Rethinking The iPhone Lockscreen

iOS is boring. It's unconnected. It isn't flexible. It's slow. That's generally the consensus. And while many look to Jony Ive's new role as the answer, it doesn't exactly solve these problems. So I thought I would give it a shot.

Our iPhones are starting to look a little stale when you turn them on. One major snoozer? The dull, outdated iOS lockscreen. Brent Caswell at The Tech Block has some killer ideas to give the iPhone a software makeover.

Apple has a serious problem: in this era of deep social and web-service integration, their products don't "just work" nearly as often as they used to. — Marco Arment

There are lots of ways that Apple could "free" it's mobile operating system to the power of the hundreds of thousands of apps that run on it. I could point to Siri's inability to connect with applications beyond the superficial "launch Instapaper" or the lack of third-party widgets in the Notification Center. I could even point to the fact that Apple only allows its stock calendar app to display basic information through its icon. But those are all very straightforward and it's kind of silly (to me) that Apple hasn't opened these things up to developers already.

What isn't very straightforward is the lockscreen. I set out to make the lockscreen flexible and open to the apps on your device, without throwing everything that works really well out the window. But before I get to my ideas, how does the lockscreen work now?

The Current Lockscreen

Here is a wireframe of the current lockscreen. From top to bottom: status bar, top bar, background, bottom bar (slide to unlock on left, grabber on right). Typically, the status bar is a normal shape, the top bar displays the date and time, the background is a user designated wallpaper, and the bottom bar has "slide to unlock" and the grabber holds the camera application.

But there are instances when this isn't the case. When you're receiving a call, getting directions, listening to music, recording audio, or when a notification pops up, the rules of the lockscreen fall to the side and what's important takes priority. Unless of course that important thing is coming to you from a third party, in which case they can stand in line behind the date and time.

Some apps, like Nike's Running app, have even gone so far as to creating their own little lockscreen within the app.

It's far from a perfect solution, and it shows how hungry app developers are for true access to the the lockscreen.

So what am I proposing? A somewhat restructured lockscreen.

Lockscreen Cards

The first new feature of the lockscreen is something I call "Lockscreen Cards." Basically, they're little informative slates that are connected to an app. You can slide between the cards in the same way that you slide between homescreen pages.

When you're on a card, double clicking the home button will bring up extra controls or information that is relevant to the card, if necessary. So when you're on the weather card and you double click the home button, the card will expand to show the weekly forecast."Basically, they're little informative slates that are connected to an app."

Because audio playback is so important on the iPhone, when the Time & Date card is expanded, it will house audio playback controls. Double clicking the home button doesn't expand all cards at once. It's more like a toggle. So as you go through the cards the ones that you have expanded will stay expanded and the ones you haven't, won't. When you put your phone to sleep and wake it back up, though, all the cards will be returned to their compressed position.

Cards are sorted the same way homescreen icons are sorted. Just long press a card, they all start to wiggle, put them where you want them (only one per page though) then press the home button to stick them down. Coincidentally, pressing the home button while you're flipping through your cards will return you to the main card.

Some cards are more insistent to have your attention than others. When you're getting directions, you'll find that Maps' Directions card will have usurped the Time & Date card (and it will have also overtaken the wallpaper to display a map). When you start a run using the Nike+ app, you'll find your miles, pace, and time on the now front and centre Running card. The same goes for when you are recording audio or receiving a call.

But don't worry, when the Time & Date card has been replaced as the main card (whether by the user or an app), the time can still be found in the status bar. Another thing to note is that apps have to ask for your permission to place their card on your homescreen, just like how they have to ask for your permission to send you notifications.


Quick access to the camera was a great addition to the lockscreen in mid 2011, but I think that the idea could be taken further. The grabber should be able to open any app action that you want. So, first, what exactly is an "app action?" It's basically anything that you do with an app. Update your status on Twitter, check-in on Foursquare, take a picture with Instagram, whatever. So you can customise your grabber to be one of those things.

When something has taken over the front card, though, it will also take over the app grabber. So if you're getting directions from the lock screen, the app grabber will bring you right back to that app. These apps might also want to give you optionsin a pull-up menu like when you're receiving a call in iOS 6. For instance, Skype might want to have a pull up option whenever you are receiving a video call to answer it, but make it a voice-only call.

Conclusion: Notifications

It's important to understand the structure of the lockscreen in the way that it handles information. All information that comes to the lockscreen can basically be summed up into three categories:

  • Light Notifications ("You Facebook friend Bruce Wayne just joined Instagram as Batman!")
  • Heavy Notifications (Calls, FaceTime), and
  • Temporary Takeovers (Voice Memos, Maps directions)

At this point, apps only have access to "light notifications". Obviously, I think that needs to change.

