To better understand the status bar we have today, we must look at the desktop computing environment where the convention came from. The following image illustrates how different common desktop environments have solved the status bar. Top or bottom, (left or right. Always visible by default.
Then came the advent of smartphones. Everything we got used to in the desktop environment, had to be crammed down to a smaller screen. So that we wouldn't mistake it as something else than a desktop </sarcasm>. A ceremonial bar was again crafted across the top screen edge, to give permanent residence for status icons. And after repeating that design pattern countless times, we should realize that the advent is now gone. It's no more, and here's some further incentive:
- As a digital medium, software is dynamic in nature. A fixed or static layout is more a design decision, not a requirement. Displays also exist for dynamic content, and suffer from static one. If you haven't yet heard about screen burn-in, well now you have.
- A small bar is a compromise in legibility. To not waste screen space, the bar height is kept tiny. This results in uncomfortably tiny icons. Some have made the bar automatically hide, to not distract user, but have still kept the bar and icons tiny. Sigh.
- Lack of structure and meaning. On a small bar, all icons compete with each other for user attention. Since everything is visible all the time, a subtle change in one icon is easy to miss. All icons appear visually equal in importance, even if they rarely are.
- Technical overhead. This concerns mostly app developers, but they're users as well. No discrimination, please. Better developer experiences are needed as well. Controlling status bar visibility and behavior is yet another thing to be mindful when creating your application. Also the OS owner has to maintain such complexity. Both sides lose.
- Lost screen estate. Even if little, it all adds up. It's not really a full screen if something is reserving a slice of what would otherwise belong to your app. There is a dedicated full-screen mode in Android, further increasing the technical overhead and complexity, for both app developers and system maintainers.
- Information overload and "over-notifying". We're bad at focusing on multiple things at the same time. Status bar at the top is screaming for attention and every time you take a glimpse at it, you need to refocus back to the whatever you did before. It's important information no doubt, but user decides when.
And before the user reaches that app (or notification drawer/view), several opportunities present themselves to expose user to the system status without the need to make it persistently shown. Like making it part of the natural flow of things.
That is exactly what Sailfish OS does. It solves the aforementioned problem by showing important system information as part of the home screen content, resulting in:
- Dynamic screen usage, behavior designed for displays
- Superior legibility due to larger icons
- More meaningful icons are emphasized, more layout possibilities
- Less coding leads to faster app development
- Single behavior is simpler to maintain from the OS side
- All apps are full-screen by default
- Less clutter, information is showed on demand
Don't blindly embrace a legacy design as an absolute truth. Make sure you define first what is the problem it solves. Rapid advancements in both software technology and mobile context understanding, can provide you great insight in finding alternatives that didn't exist back then.
And keeping in mind that mobile != desktop will alone carry you a long way. Remember that natural interaction in mobile context needs solutions that desktop didn't have to solve. Use your head.
Thanks for reading and see you in the next post. In the meantime, agree or disagree, debate or shout. Bring it on and spread the word.