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Google Maps One-Hand Zoom on iPhone (carlsednaoui.com)
187 points by carlsednaoui on Apr 1, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 87 comments

Think about everyone who doesn't see this post. Will they figure this gesture out? Did you? If it takes a blog post at the top of Hacker News for people here to find this, it's pretty far from discoverable. Is it really that great if most people can't use it?

On the other hand, you don't need any instruction for pinch-to-zoom. Intuitive interactions like that — or even double-tap-to-zoom — are much harder to come up with, but they're also accessible to everybody. This is a cool piece of trivia, but it's far from solving the one-handed zooming problem. I hope Google (or anybody else) is working on something to make this better for everyone.

In usability tests you'll see that pinch-to-zoom is hardly discoverable, or even particularly easy. It's a learned behavior.

Once users "get it", it's powerful. They'll attempt to pinch to zoom all over the place. I guess I don't see how this is any different. It's a gesture, and I find it to be intuitive (it's been available on the Android version for a really long time).

Apple has been teaching gestures to people through marketing. I always thought that was brilliant. Gestures are not at all discoverable, but if you show them often enough they become natural. Most of Apple's TV ads, especially those for iOS devices, are little tutorials.

It is, however, a bad idea to rely on that. I see gestures as I see keyboard shortcuts: not intuitive at all, but potentially great time savers once you learned them.

For those making touch UIs this means, quite simply, that you always have to be able to do something without gestures or that if a gesture is essential, it has to be taught to you.

I agree. The intuitive way to zoom in is to move your face closer to the screen. Pinching a screen makes absolutely no intuitive sense. People learned it by accident or because they were shown.

Which usability tests? Anecdotal evidence - my 2 year old picked it up quite easily on her own back 4 years ago when iOS was a lot slower and buggier.

There's no "metamode" here and it's tripped over quite easily during normal interactions.

Test I've previously conducted as part of product development. I've, anecdotally, have heard similar reports from others as well when we've shared data.

Are you sure your two year old didn't watch you first?

My 18 month old niece was the same with my brother's iPad, being able to navigate back to the home screen, find the YouTube app, go to history, watch something from the list, full screen, rewind and go back to the history once the video had finished. She has now picked up using Android on Samsung Note II pretty kid. Kids are just really intuitive and learn very quickly by watching at that age, I was truly amazed since my 60 year old parents on the other end of the spectrum have great difficulty understanding this tech.

While I completely agree that the default controls need to be intuitive, I am also of the opinion that these little hidden gestures, these shortcuts, are not necessarily bad. I agree with John Gruber when he says that:

"... gestures are to iOS what keyboard shortcuts are to Mac OS — an alternative way to do something as a convenience for advanced users." [1]

I understand that this gesture doesn't solve the problem of one-handed zooming for everyone, and that the solution will need to be more obvious to include everyone. It's just that a more obvious solution may add unnecessary clutter.

[1] http://daringfireball.net/2012/04/obviousness

As long as it's not the only way to accomplish something it doesn't need to be intuitive--just like keyboard shortcuts.

There isn't anything particularly intuitive about the pinch to zoom gesture. Most of us already knew about it because we saw the iPhone keynote when it was originally released. I still meet people that own new-ish iPhones (4/4S etc) that aren't aware you can actually zoom in/out in the Maps/Photo etc apps.

People keep saying it's not intuitive, but stretching something by the exact distance you pull your two fingers apart seems pretty intuitive to me. It is a new gesture so it wouldn't have occurred to me to do it the first time, but that doesn't mean it's not intuitive. Something that's not intuitive would be a gesture that doesn't seem obvious even after you demonstrate it.

One of the biggest things I've despised about the mobile paradigm, and something I think apple helps foster, is that instructions and tool tips are mostly gone. Everything is supposed to "just work" but I wind up finding useful features I didn't know about months later.

There has always been a "one handed zooming" solution, but as we see in this thread, people don't see/like those buttons. http://i.imgur.com/TfaGExu.png

Those are also in an uncomfortable place to reach with your thumb when holding the device once-handed — and might even be covered by the thumb, depending on how you're holding it.

You can also zoom in by double tapping on the map. This gesture usually performs a "centered zoom" meaning that the current center of the screen will remain the center of the screen after the zoom has taken place (unlike when zooming with the pinch gesture).

