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Entries in handedness (1)

Wednesday
Jun222011

Foursquare's ambidexterity

Foursquare just hit ten MILLION users. And they’ve just rolled out a new version of their iPhone app. Despite being a 4.3 rather than a 5.0 release, I think it’s a major step up in functionality.

First, it’s so much faster. Foursquare has become almost unusably slow; this release is not only faster on the backend, the interface feels faster, with the check-in button available from the top level of the interface, and better feedback when check-ins are being processed. 

Foursquare 4.3 for iPhone screenshot from the Foursquare blogSecond, my favorite part is where they chose to put that top-level check-in button: in the middle. Most mobile applications still put the default action at the far left of the screen: that’s where the Twitter iPhone app puts the “new tweet” button, for example. That works great for right-handed users, gripping their phones in their right hands: it’s perfectly positioned for that right-handed thumb. For a left-handed person like me, though, it’s literally a stretch: my thumb has to pull all the way back to the palm to tap. (That’s why I loved the Twitterific iPhone app: it had a left-handed option that reversed the order in which items appeared on the nav bar. When Twitterific dropped that feature, I dropped Twitterific.)

Foursquare’s solution is so obvious in retrospect, I am kicking myself for not having seen it. Put the default action in the center of the screen. You need to give it a little bit more visual priority so it’s easily understood and targeted, but this simple step makes it equally accessible to left-handed and right-handed users. It’s a great idea, and one I fully intend to build on in the next mobile app I make. 

(It’s also another great story about how building for the minority case makes for better design for everyone; the new Check In button makes it really clear what you’re there to do, even after that initial pop-up goes away.)

I’m guessing there’s a left-handed person on the Foursquare core team, and to that person I say, thank you, from the bottom of my thumb.