mobile apps friendly to use with one thumb. Even Apple made the effort by introducing the Reachability feature.

But it seems that these efforts do not take the context of using the iPhone 6 Plus into the consideration. If you try to make it friendly for one thumb, these efforts might be based on wrong assumptions and could lead the app developers into the wrong direction. What if the iPhone 6 Plus is predominantly a device users use with two hands?

Some, but not too much, research on how people hold their smartphones

Way before the iPhones 6 and 6 Plus, back in 2013, research showed that 51% of users hold their device either two handed or cradled. If we take into consideration that in general phones had smaller screens at that time, it is still fascinating to see that the one thumb use did not have the upper hand. Based on that and taking into consideration that bigger screens make it harder to use the smartphones with one hand, the UI has to take two hand use into consideration.

Not only that. The navigation has to be created in a way that fits both worlds. The one thumb friendly iPhone 6 and the bigger iPhone 6 Plus which is more suitable for using it with two hands.

One way to tackle the challenge

Last year we started to work on an app that had a navigation menu, internally called the Swipe menu, allowing the user to use it comfortably with one thumb. All the options are placed in a position that follows the natural movement of your thumb on the screen when holding it with one hand. This was underlined with an arch like element that gives the user a visual clue for the one thumb movement.

A menu made for one thumb use (in case the user holds the device in her right hand). The options are visible after the user taps the navigation control.

After the new iPhones got bigger, and the two hand use of the phones more likely, we had to update our swipe menu for our new mobile app called Symbolo.

Since the original version of the swipe menu is liked by our users, we wanted to stick with the concept. Luckily the foundations of the design allowed us to make only one small change to make it work.

Instead of placing the options to follow the natural movement of the thumb we placed them vertically. The visual appearance does not suggest one thumb use only but also allows for an optimal experience when the user uses the device with two hands.

Update of the menu to allow for a great user experience in case the user holds the device in only one or with both hands. The options are visible after the user taps the navigation control.

That way the navigation element fits all of the iPhone screen sizes and at the same time offers optimal user experience in case of holding the device two handed or in just one hand.

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