Ok – Informant 5.02 is out the door now and I’ve had some time to work on Part 2 of my little series here. If you made it here, I’ll assume that you’ve already read Part 1. If not, that’s a great place to start!
So in Part 1, I talked about some of my thoughts with the new View Picker in I5 and here in Part 2, I’d like to take some time talking about the new Date/Time Picker. As with our new View Picker, the discussion around this one has been….lively.
Date / Time Pickers are a difficult beast to “get right” on a mobile device. To be completely honest, I’ve seen a lot of different “interesting ideas” in this space, but not one that I would personally call a slam dunk (including our own iterations over the years). The challenge is that you have multiple competing priorities and invariably, with the limited space on a mobile device, it becomes a game of choosing which priorities you are willing to sacrifice. This is clearly evident even with Apple’s own Date/Time Picker:
- On an iPhone SE, you have a vertically scrolling set of wheels embedded in a vertically scrolling editor (and the wheels take up about 50% of the visible scrollable editor). It’s not the end of the world – but it’s a tradeoff.
- You have absolutely no frame of reference for where your date falls on the calendar or how far away from “today” you are. Try this exercise in Apple’s calendar: Start on today, then create a new event and schedule it for 3 weeks from today. Did you lose your place? Unfortunately, now there’s no way to jump back to Today and start over without canceling the entire editor and going back into it.
- If you thought that was bad – try scheduling an event for something a year from now…that’s a lot of scrolling!
And just to make it even a bit more challenging, Informant has to handle a few things that the Apple date picker doesn’t – optional components! With calendar events, you are guaranteed that Start/End dates will exist. You also have a global All Day switch that applies to both Start and End Dates. With tasks, however, everything is optional: You can optionally have a Start and/or Due time. Also, within the start/due time – each one can optionally be date-only or date + time.
In my opinion, we did a lot of things “right” in our PI4 design. It was relatively easy to add/remove individual date & time components. And since it showed you an actual calendar to pick the date, you had complete context for where that date fell relative to today and relative to the month. So why mess with it? Well, we had a few motivations:
- Probably the biggest one: it consumed an entire separate page of its own for arguably the most common thing that people need to adjust when they create/edit an event/task.
- It was fairly “tappy” for “quick” changes. So to change a meeting by 1 hour, slide into the date picker, tap the time field, type out the new start time, tap save and slide back. So while (I think) we were better than Apple’s date picker in almost every area, Apple had us beat on this one…with Apple’s picker, bumping a meeting by an hour was a tap and a nudge…and you never left the main editor.
- While we were arguably better about scheduling a date several months or years in the future, changing years was still kind of annoying with the PI4 picker. Especially in the case where it’s near end of December and you needed to schedule something for January.
- The visuals on our date picker were starting to feel dated (no pun intended…ok – it was fully intended, and fairly clever if you ask me)
So, while PI4’s date picker did a lot of things right, there were some gaps that we aimed to address in the I5 Date Picker. We wanted something that could be displayed inline with the editor…we were attempting to avoid vertically scrolling wheels in the editor…and we wanted something that was quick to jump in, bump the meeting time by an hour and jump back out. But like I said, it’s hard to find the silver bullet with this type of control and while we did address many of the PI4 Date Picker gaps, we certainly created some new ones. Here are some of the top concerns I’ve heard about the new picker:
- The color of the date/time picker blends into the containing editor, so it’s really hard to visually separate the two.
- Changing the selection on any of the “wheels” is disconcerting. The “selection” box moves when you scroll, then snaps back to the center when you’re done.
- Months/dates don’t wrap, so you when you are at the end of the month, you have to scroll dates back to the beginning of the date wheel.
- You’ve kinda lost the context of where a date is relative to today. You do have that text description telling you it’s X days/weeks/months from today, but in terms of giving you a complete frame of reference for the date you were picking, it’s not quite as good as the calendar view we had.
- The controls at the bottom of the picker are too confusing (some are on/off buttons, some advance the date picker, some adjust the granularity of the minute wheel, etc…and none of them display any on/off state or react when you tap them.
- The Time Zone picker no longer remembers recently used time zones.
- We don’t have a consistent date/time picker throughout the entire app anymore.
- Not everyone is a fan of vertically stacking date/time.
Well….wow. Where to begin? I guess my general assessment is that while it is certainly faster to get in/out of and make small “nudges” to appointment times, we did take some definable steps backwards on this one. Heck – the #1 feature request from y’all on our UserVoice page is to go back to the PI4 date picker. So yeah – we’ve got some work to do.
We’ve been talking about this one a lot internally…which I’m sure feels like an eternity to all of you who are waiting on a decent response from us. I think we’re on the right track. And I genuinely appreciate the patience and all the feedback you’ve given us – so, I thought you guys might like to see a mockup of our current thought process. Please please please keep in mind – this is a mockup, not the actual thing. There will be differences in the final product – but this should give you a general idea of where our collective head is at. And just to make sure I’m not setting false expectations – anything I’m about to say below is subject to change. So, with that disclaimer out of the way, here are a couple notes about our current thoughts:
- The final product may look very different for iPhone SE and/or iPad. I can’t solidly say what that would be – but ultimately, we are basically saying that we are not married to a one-size-fits-all approach if it makes sense to adapt to different screen sizes. The image shown here is on an iPhone 6/7. Perhaps on an iPhone SE we have to compromise a little and on a 6+/7+ or iPad we can take advantage of the extra space.
- We will be fixing the “recently used time zones” feature that broke in I5.
- We’ve talked about that time picker piece a lot. We toyed with horizontal scrollers there to save space…but our current leaning is that the clock-like design just “feels” more natural. Though, it will a third to half the height of the standard Apple picker.
- Whatever we wind up with here will ultimately work its way into all the areas of our app that use a date picker. It may or may not be in the very first release, but that is our goal.
- We think we’re on track to give you the best of both the PI4 and I5 designs. We have a calendar-based date picker, but changing months & years in this picker is WAY better than PI4. And it’s inline. And you don’t have to tap to flip between date & time. Not bad.
So I’d love to hear from y’all in the comments below – what do you think? I should mention that a lot of you left some great comments on Part 1 of my blog post. Please know that I do read all your comments and spend time processing them, but I don’t often have the time to reply to many of them. But, please do let me know your thoughts – it very possibly could influence the final result.