Holy War: Why I utterly loathe the new app switcher in iOS 11

Beta 3 Update: iOS 11 Beta 3 now supports swipe-up-to-close instead of the tiny little “x” buttons.

Under iOS 10, you could switch between apps or remove an app from the “recent list” by following these simple steps:

  1. Double-click the Home button to see recently used apps.
  2. Swipe left or right to find the app that you want to use.
  3. Tap the app or swipe upwards to quit/remove it from the list.

  • Each page was  clear and easy to identify. The app name and icon appeared on top.
  • The nearly full size rolodex presentation ensured that users with poor eyesight could easily identify each app.
  • The swipe area to select or remove an app was large, supporting users with a wide range of dexterity skills and motor limitations.

It was a great system that worked well.

In iOS 11, Apple redesigned. It decided to combine this recently used apps list with the control center, so that you could put as much information on-screen at once as possible. This produced an interface with teeny tiny images, and lots of user confusion overload.

In other words, in the current beta and the presentation at WWDC, they espoused a system that is best used by nimble millenials who unlike most every fidget-spinner-ing millenial I have ever met, would not be overwhelmed by sensory overload when presented with far too much information on a single screen.

In my opinion, this new design doesn’t work for the young, the old, the millenial, the seasoned pro, the able, the dis, the hawkeyed, or the near blind. Apple basically disregarded every rule of human usability and thrown it all together into a jumbled disorganized mess:

Compare this screen, with its dock, its windows, and its nearly two dozen control affordances to the iOS 10 version.  It’s a big jumbled insane mishmash of a UI design mess.

The controls in particular are unlabeled. Consider the timer, alarm, and stopwatch icons. They’re nearly identical and randomly scattered. And I can’t for the life of me remember what the dot is to the right of the camera.

As I constantly harp on about, a key factor in enhancing usability is to prioritize recognition over recall. As much as the Apple engineers have aimed to make all the buttons recognizable, they really aren’t.

You have to remember what a lot of these items do: the man in a circle, the magnifying glass, the three different clock faces, etc. You must further remember what happens when you tap and hold these as several of these items have secondary panels with embedded controls beneath them.

This 3-in-1 design breaks George A. Miller’s basic rule of working memory. Miller’s rule argues that you should not present the user with an overwhelming number of interactive items at once. The user cannot effectively remember and strategize interactions when shown more than seven or nine items at a single time. It’s as if Apple didn’t bother passing this screen through a usability evaluation process.

Working memory is not all that’s wrong with this design. In iOS 10, you just tapped or swiped up to manage apps. Those are both relatively large motor functions that require little fine control. That makes them an excellent match for a wide range of user ages and abilities. (Plus the pictures are all big and easy to recognize!)

Compare with iOS 11. To remove an app from the recents list, here’s what you have to do:

  1. Enter the control center. (In an improvement over iOS 10, this can be done with double tap, even if you’ve disabled swipe-up for the control center.)
  2. Swipe left and right to locate the app of interest.
  3. Tap and hold any app screen until the “X” buttons appear (and, maddeningly, the icons and app names disappear). This wait is short but frustrating.
  4. Tap exactly on the “X” to dismiss any app. This usually takes me upwards of three or four tries because the “X” is so small, my coordination is bad, and apparently I may need to re-align my touches with the OS.

In the end, the new control center a big giant mess trying to do too much in a massive design mishmash. I wish Apple would go back to its original design, although I wouldn’t mind some way to access the control center from the App Switcher.

Update: Oh you have to be kidding me:

If you like my posts and you want to say thanks for helping to prevent the meltdown of global civilization (“But if I’m right, and we can swap out that screen shot… Lenny, you will have saved the lives of millions of registered voters”), consider buying a book.  Save the Turtle, save the World. Choose the form of your Constructor. Thanks, all!


  • Please don’t regularly quit applications. iOS is not designed for the user to manually manage apps in memory.

    • That’s not why we quit apps. Too many open apps makes it too hard to move between tasks.

      • They’re sorted by recency, how could the number of apps make moving between tasks difficult…. Are you searching through the app switcher every time you launch an app???

        • Sometimes, as I update a photo before messaging and receiving a call???

          For those keeping score at home, that’s three apps. And while I’m noodling in GarageBand to update a podcast in iMovie…

          D’oh! That’s five!