I agree. You can do an unzoom using a two-finger tap as well, and it much more memorable. It still doesn't qualify for intuitive, nor does it solve the one-handed unzoom problem though.

It would be a lot more discoverable if this "mode" were indicated on use - ie, some zoom overlay (even just a highlight) that showed that they'd activated it, and when it disappeared. It's almost a quasimode [1] - since it disappears when you let go - still mode indicators would be very useful here.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mode_(computer_interface)#Quasi...

It's like the double-tap-and-drag gesture on laptop trackpads, you just learn it's there at some point.

I suspect a great number of people here either don't use iPhones, haven't upgraded to iOS6, or don't use the special google maps app (I'm on 5.1.1 on a 4S, and the maps app that comes with the phone does not do this)

Or you could be completely wrong. This is hn, not some Amish blog. The hn crowd update their apps, compile their own kernels and don't use old hardware. Life's too short.

I personally did not update my phone iOS from 5.x to version 6 until Google released their Maps application about 4-6 weeks after the major version upgrade. I know of at least 2 other people that also did not update for the exact reason that they did not want to use the Apple/TomTom maps and directions.

"compile their own kernels"

The HN crowd compiles versions of iOS? If so, I'd definitely like to find out how that's done.

obviously not IOS kernels, it was a generic comment, linux kernels, compile from source, keep up to date, use chrome not the browser that came with their machine etc etc. It really wasn't that hard to understand.

Confirmed that it works on my Android phone (JB, 4.2.2).

This is super useful, thanks! (I've nearly dropped my phone several times trying to do a two point zoom with one hand).

Same here.

If it's a nice day in NYC, I'll often opt for a very long walk between meetings. If I stop for a coffee, as I tend to do, I usually try to memorize the directions to where I'm going. Failing that, I have to either put my coffee down for a moment or attempt the dreaded thumb and index finger zoom maneuver.

Now that I've written that, I'm hesitant to post it. This is probably the most "first world problem"-ish thing I have ever said. I don't even really rely that heavily on Google maps since I know the major streets in the city pretty well. However, this mini-dilema has really struck me several times. I guess that means life is good!

Anyway: Thanks to the guy who discovered this. And extra thanks to the dev who implemented this. I don't know if it's an accessibility feature (limited use of second hand) or a debugging feature (second hand on the keyboard). Either way: awesome!

Google Maps for Android has had this since September (version 6.12). But in every other way, I'm always jealous when I see GMaps on my friends' iPhones.

Why? Unless I am completely missing something, the iOS version is a subset of the Android version. The latter is everybit as usable and smooth, with more integration and functionality.

Works on my Gnex too. I still find the zoom buttons are best though, they're more 'robust' to use.

Same here, thanks for confirming that it works in Android!

Yeah works on my Galaxy Nexus as well. Sweet !

Also, I wonder how many people here realize that supporting this tap-release-tap gesture requires adding a forced delay to tap recognition.

After a single tap happens, you can't react instantly because it's not yet known if the user will tap a second time until some threshold time (around 200 ms) passes. Alternatively, something else can gets in the way (e.g. quickly tap anywhere else to "break the combo" and skip the 200 ms tap delay).

It's not a big drawback in this particular case (tapping on things on the map makes the pin appear slightly delayed), but it's important to realize the negative effects of recognizing more elaborate gestures.

Well, it's a tap and hold, as opposed to just a tap, so there's that. If the user simply quickly taps, it's obvious it's not the tap-hold-slide zoom.

On the other hand, it's not obvious it's not the double tap zoom, so there's a delay for that anyways.

Isn't the same delay required for recognizing a simple double-tap-to-zoom?

Yes it is.

And roughly every zoomable view on iOS supports that, so this doesn't add anything more.

> Dear Apple, I’d love to see you implement this in Apple Maps. Dear developers, I’d love to see you implement this in any pinch-to-zoom app.

Better yet:

Dear Apple, I’d love to see you implement this in iOS, so that developers don't have to.

Why? They already have a perfectly intuitive way of doing this. It doesn't make any sense. I just tried it and its not particularly useful, doesn't feel anywhere nearly natural and I can already do zoom one handed just hold the phone so that there are two fingers free to pinch.

