Monday 12 October 2015

Why the status bar has NOT to go

Guest writer: Francesco Vaccaro
Photo from a train station
after MWC15, Barcelona
The title clearly recalls this post by Jaakko Roppola, Senior Designer at Jolla. Now, I'm a huge fan of him, I love his vision. I was lucky enough to have a brief conversation with him at the Jolla office in Tampere and I actually like his point of view in that post, but I'm also a fan of underdogs - otherwise I would not be here. I like to see the other side of the coin, so let's see why in my humble opinion the status bar still has something to say.

Why the status bar has NOT to go

Editorial by Francesco Vaccaro

Worth a read? Please share:


SFOS 2 user interface
has a status bar on the
home and lock screens

All in all, for some reason it looks like the status bar is die hard and those OS' that tried to kill it failed (anybody said Windows Phone?) - it is, along with horizontal-scrolling homescreens (what a coincidence!), one of the few points that mobile OS' have in common nowadays. Even on the new Sailfish OS 2.0 it shyly pops on both the home and the lock screens - and those 20 pixels of screen estate wasted have brought some rage among the Sailfish OS purists - so, at this point, I may put myself under the storm saying that it could still be useful even inside apps.

Status bar à la Sailfish

Let's ride my sick fantasy for a moment and imagine to implement it in the current Sailfish OS. Ideally (and with not that much fantasy, actually) it can be placed right under the pulley menu indicator (some apps even use a persistent header which stays on top and doesn't scroll with the content, so there's already some space). But we want to take it further, right? So in those apps with no persistent header it would scroll with the content, to not waste precious screen real estate. This tiny bar would enable two interesting scenarios:

Double the gestures

Why should we be forced to use the ambience menu OR the swipe to close? As a reference, let's take the MeeGo Harmattan (which UI/UX-wise is imho still among the best and it's proven to work) implementation:
  • Tap on the status bar reveals the menu.
  • Swipe down closes the app or minimize it (as in MeeGo/Sailfish OS 1.x, depending on the user's preference). A swipe from the top in the home screen may also quickly lock the phone (as in Sailfish OS 1.x - something that some users seem to miss).
Pretty straightforward, isn't it? But I do think that the second scenario may be even more interesting:

Cycle between running apps

What may this multitasking-focused OS lack? A quick switch between two (or more) apps currently open - something which Ubuntu Touch and even the new iOS (which is, by tradition, quite resistent to changes) have already. This, in some cases, would be faster than looking for the app itself in the "one swipe away" app tray and one action less than swipe to home+tap on cover. So, in Sailfish OS a flicker (defined as a swipe that starts inside the display) on the status bar would let users switch between the currently open apps. Aren't you convinced yet? Let's take as a reference, again, MeeGo Harmattan with the Cyclotron mod:

I may sound silly, but bringing back the "evil" status bar would actually further enhance Sailfish OS multitasking. To me, this is quite cool, isn't it?

Bottom line

This is the simpliest way I could come with, as I think gestures should be as coherent as possible throughout the interface - this excludes swipes from the left/right, top/bottom, corners, L swipes performing different actions.
Thus said, do you think a quick switch between apps is worthy having that hideous bar back?
Comments are warmly welcome, just please put aside for a moment the rage against the "damn" status bar and think with an open mind. Love.

James, Simo, Toni, Francesco at MWC15
Francesco Vaccaro is the editor in chief at Jolla Community Italia, and I was only happy to share his English editorial here when he asked. If you have Italian friends, or you're into learning the language, don't miss his posts on that great Italian site, or his updates on Twitter @JollaIt 
The unlike Sailfish OS community, Doing It Together. Thanks Fra!

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By: Francesco Vaccaro
Published: 2015-10-12 11:37 UTC
Updated: 2015-10-12 11:37 UTC


  1. Thanks for sharing. What I like in this community is that there seems to be some open communication between customers and bloggers and designers. What I dislike is the status bar, but that's just my humble opinion :) However, your (Francesco) idea of quick switching between apps sounds cool. Could one of the side swipes (from outside the screen) be reserved for that purpose?

    1. A swipe can be also used, but you would loose the Event view access. I don't really like the way it's implemented on Ubuntu Touch, I find it rather counter-intuitive.

  2. Generic problem with the status bar from interaction point of view is, in my opinion, its size. One definitely can't make status bar too wide as it steals screen estate from application, and narrow status bar is too difficult to operate with. I'm talking about ideas of clicking or flicking status bar. For example, on Android clicking on status bar is possible, but complemented with swiping that does the same. So even Google doesn't make user to point-and-click such a narrow area of the screen.

    Idea with status bar that can be scrolled away is quite good one -- as its key part is that one can have wide status bar only when he wants to have it. Maybe something like browser's toolbar that hides on scrolling.

    And what personally I don't like in Sailfish OS's new status bar is that current time is now there, having same 20 pixels size, instead of Big Ben-sized clocks available in Sailfish OS 1.x peeking screen.

  3. Thank you Francesco, you're too kind. There's a lot of good points made throughout the post. Having a persistent status bar can offer many old and new opportunities. Although I have to say it needs to be much larger to do what the Cyclotron mod aims to do. Even on the demo, it's a bit hit or miss. Still, it drives the point home.

    In many recent writings about whether or not to have a status bar, one thing alwass escapes the attention: the primary directive of an operating system. For every OS out there, they live and die by one thing. They must provide user access to meaningful pool of applications. If an OS cannot do that, it's useless, because it cannot be used to do anything. It's the thing that _all_ reviews about _every_ new OS points out.

    When implementing a new user experience for an OS with less than 40 engineers, designing features that don't contribute to that primary directive, is bad design. The less people you have, the more immutable fact it is. Such features do not implement, test and maintain themselves over the coming months and years.

    I apologize if I sound harsh, but to do what everyone thinks is impossible (building a new OS), you have to keep your eyes on that primary directive, and work as close to it as you can.

    Or die.

    1. Thanks :)

      You have a point saying that with the current status bar implementation activating "Cyclotron" may be cumbersome, but being a non-core feature, imo it should not add too much complexity (e.g. the double-length swipe on Ubuntu Touch, which I find rather confusing) - with this in mind, I thought an element familiar to the most of users can be used also for something new.

      I got what you mean and, sure, this is in no way part of the core features of an OS (expecially within limited resources environments) and it's wiser to focus on other areas which may need some polish. My post was rather a recall that even "old" elements can be used in different ways...and a pure flight of fancy :)

  4. Interesting. However, I must state that I am no fan of the status bar as it does not ehance the look of the screen. Be that as it may, if having "that hideous bar" on SFOS would make it possible for Ubuntu type switching between active apps then I'm all for it. As far as Ambience menu is concerned, I am in agreement with you. I think the should be in Settings.

    Maybe the option for users to turn it on or off could be provided.

  5. Status Bar should be extensible as the one on MeeGo was once Community freed it from the silly limitations imposed by Nokia. The Status bar of N9 was THE best thing in the ui, second only to the excellent swiping gestures. You had all what was needed; simple and quick access to main apps; always present and quick access to any type of other functionality which was needed.