Last year’s release of iOS 13 has been one of the more troublesome in recent years, with several features pushed off into later releases and more than a few bugs that had to be quashed. Between the debut of iOS 13 on Sept. 19 and iOS 13.3 on Dec. 10, Apple rapidly moved through a total of ten different versions — a number that took nine months for iOS 12 to reach. In fact, this is the first time we’ve ever seen an iOS “.3” release arrive before March of the following year.
However, the most frustrating thing about iOS 13 may not even be the rapid-fire updates or the bugs that have crept in, but rather the result of a deliberate decision that Apple made to change something that wasn’t really broken in the first place.
When the ability to copy-and-paste arrived on the iPhone back in 2009 — it actually wasn’t a feature of the original iPhone — Apple designers and engineers clearly recognized that trying to manipulate text selection on a touchscreen was a complicated matter, as your finger would clearly get in the way of what you were selecting. As a result, they chose to implement a magnifier to enlarge the section over which your finger was moving while selecting.
In early versions of iOS, which were more skeuomorphic, this actually took the form of an image of a physical magnifying loupe, but even after iOS 7 flattened everything down into a more modern design, the magnifier was preserved without the additional cosmetic frills, which still ensured that you could see what it is that you were doing when selecting text.
For some inscrutable reason, however, Apple’s designers suddenly decided that they had found a better way to do text selection iOS 13, which involved eliminating the magnifier entirely. Lest you think this was an accidental change, Apple’s Senior VP of Software Engineering, Craig Federighi, actually took the stage at WWDC 2019 last June and lauded this as a great new method of selecting text, saying: “There’s no need to double tap and no magnifying glass getting in your way.”
Although some of the other iOS 13 selection and copy and paste improvements that Federighi demonstrates above are definitely for the better, it’s bewildering how the elimination of the magnifier has done anything but worsen the experience of selecting text, and in fact it does it in such a way as to make the experience more frustrating without actually letting you quite put your finger (no pun intended) on exactly why that is.
However, in a new video, 9to5Mac’s Benjamin Mayo demonstrates exactly how the user experience has changed by illustrating the differences between how text selection worked in iOS 12 versus how it now works in iOS 13. Looking at the two running side by side makes it more readily apparent just how much less efficient the new method is for anybody with even medium-sized fingers.
As Mayo points out, he was skeptical even when Federighi announced the change at WWDC, but chose to give Apple the benefit of the doubt. However, after letting it play out throughout the betas, Mayo says the end result was as bad as he had originally feared.
I remember doing a double-take when he said it because that’s not really true at all. The magnifying glass was a convenience, rather than annoyance. Getting rid of it sounded like it would be exactly the wrong thing to do, especially as there was no alternative UI affordance to fulfil its purpose.Benjamin Mayo
iOS 13 does seem to be designed to let you hold your finger further below the text that you’re selecting in order to see it, but this can be finicky at best, and in some cases the difference between holding your finger low enough to see what you’re selecting versus actually selecting the next line can be tricky and requires a level of precision that iOS 12 didn’t, which makes the whole experience seem less smooth and therefore more frustrating.
While Apple may still tweak this aspect a little bit — to be fair iOS 13.3 is noticeably better than iOS 13.0 was — the fact that the magnifying loupe hasn’t returned suggests that Apple has no intention of bringing it back, but the jury is still out as to whether Apple will be able to achieve the more fluid experience that prior versions of iOS offered in any other way.