Are you serious? I'm curious to see how you normally hold your phone with one hand now, I'm figuring you as some sort of contortionist, or one of those guys that can cut a deck of cards in half with just one hand. I personally love this gesture, and I use it all the time, especially when it's too cold outside and I'm using my phone with one hand, with the other one in my pocket instead.

> "just hold the phone so that there are two fingers free to pinch."

Yes, just you try doing this on a rocking bus - it's a pretty effective way to turn your phone into a projectile. Or a train. Or a car. Or...

Does anyone else touch their nose to the screen and use their thumb to zoom?

Funny how things can come full-circle

> "On a Stanford or MIT keyboard in raw mode, use of four shift keys while typing a fifth character, where the four shift keys are the control and meta keys on both sides of the keyboard. This was very difficult to do! One accepted technique was to press the left-control and left-meta keys with your left hand, the right-control and right-meta keys with your right hand, and the fifth key with your nose."


I've seen many answer a phone calls using their nose during winter months.

I actually do this

I just employed this technique to comment to this thread.

I've been known to use the nose technique for many phone/tablet interactions.

Don't know if you were just playing, but that is great.

I was kidding and not kidding at the same time. Sometimes they interfere

This is great, because you know the most annoying feature of google maps? When pinching to zoom, it also rotates.

The map not rotating is great!

Is that on iOS only? It doesn't do that on Android. If you are rotating, you may also zoom, but if you pinched to zoom before rotating, it locks the rotation and you only get zoom.

Right, but sometimes the fingers rotate unintentionally before zooming (or separate on an arc)

This angers me more than anything!

A lot of people have a problem with this as an optional gesture they are welcome to use, if they want.

What's the problem here? Should Apple remove keyboard shortcuts, because they aren't as discoverable?

I use the exact same gesture in Apple iBooks, when I want to highlight paragraphs, and it saves me so much time and interaction, it's not even funny.

How long before this is considered obvious? Does Google have a pending patent on this? I can honestly say I wouldn't have thought of this.

So this is what has been making Google maps sporadically zoom! I have been wondering why navigating around a Google map on my iPhone means that it zooms every now and again. I tend to make a lot of fast and small movements which must get interpreted as a double tap and then a drag.

Funnily enough, I don't have this problem with Apple maps as I suppose their sensitivity is less.

I first encountered this method of zooming in and out in an Android browser called xScope a few years back. The developer called it "pin zoom," and it was one of the major features he touted.

Incidentally, xScope was also the first multi-touch browser for Android. I'm not sure what that dev is up to now, but I like to give him props when this UI technique comes up.

Worst part about Google Maps for the iPhone: the drawer. Half the time when I pinch to zoom in or out it opens the damn drawer. This gesture is a great alternative but not very discoverable. The drawer should really be done away with.

Cool. Ain't it? From a Usability View, it's OK not to have made this through an instruction or tutorial. We were living without it but I moment I accidentally stumbled on it the other day, I liked it. I always believed I was the last one to find it.

It's my opinion that these are few of those gestures which are OK to be left as something to be 'discovered'. Just yesterday, my daughter struggled with my Macbook trying to zoom-in on the photos she saw, pinching them, dragging them on the screen. Such gestures and its variations are ones that we have to consider 'should/might work'.

While this gesture may not be intuitive, I have to give credit to the initial stage double tap and then the zoom calibration with the vertical slide gesture.

There's another app that has a very similar gesture, Readmill. They allow brightness adjustment with a vertical slide. The downside is the lack of initial gesture to toggle its activation. So, while reading, trying to vertically scroll the page has caused the gesture to activate brightness adjustment. It becomes frustrating.

Interesting that pulling your finger up is zooming in while pulling it down is zooming out which I guess is supposed to correspond to "+"/"-" symbols. I would think the opposite is more intuitive which is pulling down is moving the camera down from zoomed out position down closer to the map which enlarges it while pulling up moves the camera back from the map which zooms out.

I think especially if you think in terms of height the functionality makes more sense as it is. Think of an aircraft where pulling the yoke in your direction goes up and pushing it away from you goes down.

This is fantastically useful. Not so much for zooming in- you can already double tap for that. But to be able to zoom back out... brilliant.

You can double-tap with spread fingers to zoom back out. A semi-one handed gesture.

