Swiping it wrong – How conceptual model cultivates a bad user habit in iOS usage

As an avid iPhone user, I always find it interesting to observe how other people use their iDevices in daily life. While the observations were usually pleasant at most times, I cringed and sighed wistfully when I spotted two particular user habits on their iOS devices.


The first habit is the use of AssistiveTouch button. It is ugly, occlusive, and ruins the user experience in almost all applications, especially when playing games and watching videos. Personally, I cannot tolerate a software button like that always appearing on my screen. Having said that, I can understand that for some iPhone users with spotty home and power button, the AssistiveTouch button is an essential life-saver that allows them to continue using their phones while awaiting repair (shame on Apple in releasing faulty devices like that). For those with faulty buttons, I can sympathise.


Seriously if I see you do this I will hunt you down.


While the first habit is acceptable for some people, the second one, shown in the figure above, is totally intolerable (and if I see you do this in public, I promise I will hunt you down personally and correct you on the spot). For those who aren’t familiar with this action, what is shown above is an user attempt to close multiple apps on the iPhone. This feature was introduced alongside multitasking in iOS4, and I hate to say that since then many people have been misusing this feature completely.

Every time when I questioned a friend doing that “Hey, why are you doing that?”, 99% of their responses would be some versions of: “Oh, there are so many programs running on my phone right now, closing them would save my battery life significantly!”. After listening to their response, I would need to enlighten them with a lengthy response that explains how iOS will automatically manages the allocation of memory and processing power in-between different apps, and closing the apps manually will in fact decrease your battery life because opening the app after it has been closed requires a complete boot up, which consumes more battery life than leaving the app “open” in the multitasking bar, where some part of the app could still be found in the phone’s memory. See Scotty Loveless’s article for a detail explanation on this matter and methods to solve battery drain problem.

Many people didn’t know that. Hell, even the Apple Genius could give an erroneous advice like that to the customer. Here, it is interesting to ask why would most people do this intuitively. A simple but not too obvious answer is that most people carry over the conceptual model of using a PC when they are given a smartphone with multitasking capabilities. See, back in the day when processing power and memory were limited on a PC, we were being taught to close any unused programs before opening another one to ensure that the new program would run smoothly. This is a conceptual model most current smartphone users possess, since the time most of us use a PC is definitely longer than the time we use smartphones. Because of that, when we start to use a smartphone, we naturally imprint the conceptual model of using a PC onto this new device, and many people, including myself in the first place, were not aware of iOS’s capability in managing these resources automatically. Indeed, it is not difficult to notice that some users still call mobile apps as programs because within their mental usage model, they still treat using smartphone in the same way as using a PC.

Is this the fault of the user in not realising that iOS manages all of that automatically? Is this the fault of the user in carrying over existing usage model from the PC to the smartphone? No. The users are not at fault here. This is the fault of the iOS design team in Apple when they were implementing multitasking onto the mobile operating system. In short, the front-end of the feature was implemented in such a way that it over-resembled how most people manages program in their computer. And by doing so it subconsciously evokes the users to do multitasking by referring to the old multitasking model on the PC.

By the way, do you know that the only time when there is a need to close an app manually is at the point where an app stops responding or crashes unexpectedly? That is how you swipe it right.