Abide with me

I’ve been expecting to see a rebuttal of Craig Mod’s Medium article, “Can no longer abide by Touch ID,” but either the usual suspects are too logy from holiday feasting to have written their responses, or I’m too logy to have found them. In any event, although Mod makes a couple of good points, his criticism of Touch ID (or maybe it’s criticism of iOS’s lockscreen… or the iPhone’s new size… or its new button layout—it’s not the most focused article in the world1), is undercut by its off-center point of view and a couple of factual errors.

Mod says what lots of people have said about Touch ID: it’s so fast now that you usually don’t get that pause on the lockscreen that used to be a common part of the iPhone experience. And because there are times when you want to pause on the lockscreen—to check the date and time, to open the camera, to read a notification, or to fiddle with something in the Control Center—the improvement in Touch ID has diminished the iPhone experience.

Touch ID, sir, madame, you are too fast. There. I said it. The thing which is not supposed to be said: That something can get too good. Too smart. Too predictive.

Well. Kneejerk contrarianism is so common on the internet that it can hardly be considered a brave stance, but let’s put that aside and consider Mod’s specific complaints.

Have you ever pulled your phone out of your pocket or purse with the intent of using that little camera icon on the lockscreen to go straight to the Camera app? And have you been thwarted by Touch ID responding so quickly that you had to launch the app the slow way by navigating to the home screen and tapping the Camera icon? I sure have, and I’ll bet you have, too. It doesn’t really take much longer to launch the app that way, but it feels much longer because you know there’s a shorter way, and you’ve been prevented from using it.

And the same can be said if you pulled out your phone to use the flashlight or jump to the next track in a playlist. Touch ID’s new speed doesn’t let you do these things the way you used to do them, the way your habits developed over the past couple of years.

But would you really want to go back to the slower Touch ID? How often, when you unlock your phone, do you want to use one of the lockscreen affordances? And how does the time you lose in those cases compare to the time you gain in all those cases when you don’t want to use the lockscreen? Since I’m in a betting mood, I’ll bet the time you’ve saved overwhelms the time you’ve lost. And I’ll bet Apple studied iPhone usage enough to know that would be the case long before the improved Touch ID was released.

Mod’s rant would be justified if the lockscreen were the focal point of most iPhone usage, but it isn’t.

As for the factual problems in the article, Mod categorizes Siri as a lockscreen affordance.

The lockscreen is now an active space, a play space, a space to invoke cameras, respond to messages, talk to your pal Siri.

No. Touch ID’s speed does not affect in any way your ability to immediately invoke Siri. Pull out your phone and hold down the home button. There she is—no fumbling, no extra tapping, no delays whatsoever. And you can do this even if you have the “Hey Siri” feature turned off.


And if you’ve used Siri this way often enough, you may have discovered the best and most reliable way to get to the lockscreen quickly: hold down the home button to bring up the Siri screen and then press it again. The lockscreen will appear, and Touch ID will not whisk it away immediately. Yes, if you hold your finger there long enough, your phone will unlock, but the delay is significant. There’s no need to go through any of the undependable fingernail or nose gyrations Mod describes.

At the end of the article, Mod has a solution for his imaginary problem:

For those of us who like edges on our interfaces, the solution is simple: Touch ID should only activate on the password screen (or Apple Pay). In clear contexts when unlocking is the foremost and only goal.

There should be a toggle in settings.
Settings > General > Lockscreen > Touch ID only on Password [ON]

Alas, this toggle does not exist.

So these “edgy” interface fans want to unlock their phones by pressing the home button, swiping on the “slide to unlock” area, and then putting their thumbs back down on the home button for Touch ID. I’m sure Apple will get on that right away.

Update 12/26/15 11:30 PM
Before everyone on Twitter tells me that pressing the sleep button brings up the lockscreen with no chance of Touch ID taking it away, I’ll mention it here:

Pressing the sleep button brings up the lockscreen with no chance of Touch ID taking it away.

I confess, though, that I don’t like this solution because of the case I use on my iPhone 6s. I have the Apple leather case, and the location of sleep button is somewhat obscured made difficult to depress by the side wall of the case. Also, I have to readjust my normal grip to reach the sleep button. If it were down closer to the halfway point along the right side of the phone, I might find it easier to use. As it is, I prefer the all-thumb solution described above.

If you like using the sleep button, by all means use it. But I won’t be.

And I agree with Mod that using a finger that Touch ID doesn’t understand isn’t a good solution because it messes up one-handed use of the phone. He’s right that the thumb is the natural presser of the home button when using the phone one-handed, and it’s folly to untrain Touch ID for that finger.

  1. As I’ve said before, they call it Medium because it’s neither rare nor well done.