Although it is rather unfortunate that it only zooms to the center of the view rather than where you double-tap.

I think it makes sense to zoom to the middle.

Since you're using this with one hand, tapping anywhere other than the area where your thumb naturally rests would be uncomfortable.

Also, and more importantly I think, what if you wanted to zoom in to a position near the top of the screen? You would have to tap near the top of the screen and move your finger up, causing your thumb to go off the screen. So you wouldn't be able to zoom in to an area near the top of the screen or zoom out from an area near the bottom. If such a large segment of the screen is unusable for this feature, you might as well just have it zoom to the middle, and make the user center the place they want to zoom to on their own.

Since you're using this with one hand, tapping anywhere other than the area where your thumb naturally rests would be uncomfortable.

Not any more uncomfortable than single tapping any other part of the screen one-handed. Of course this depends on screen size...

what if you wanted to zoom in to a position near the top of the screen?

Point well taken.

Assuming that the content of interest is a good centimeter or so in from the edge, you could map that point-to-edge distance to cover the remaining zoom scale. If it's inside that centimeter, zooming into the middle is useless anyway.

Not any more uncomfortable than single tapping any other part of the screen one-handed. Of course this depends on screen size...

You're right, this would probably be perfectly fine on the iPhone, though it could be annoying on something like a Galaxy S3, especially for someone with small hands.

If it's inside that centimeter, zooming into the middle is useless anyway.

True, but if it always zooms to the middle, the user knows that they need to center the point that they want to zoom into before they actually zoom.

it's actually better this way, it's harder to aim when you're double tapping but easy to swipe one area to the center.

Yup, exactly!

I love google and all the nice tricks... but every time something google does, people have orgasm.

Samsung Browser on Galaxy S3 has one hand zoom already. In a browser, drag your finger up and down to zoom in or out. I miss it on Chrome on Android.

So.. that being said, I am not sure, who is first in implementing one hand zoom, Google or Samsung or somebody else.

Nokia N900 had one hand zoom back in 2009. Due to lack of multitouch screen the zoom gesture was spinning your finger around in circles.

Do we actually need multitouch? For zooming webpages I always double tap to zoom in and have the Android browser rewrap the page. I figured that I actually don't need multitouch, except for maps. And with this, I could get rid of it and back to resistive sensors for example

I don't know what to say here other than that I already knew this for a long time. :/

Some other tricks I know but no idea if others know also:

- double tap with one finger to zoom in

- tap with two fingers simultaneously to zoom out

- tap and hold finger over selectable content, then move finger to move selection

- shake iPhone to undo typing

And Chinese best Map APP AMap has done it long ago on all platforms also.

You can zoom out with one hand using the spread technique...... it's just more awkward (you use your thumb tip and the bottom half of your index finger).

Never knew about this. It'll probably be something that will catch on fast in different (non google maps) apps over the next few years.

This has been on Android for quite sometime.

Uh... when I downloaded the new update it specifically mentioned this gesture and suggested I "try it myself!"

That was months ago.

Wow this is the best find ever! Thanks! I have also found myself nearly dropping my phone attempting to zoom!

Brilliant. Wonder how long it is until this sort of thing is standard on iOS (a la pull-to-refresh).

This was too good (and not that obvious) I first thought it's an April fool's prank.

I need to double-tap+hold then move up/down to zoom, not just tap and hold.

Neat but I sure hope you aren't using this to drive while using your phone.

This is one of those stupid UI tricks that's really clever and neat -- if you're savvy enough to have already known about it or smart and curious enough to discover it on your own. In other words, it's like an Emacs keybinding.

What it is NOT is intuitive. Which Apple's pinch-to-zoom IP is.

I know I'm being pedantic, but Emacs actually has a really nice built-in help. You can call up a list of all active bindings, sorted by mode, and then jump to documentation, and then jump to the elisp implementation. It's like having your own cheat sheet -- something the iPhone couldn't do.

...why am I comparing iphones to emacs?

That's not very useful. It just zooms to the center of the page. That's not really what I want in a map. Two finger zoom lets you pan around while zooming. So much nicer.

It is useful for people who either lack a second hand entirely or might not have it available for whatever reason.

FYI it is a Maps app feature, no an iOS Maps app feature.

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