Improve Usability in Your iOS App with These Features

Zack Simon

6 min read

Aug 1, 2017

Improve Usability in Your iOS App with These Features

Year after year, Apple rolls out platform features that greatly improve usability when they’re used correctly. Unfortunately, many apps don’t take advantage of these features, even if they’ve been around for a while.

With the release of iOS 11 on the horizon, now is the perfect time to start incorporating them. To help you along, I’ve listed out some under-used features and reasons why your users will thank you for adding them to your app.

Quick-Launch Options on the Home Screen

Quick-Launch options for Twitter

Twitter offers quick-launch options for features that users need quickly.

3D Touch allows users to see additional options or content previews when they perform a deep press on an item like an app icon on the Home screen. By pressing on an app icon, the user can see additional quick-launch options.

Why support this feature?

Think of this as short-cutting the steps a user must take to get to certain features. Quick-launch options give users the ability to get right to the features in your app that they want to. This is especially useful for features that a user would use quickly and frequently, like starting a new message, sending money to a friend, or jumping into their favorite playlist.

3D Touch in Your App

Previewing Content with 3D Touch

Previewing content is a common application for 3D touch.

Users can also use 3D touch to see additional interactions or even preview content without having to navigate to another view.

Why support this feature?

Pressing on an interactive object is how users now “test the waters” before jumping in. Preview, as an example of this, offers users the ability to see a piece of content, like an article or photo, without committing to tapping on it and navigating back to the preview screen. Users familiar with iOS have come to instinctively rely on this, and not supporting it will break their mental model, essentially pulling them out of the experience you’ve created.


Widgets in the Today View

Widgets give users access to tasks and information they would need frequently.

Widgets are found on the Today view and give users simple, quick access to one primary feature they’re always using or checking in on. In addition, these widgets offer the ability to see constantly updated information without the need to launch the app. Weather apps are a perfect fit for this feature.

Why support this feature?

If your app allows users to check on bids, see transactions come through, complete to-do’s or anything else they’ll be doing repeatedly through the day, you shouldn’t force them to launch the app every time they need to do it. A widget offers a quick way to both see and interact with items that they frequently need without forcing them to find your app each time.

Interactive Notifications

Interactive Notifications in the Notification View

Notifications can offer up useful options like the ability to bookmark an interesting Medium post for reading later.

Interactive notifications allow users to react to notifications through the notification itself without the need to launch the app. Notifications can have simple buttons that the user can tap to complete actions or even allow users to input text.

Why support this feature?

If your users need to respond to a notification in some fashion, you should consider allowing them to do it without launching the app. Replying to messages, liking a post and viewing tracking information on a shipment notification are all examples of useful actions that your users will likely take after seeing your notification, so you should let them do so instantly. The most useful notifications give the user adequate content to preview and actions that are most relevant to them in that situation.

Split View and Slide Over

With Split View, iPad users can have two apps (four, if you count Picture-in-Picture and overlaid apps) on screen at the same time and can even adjust the screen distribution to fit their viewing needs.

Why support this feature?

Despite being best practice, many iPad apps aren’t supporting Split View or Slide Over. This is most likely due to apps not supporting the new Storyboard-based launch screen which, along with supporting all screen rotations, is necessary for supporting Split View and Slide Over. If your iPad app ever has to work side-by-side with another, say, Notes or Calendar, you should absolutely support Split View. Being able to see and interact with both apps at once can save a user from having to quickly switch between both, leaving them with more time and less frustration.



From Photos, a user can share a photo in Slack or store it in Dropbox.

Extensions allow apps to essentially outsource tasks that other apps do better. Apps can support extensions that allow users to complete tasks in their own app from another and can also support access to other app’s extensions from their own app.

Why support this feature?

Extensions allow your users to develop a workflow that uses your app in conjunction with others, making for happier users and less features you have to maintain. For example, a user can use your app to create something and save it to Dropbox or Google Drive. This allows them to use their favorite service for storage and allows you to focus on sharpening the features that they like most about your app. Everyone wins!

TouchID Authentication

TouchID Authentication

TouchID shortcuts the need to enter a password in apps like 1Password.

TouchID allows users to quickly authenticate using their fingerprint, as opposed to typing a username/password or using a password manager. Using TouchID is secure, widely adopted by users and saves them a lot of time.

Why support this feature?

Just like password manager integration, users have come to expect TouchID authentication. Requiring a password often becomes a barrier that deters anyone who isn’t a die-hard user of your app. If your app demands authentication often, you should absolutely support TouchID authentication to allow users quick access.


Sure, Siri can set a timer and remind you to do things, but Siri offers much more. With SiriKit, third-party apps can leverage the smart assistant to allow users to complete tasks with just their voice.

Why support this feature?

In many circumstances, your users may be unable to interact with your app through touch and will lean on Siri to help them out. By supporting SiriKit, you can empower them to complete simple tasks even when they’re unable to interact through touch. Your users will feel smart for being productive when they otherwise wouldn’t be, and they’ll remember this interaction next time they’re in a similar situation.

Drag and Drop on iPad

With iOS 11, Apple will introduce drag and drop functionality for iPad. With one gesture, a user can drag a piece of content within the app and from one app to another.

Why support this feature?

By supporting drag and drop, your app will shortcut a lot of work usually reserved for copy-paste or saving to iCloud. This exchange of data between apps breaks free of the silos that apps have become, allowing users to create content much more easily without your app having to support every feature to do so. Drag and drop is also the perfect productivity companion to Split View.

These features all represent huge improvements to usability when they’re used in the right way. If you’re interested in incorporating them into your iOS app, reach out to us for design and iOS development assistance.

Zack Simon

Author Big Nerd Ranch

Zack is an Experience Director on the Big Nerd Ranch design team and has worked on products for companies ranging from startups to Fortune 100s. Zack is passionate about customer experience strategy, helping designers grow in their career, and sharpening consulting and delivery practices.

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