I’ll be honest: When I heard Apple say the word “Reachability” during the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus launch event, I winced. The function, which is meant to help use the bigger iPhones with one hand, simply sounded gimmicky. Even a few minutes with the phones that day didn’t sway me. After spending hours with the larger iPhones, however, Reachability has somewhat surprisingly become fairly natural and effective for me.
For those not familiar with it, Reachability is activated by touching the iPhone’s home button twice in quick succession.
This isn’t a double-press of the button: That would typically activate the iOS app switcher. Instead, it’s just two light touches; you’re not depressing the home button. Doing so causes the entire home screen or active application to slide down on the [company]Apple[/company] iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, making it easier to reach controls, apps, buttons and input fields near the top of the screen with your thumb. Once you tap something, Reachability slides the screen back up to its normal location.
Here’s a great example: Look at the sign-in link on NFL.com in Safari. On my iPhone 6, I can’t easily reach it with my thumb when holding the phone in my right hand as I normally do. A quick double-touch of the home button solves that problem.
Reachability doesn’t just work in Safari though: It’s a system-wide function, meaning any time you need to reach items on the top-third or so of the new iPhones, it’s there. Although Reachability arrived with iOS 8, it’s not available on older iPhones simply because it isn’t needed: They all have smaller screens.
So why did I initially think this would be a gimmick? Mainly because my initial reaction was along the lines of this: “So to keep using the iPhone as a one-handed device, I’m going to have to double-tap a button dozens of times a day?” Here’s the thing: I can’t think of a better or more effective design solution that helps. And developers don’t have to update their apps to take advantage of Reachability on the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus.
Sure, we’ve seen “one-handed” software modes before on other large phones and they can be effective too; this isn’t something new to the industry. Here’s Samsung’s implementation on a Galaxy S 5, which you turn on in the device settings and is activated with a half swipe to the from edge to center of the screen and back again.
Without a doubt, Reachability does require more taps and touches, but without it, what’s the alternative?
I can think of two: Either adjusting the grip on your iPhone on and off during the day or switching to a two-handed method. Those are certainly viable options and even with Reachability, you can still use them. Surprisingly though, I’m already not doing either. Instead, my brain is already trained to use that simple double-touch and then tap whatever I need to on screen which is now within easy reach.
We’re all different though with a range of hand sizes and use cases for our phones, so I’d be interested in hearing what readers think of Reachability after a few days use. Chime in below in our comments to share your thoughts.
This post was updated at 9:07am to correct the double-tap feature of the iPhone’s home button.