Apps like Skype and Google+ should have just as much access to the lockscreen as the Phone or FaceTime apps. And to be clear, this wouldn't lead to confusion from the user or a process that isn't clean. In fact, users would be able to clearly understand that they are receiving a call rather than wondering why that little notification's alert tone is going on for so long ("Oh that's a call!"- confused user).

Anyways, that's all I've got for now.

Resources Paul Nechita Teehan + Lax TheIntensePlayer Picons Timothy J. Reynolds [Wallpaper]

The TechBlock is a technology-oriented blog and podcast where passionate, plugged-in enthusiasts dispense with the drivel and weigh in on the latest industry news and gadgets affecting you. To see what we re all about, tune in to our podcast, subscribe to our RSS feed or follow us on Twitter.



    Oh boy have I seen this article syndicated on several websites and blogs this week.

    Search and replace 'Cards' with 'Tiles' and you have the Windows 7 / 8 home screen.

      or stick with 'Cards' and realise you're describing the functionality of Google Now.

        Noone remembers webOS do they. Noone at all. That is so sad.

    Brent, why don't you just leave Apples job to Apple?

      Why don't you leave Brent's job to Brent?

        Why doesnt everyone just leave everything to everyone else?

    Or 'Cards' with 'Widgets'.

    Also, I'm often forgetting this iPad has a Notification Bar. Anyone know of apps that make good use of it, like something that tells me the date?

      As an iPhone user, the first time I used an Android phone, I fell in love with the notification bar (dunno what it's called in Android land). When I heard the iPhone was getting one too I was ridiculously excited. Now... I never use it at all, because it doesn't offer even a fraction of the good stuff that the Android one does. If you're going to copy a feature, make sure you copy it right :(

        Agreed, and the Android notifcation bar has been good for well over three years, you'd think they'd copy it to a tee, and then improve on that.

    I would like Apple to give notification centre access to developers so they can create there own widgets that are available on the lock screen and in notification centre.
    However i get the feeling this would be treading on androids feet a bit to much and would probably result in law suits.

    Funny thing is, I expect Ives to make iOs something more similar to Windows Phone.

    WP8 looks more Apple than iOS does.

      Prepare for the wrath of Motor Mouth!

      What! It looks nothing like anything apple have ever done.

    Well iOS can't be that boring. I see more iPhone and iPads when I'm out and about than any other mobile device.

      I see more hipsters, but that doesn't make them interesting...

      I guess you consider white shirts and black pants the most interesting attire a person can wear?

      I see an even 50/50 split between iPhones and Samsung Galaxy S phones (1, 2, and 3), and some Note's here and there. Especially on public transport.

    So the idea is kind of to just add WebOS to the lock screen? I'd be down with that.

      THANKYOU oh my god I thought I'd gone crazy.

        Never forget.

        WebOS had so much potential. Makes me sad that it couldn't make it.

          Never will mate. Never will.
          A large amount of webOS DNA is now in Android, thanks to Duarte. So it does live on.

    It'd be great if these were integrated!

    Let's talk about the new mobile web page layout of Gizmodo. I find it slow, clunky and intrusive. Definitely a step backwards from before.

      And these damned, full length clickable ads in the margins make me stabby.

    I've been thinking along the same lines as this article for a while now. iOS is definitely lagging behind. Their entire interface could be compared to android's app launcher screen. One screen in Android, the entire interface on iOS. And as you point out it really wouldnt be that difficult to give apps a little bit extra power without losing their safe walled garden approach.

    I think the notification centre should include an API so that other apps can have a widget, like the stock or weather widgets, rather than relegating to single notifications.

    I also think that search screen when you swipe left from the home screen is a tonne of wasted space. Sure keep the search bar there, but there's plenty of room for a notification feed or extra widgets on that page.

    I guess the real question about interface design these days is how much is controlled by the patents you do/don't own.

      that must be why iOS is so terribly unpopular eh.

        iOS is popular for the same reasons why Justin Bieber and Niki Manaj are popular.

          but if it were Microsoft or Android that was popular, of course, that'd be for their own merits, right? Convenient.

    I just don't agree about pinning stuff and making applications launch-able from the lock screen. Camera yes - that was a good step - and notifications ok. But anything else is just superfluous. If you want to control the device from the lock screen - why not instead just take the .03 of a second to slide the bar and access away to your hearts content. It doesn't make sense. The lock screen then becomes redundant. The more functionality put into the lock screen the more chance of inadvertently starting apps. Also, if I were apple I would keep the face of the device away from developers or you are bound make it ugly.