        • The point is that it used to be quicker and easier to close apps in this way, and there doesn’t seem to be a benefit that outweighs this loss in convenience. It’s a re-design mishap. The latest beta update allows you to repeatedly tap where the first close button (the tiny X) *used to be* to quickly close additional apps, while the sliding-along animation is taking place; this seems to me like something that’s been added to satisfy the requirement to close things more quickly, but without throwing out the new design. Imagine the instructions text for this feature: “keep tapping quickly enough where the X used to be, ignoring the animation, and you’ll be able to close more apps”

    • Sometimes apps need to be quit in order to refresh their local cache.

      • Once a day for me in one app or another. Happens more frequently when switching between wifi and lte. App will hang trying to get data (even with the cellular assist data option turned ON). App will eventually throw error and give option to try again, but it’s much faster to force clause and restart it.

    • Once again the arm-chair experts repeating the meme “you never need to quit apps”? As if they have detailed engineering knowledge of how the OS handles memory. Quitting an app is something I like to do sometimes because it resets the app, and instantly frees up the memory. Sometimes demanding apps like 3d rendering apps need maximum memory and actually alert me that there’s not enough memory to render a large scene if I have not quit the game I was just playing prior. That’s on iOS. So please don’t pretend we live in a world where apps never need to be manually quit for memory reasons, or simply because we want to reset the app for next time.

      • > Once again the arm-chair experts repeating the meme “you never need to quit apps”? As if they have detailed engineering knowledge of how the OS handles memory.

        Those that DO have detailed engineered knowledge, e.g. Apple and its actual engineers, designed the system to NOT have to manually quit apps. They said so explicitly.

        Comment has been slightly edited to remove provocation

    • I think I’ll quit apps whenever I damn well feel like. It’s absurd to suggest iOS can’t handle me quitting an app. This was a solved problem for operating systems decades ago.

      Anyway, sometimes you need to quit an app. It might be draining your battery or it might need a “reset”.

    • When developers (not all) stop abusing the background refresh then I’ll stop quitting them.

  • Totally agree. The iOS 11 app switcher looks like a parody of interface complexity overload. I can’t believe Apple is actually about to ship something that looks like that.

  • The iPhone app switcher hasn’t changed at all. At least on my iPhone 6.

    I don’t mind the iPad one, although I think it needs some refinement. I never quit apps (except in rare cases where an app is hanging) so that part doesn’t bother me. But I do agree that it’s a jumbled mess. Control Center is going to confuse a lot of people (on iPhone as well as iPad).

  • Amen, amen, and again, amen. It’s awful!

  • I completely agree with article. I hope this gets shared around enough for Apple devs to recognize the issue.

    But, Apple has already publicized this new switcher, it won’t be changed, if it even gets changed, until iOS 12.

  • I think it’s a great improvement, besides having to hold the apps and hit the tiny X to quit them of course. It’s necessary for Apple’s push for the iPad to replace PCs. Personally I prefer this layout, already got used to it after using it for a few days, multitasking is a breeze.

  • Can an update restore the old version by giving users a choice? Please? Pretty, pretty, please?

  • I wasn’t sure if Apple was still enforcing an NDA on, let’s be real, an alpha release, so I kept mum.

    However: this new UI greatly disappoints me. (Especially the iPad where I’ve got to long press on an app before I’m presented with a button to quit said app.)

    Apple’s flying in the face of their established, and I assert, well loved spartan approach; what you see is what you get, there’s no force touch/long-press secondary action like a combo in Street Fighter.

    I understand why they’ve chosen their current approach: if you have it all on one screen, it’s all immediately accessible, there’s no further navigation required. But they’ve shot themselves in the foot, because the experience is counterintuitive to their established.

    On a positive note, the fine control over the volume and screen brightness are a godsend, as are the controls with similar interactions.

  • I like the new UI for the ipad switching on IOS11. The old way is still used on the iphone in 11 I think, so this article is basically barking up the wrong tree.

  • It’s a little disingenuous to compare the iPhone switcher with the iPad’s. While the former hasn’t changed, the latter has.

    • I needed a picture of iOS 10. This is what I found.

    • I agree. For the vast majority of users, iOS = iPhone. People are going to look at this and panic unnecessarily. I’m not saying it’s a good interface but, if you try to imagine using it on a phone, it seems 10x worse than it is.

      • I have swapped out the picture for an iOS 9 iPad app switcher, because once again, Apple’s site is surprisingly thin on the ground with iOS 10 pics for iPad.

        I hope this sets your heart at ease and I have bypassed the universal panic that would otherwise ensue. I have already had to separate several cats and dogs attempting to live together, put down some mass hysteria, and who knows what would be next…human sacrifice?

