No more vertical videos, please

My mum recently got an iPhone. You can see where this is going, right?

The problem

One of the things that drives me crazy is her tendency to record videos in portrait (vertical) orientation. Because I have a two young kids (her grandkids), my mum records a lot of videos. A lot of vertically oriented videos of my kids!

Now, she doesn’t have a reason for doing so. She understands why you should always record in landscape – I have explained it to her. A number of times. She acknowledges my reasons each time I explain the issue. She is young for a grandmother and has a perfectly healthy mind (no dementia).

So, either she is trying to piss me off on purpose, or there is something wrong with Apple’s implementation of the iOS camera recording controls. I like to think it’s the latter.

Why is this a problem? This is a classic usability issue. Apple are violating one of the basic usability rules or heuristics, and that is (taken straight from the Nielsen website):

Even better than good error messages is a careful design which prevents a problem from occurring in the first place. Either eliminate error-prone conditions or check for them and present users with a confirmation option before they commit to the action.

Vertical video is an error condition, and Apple could do more to prevent it.

I’m not alone

I am not alone in feeling this frustration. This phenomenon has been named the Vertical Video Syndrome, or VVS, and over the last couple of months a number of articles have been written and a video on the topic has gone viral.

A solution

Here is one way Apple could solve this issue;

  1. Default the iOS camera to record in landscape regardless of the orientation the phone is held in
  2. Show the user that their video will be recorded in landscape mode, regardless of the orientation
  3. Allow the user to record in vertical orientation, if they really want to do that

The improved interface would look something like this

Recording video correctly, despite phone orientation (left) and choosing to do the wrong thing – if you really want to (right)

Just in case the user has a genuine reason for recording vertical video (for the life of me, I cannot think of one), the interface should still allow them to do so.

This design does two things

  1. Lets the user hold the phone any way they want to, and still record video (I acknowledge that it is more comfortable to hold the phone in portrait orientation)
  2. Presents clear options for the user to select the most appropriate recording based on their goals

The icons perform an important job in communicating how the video will be recorder, with respect to the phone’s physical orientation.

Video recording orientation icons for iOS

Edit: since writing this post, I’ve come across Horizon, an app that solves VVS in an interesting way. It’s a fine app and an elegant solution, but with most of these kind of usability issues, until they are solved natively, they just don’t feel right. Apple should fix this, and I hope they buy the Horizon app and give it’s developers some well deserved recognition.

Migrating my old blog to Medium — originally published 17 Feb 2014

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