    So what iOS users are saying is that they want some customization options?

    If only there were some readily available, easily customizable mobile OS already in place...

      I think they want the customization with the iOS experience. Sounds a bit silly in a way, but it still makes sense. I think it could work if Apple really wanted it to. For example if people wanted custom keyboards, they could design them, make them, then as an Apple developer try and get it approved by Apple as if it were an application then it would be readily available for everyone to try as long as it was pretty much bug free.

        Apple put alot of time and effort in developing the look and feel of their products. This goes into things like colour schemes, typefaces, layouts and placement of notification's and widgets. To allow customization would damage that ethos. Apple allow you to change the wallpapers and sounds etc. But realistically they don't want customizing certain aspects of the OS because for the most part it would look awful and unintegrated. Most people don't know what they are doing. They are not artists. They dont have people studying UI like apple do and putting so much thought into the placement and colour of icons or widgets the lockscreen. Thats why apple don't want you customising their products to a large extent.

        Great if you some average joe. If you like to tinker. Then android is for you. And to be honest the pure google experiance is the way to go. Samsung or Sony's or HTC's custom UI's are a decaying facade on an otherwise beautiful building. Just leave it alone.

          I tend to disagree, it wouldn't be that hard to allow some minimal customization, especially if it was available for the user to download, as they'd have the choice whether they'd want to do it or not. And as for the custom launchers on Android, I don't think their dying or going anywhere, in a way some of them have more then what the pure android experience has to offer, especially HTC's Sense, it's great IMO. But anyway, it all comes down to a matter of opinion.

            iOS isn't designed for any type of customization. So it's not easy for them to do it quickly. Also allowing things like custom app notifications and widgets would mean they accept Android had the right idea all along. Which is something Apple would hate to do.

              I didn't mean it like that though, as long as it was Apple approved, then I think it could potentially work

    If I could fix one thing about iOS its the keyboard. I can live with a stale looking interface (its still functional after all) but I find the keyboard such a drag compared to androids many options (swiftkey for example).

    That slide to unlock lock screen makes me cringe at its awfulness. The whole design is so relentlessly twee... it's like something from the early 90s. Apple can SURELY do something way better than that. -Everybody else has, even Samsung when they were forced to stop imitating it. And thank goodness they were, what they came up with was much cooler.

    Apple have some great people working for them and a good solid design ethic, but they've become very timid and relentlessly conservative with the iphone design while others are doing amazing stuff. Nasty old things like the lock screen really highlight that,

    I think you misunderstood my comment. If you look at Apple's 'style' from a hardware perspective, marketing perspective etc, the look of Windows Phone 8 actually looks more Apple than iOS does.

      I don't see any similarities.

      From your examples:
      Hardware style: Apple is generally plain black/gray metal/glass, metro is vibrant and bright colours.
      Marketing style: Apple is typically black words on a white background with a pretentious voiceover; metro again is vibrant/bright colours and tiles.

      The look of both these aspects is in fact opposite to Apple.

      I think what you are trying to say is metro is well designed with good aesthetic style, and because (in the minds of apple sheep) apple somehow own good design (even though they don't practice it) that somehow makes metro more apple than iOS.

      Apple is no longer practice good aesthetic design, don't try and claim it when other do.

        Well yeah, I was more referring to the aesthetics of Metro.

        Apple's HARDWARE design is still top notch. Clean, sharp. Much like WP8. To me, WP8 would look perfectly at home on Apple device.

        iOS is a calamity, fused with skeumorphism and inconsistent design choices. It's basically downright ugly.

        I expect, given Ives hardware design philosophy, that iOS will slowly undergo a massive change. It will probably look more like WP8 in the end.

    I think the number of iphones a city has is inversely proportioned to the average IQ of the population........

    go to an asian country e.g. tokyo, seoul, HK. you dont see half as many iphones as you do in australia/USA...

    hrrmmmm intersting....

    I hope any of these suggestions will never happen.

    I don't want information to pollute every corner of the phone, I just need to see the essential, like to know what time is it, or is it time to re-charge. The design has to be consistent, and simple. I don't want distractions, especially sliding info-bars or buttons/sliders which suddenly and unexpectedly change behavior. Every inconsistent behavior, like the ones suggested in the article, takes the OS few steps away from the intuitive user experience

    "It's not necessarily beneficial to add technology features just because we can. It is equally as important what is not in the device as what is in the device"
    - John Maeda: The Laws of Simplicity

    Last edited 10/12/12 3:10 pm

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now