  • This doesn’t seem to be comparing apples to apples… when you’re talking about the control center icons being bad, they’re basically the same as last release, right? The only difference is that control center is in the switcher now.

  • I hate the unlabelled icons in iOS. It’s arrogant design that expects everyone to know instantly what an icon does. Give us the option to label these buttons. Personally I am not married to my device, I don’t use it every 2 minutes of my life, so I am not going to remember a bunch of icons. They are trying to be “language agnostic” or something but failing to realize they’re just adding a new “Apple language” which I have no interest in learning.

  • steve jobs would have not allowed! (RIP)

  • I so agree with you. I just put the public beta on my iPad and I can’t BELIEVE how cumbersome it is to close apps! I googled it because I thought surely I was missing a new, easier, faster way to close apps. But no. This is a huge step backwards. And yeah, I have no idea what those icons are and I have been an Apple-only user for 10 years.

  • “Holy war”?

  • It’s a bit dishonest to compare apples (iPhone UI) to oranges (iPad UI) like this. But being honest, and comparing the old iPhone UI to the new one would not have made the author’s point. It also would have interfered with the author’s point to acknowledge that the new iPad UI is configurable, and that there do not have to be so many controls visible.

  • I don’t get that last screenshot (the “oh you have to be kidding me” one) – what do you want to tell us with that? That Safari’s upside down? Because guess what – it’s called a beta for a reason …


  • The address bar at the bottom could be an affordance for one-handed use. On the iPad you’re pretty much locked into punching away at things with both hands, but on the phone you’d be able to switch URLs with just a thumb. That said, even on the iPad I wouldn’t mind putting the buttons a little closer cause I’m always forgetting the pinch gestures.

  • Combining the App Switcher and the Control Center is a really, really bad idea.

    First, there is no conceptual relationship between App Switcher and Control Center. I think that the main reason for combining them is to make maximum use of the screen space. And that’s NOT a good reason at all. Erica has explained so well the resulting mess.

    Second, now the new App Switcher/Control Center (AS+CC from now on) gets at least THREE ways to access it: 1. one finger swipe from the bottom (first appears the Dock, continue swiping and then appears the AS+CC). 2. Double press the Home button. 3. Four finger swipe up (if you have the multitasking gestures enabled). This is ludicrous. Moreover, the Control Center setting for allowing access from apps or only from the home screen does not make sense anymore. That setting still exists but obviously it doesn’t have any effect.

    Third, instead of making use of the iPad screen space to show a Control Center with labeled controls and direct access to more controls now hidden under a (very unintuitive) long press or 3D Touch, in the new AS+CC the Control Center is cramped at the right side of the screen. Bad for usability and bad from any other point of view.

    Fourth, the new AS+CC kills the practical way for adjusting screen brightness. With the “normal” Control Center it was possible to adjust the brightness while seeing the effect over any application screen. Not anymore: the brightness change effect can only be seen *only* over the AS+CC screen. It’s so foolish that it infuriates me.

    I avoid at all costs using the catchphrase “Steve Jobs wouldn’t allowed that”. However, now I feel compelled to use it: STEVE JOBS WOULDN’T ALLOWED THAT.

  • Yeah Erica, I agree that the redesign is far from perfect (and lets remember this is still in beta) but I disagree that the complexity is inherently wrong.

    I’m fine with the smaller App switcher thumbnails and Control Centre all in one – it leaves the right side swipe for something else (it’s currently unmapped and doesn’t even seem to work as a back swipe in Safari so it surely must be being saved for greater utility) – if iOS is to evolve they have to maximise gestures and screen space.

    Obviously all the above is in regard to how able bodied / sighted people operate so I agree that the previous UI would be better for people with various abilities – so I sincerely hope Apple allow the option to choose a more clear method with larger touch targets in settings / accessibility.

    I don;t agree with your comments re the icon designs in Control centre as the Alarm Clock is clearly identifiable (again to the relatively clear sighted) and I’m not sure how many people will want a short-cut in settings to all three- Alarm Clock, Timer and Stop-watch. Also people are quick to remember Icons and even quicker to know where they persist in a list or grid.

    PS. As you probably already know the beta 2 of iOS 11 has reintroduced the swipe up to quit apps in the app switcher – congrats for your part in identifying the need for it to return!

    Hopefully with accessibility allowances the new redesign allows for the evolution of iOS without abandoning those who don’t want complexity.

    Intersting thoughts by the way, Thanks.