I realized that my favorite apps on the iPhone are the ones that minimize the number of buttons in their UI.

I’m learning that these little rectangles that only understand tap gestures are real nuisances. I watched my mother poke at one over and over completely failing at this simple gesture. Why? Well she wasn’t the greatest aimer (still getting used to the screen, and we do love to put buttons all over the place at the minimum recommended size) and she also couldn’t help but to wiggle a little on contact - Apple’s tap recognition tuning was just a bit too tight for her.

So it got me to thinking about how these little vestiges of the mouse era just aren’t sufficient in the era of pocket devices used while walking down a busy street eating a hotdog.

It got me thinking about my favorite app, Clear - the todo list app from Realmac Software. Clear uses gestures to add items to a list, sort the list, check off and delete items, and just about everything else. It’s easy to think of an app that would map a button to each of these actions (Mail.app?) but Clear is a completely different kind of app because they didn’t.

It’s a joy to use. It tolerates sloppy thumbs and accidents. It re-enforces gestures with visual and audio cues. And when it does need you to tap (a gesture they reserve for renames only) then the hit target is as wide as the screen. It’s a glance-able UI - once I’ve seen it, my fingers can do the rest.

This is the opposite of buttons where you have to concentrate to tap them. I even started teaching my mother different device grips to increase stability while moving to hit a target. At that time, I wished every app had Clear’s UI.

As an app developer, I’m trying some new ideas - really, finally, thinking about gestures and how they can be used (and how not to misuse them). I challenge myself now to think of a UIs without buttons. What do they look like?