After https://github.com/ubports/unity8/issues/121 was filed and we've had not one, but many sour discussions about this or related topics, I figure we should try to slow it down a bit.
People are getting antsy (read: livid) about the changes to Ubuntu Touch in upcoming releases. In this post I'll try to tackle the issue of "home." More specifically, Where is home in Ubuntu Touch now?
The case for going home
Home, in terms of an operating environment, is the first place where a user arrives and a place they can return to. It's taken many forms over the years of personal computing:
7000 BYTES FREE, READY.
- Windows' Start menu (Then its Start screen, then its Start menu again)
- Screens which are actually called "Home" on Android and iOS
The concept of Home is slightly different for every operating environment, but it serves a few important purposes:
- It is used to start other interactions with the environment (applications, for example)
- It is "returnable," a user should always know how to get to it. Now that operating environments are used for multitasking, this shouldn't be by destroying all running activities.
- It is "safe," a user should always know what to do once they get there
Home serves as an anchor point for the environment's experience. If the user gets lost or stuck, returning home should help.
We can currently assert the following things about Unity8 on a mobile handset:
- Long swiping from the left of the screen always returns you to the Dash.
- The Dash is a window and is shown in the app stack.
- Due to the last point, the Dash remains focused when the device is locked and unlocked.
The dash is home.
The following things about those assertions have changed:
- We no longer have the Dash. Long swiping from the left of the screen opens the App Drawer.
- The Drawer is not a window and does not appear in the app switcher.
- The Drawer does not remain focused when the device is locked and unlocked.
It is consistent with our desktop experience.
But it's got everyone up in arms.
Where is home now?
By far, the most important question I see us asking ourselves (indirectly) is, "where is home now?" The answer... isn't straightforward.
Is the Background home?
Users will land in the Ubuntu Touch experience at the Background (NOT the desktop, which implies you may put things on it):
When arriving at the Background, the Launcher (some call it the dock) appears to greet them. The user may arrive at the background by booting the device or closing all their apps. By offering the Launcher, the background can be used to start other interactions AND it is safe. However, it breaks one of our main rules: There is no way to return to the background without destroying all of your activities.
Is the Drawer home?
The Drawer may be opened by long-swiping from the left of the screen or tapping on the big ol' orange button:
This can be done at any time. This makes the Drawer returnable. It is very simple, so I assert it is safe. And, well, it starts new interactions.
Something about it has people really uncomfortable, though. Maybe it's the fact that, unlike the Dash (or iOS' home, or Android's home), the Drawer is dismissed when you lock the device. This resonates with me a bit, a serial home-presser before locking my device. I like to start at square one whenever I pick up my phone.
Can we find home?
Does this add a new requirement to home? Does home also need to be durable (or comfortable?), lasting through transitions to lock states or other huge events?
Or, is this okay? Is this a case of a different design being more efficient? The ideal use of Unity8 is pinning applications to the Launcher, where they can be managed and switched between (even on the lock screen).
(Maybe the Launcher is home, or the lock screen!)
Home must be durable
If home must be durable, the Background is close to being home. The only problem is we can't return to it easily. There are an infinite number of ways to solve this, here are a couple I've thought of:
Go to background as an app
Hide apps appears as another window in the app switcher. It is always located behind the most recently used app, as shown here.
Go to background as an action
We discussed having Go to background as a specific action you perform on the app switcher. It could also go somewhere else, but there's nowhere to put it. This issue proposes having it be the "Cancel" action of the app switcher, when you tap in the blank space. That caused a lot of upset since it changes the current behavior (tapping in the blank space goes to the app you were just using, today you learned) and is not explicit (as a Python developer, I agree). Here's a way to make it explicit:
(It took me twenty minutes to make that, don't judge me)
Nah, this is more efficient
If home doesn't need to be durable to be home, maybe there is a way to offer an olive branch to people who think it does?
What do you think?
Does home need to be durable? If so, is the Background a good place to have that interaction? Is there a good way to get there?
How do we keep the home interaction consistent between phone, tablet, laptop, and desktop?
Note that "just add another setting to..." is not an acceptable compromise. More customization means more development overhead, makes it more difficult to support users (you might have to do this, or you might have to do that), and takes away from a consistent experience. (If you want to discuss this metatopic, please make another thread.)
Addendum: ground rules
You're talking about a bunch of colorful rectangles, remember. Take your time when replying and keep it respectful and on-topic. This is a good place to brainstorm, but make your ideas concrete with mockups rather than talking about them abstractly.