Against Close Buttons

John Kneeland argues that close buttons are wrong for iOS:

The most egregious example of this interface inconsistency is in the teeny tiny close buttons that pop up on the iOS interface when you want to close apps in the app switcher, delete apps from the homescreen, or close a browser tab. It’s even worse in Apple’s new iOS notifications system, which decided being hard to use wasn’t enough and it should be hard to see as well.

In the case of closing Safari pages, he argues that WebOS does it right, with its flicking gesture to close cards.

It’s a good argument, but I disagree. The advantage of explicit close buttons is that they are obvious. No one has to explain to someone how to close a page in Mobile Safari on the iPhone — the X-in-red-circle is explicit and obvious. If that weren’t there and you had to flick pages to the top of the screen to discard them, users who didn’t know about or remember the gesture would be lost.

Gestures, to me, are the touchscreen equivalent of keyboard shortcuts: a convenient alternative, but almost never a good choice for the primary interface for a task. So, sure, it’d be nice if you could flick pages to the top of the screen to close them in Mobile Safari, but keep the red close button there too.

The key to iOS’s success is that you can figure almost everything out just by looking at it. If a button is too hard to tap (like the ones in Notification Center — Kneeland is right about that) the solution is to make them bigger, not to get rid of them.

Thursday, 13 October 2011