This holiday weekend I spent some time analyzing how I use the various gadgets I have, and what features make each one so good to use. I discovered it is the little things that determine how easy, intuitive, and downright compelling it is to use a particular device and OS. Here are the top five features (in no particular order) that go a long way making my gadgets a joy to use.
iOS- Tap title bar to scroll to top of the window. The small screens on mobile devices mean a lot of scrolling down long windows, and on most of them that means having to scroll back up to the top of the page. This is a tedious process on most platforms, but not iOS. Apple has built the ability to auto-scroll back to the top of any window by simply tapping the title bar in any app. I use this feature all the time on both my iPad 2 and the iPhone 4S, and find it invaluable to have system-wide.
Android- Double-tap home screen button to see thumbnail previews of all home screens. One of the nicest features of Android is the multiple home screens that can be customized as desired. It varies from gadget to gadget, but it's not unusual to have as many as seven home screens that can hold all sorts of widgets and icons. While not every gadget enables the ability to double-tap the home button and see thumbnails of all of the home screens floating on the display, most do, or you can use third party launchers that add the feature. Any preview can be tapped to go directly to that screen, avoiding the need to swipe through them all.
iOS/ webOS- Take screenshots with key combinations. As a reviewer I often need to capture images of the screen of any app, and it is also a handy way to explain how to do something in an app. It has long been possible to do this in webOS and iOS by tapping the power button and home button at the same time. The usefulness of this feature is quickly apparent when you use gadgets/platforms that can't do this. Android has long needed this, and finally catches up to the other two with Ice Cream Sandwich.
Android/ iOS- Drag app icons on top of another to organize them into folders. Having multiple home screens make it possible to have loads of app icons available, but putting similar apps in folders makes better use of the small screen. This has been possible on iOS devices for a while, and with Ice Cream Sandwich Android is getting this feature. It has been possible on Android using third party apps and launchers, but it is integrated at the OS level on ICS.
iOS- Notification Center settings. Android pioneered a good method for displaying notifications when they arrive, but the settings to control what is displayed is buried inside each app. Apple finally added good notifications to iOS5, and as they usually do they made them better. Most useful to me is the ability to control what notifications are displayed (and how) in the main Settings section. I only like a few apps to interrupt me with notifications, so I can easily turn off notifications for all the other apps in one place by simply toggling them off for each app. It's especially nice to be able to leave some app notifications on, but limit which ones pop up on the lock screen.
Almost dead platform bonus:
webOS/ PlayBook- Swipe task "cards" up to close the app. This originally debuted in webOS with the card metaphor used for displaying minimized apps, and became a part of the BlackBerry PlayBook. You can see what apps are running in the background at a glance, and close one by simply swiping the card up and off the screen. Other platforms have methods to perform the same function, but none so intuitive nor functional as the webOS/ PlayBook method.
These five features are the ones I find make a big impact on how I use my gadgets, but there must be others that work well for you. Share your favorite mobile OS features in a comment in the TalkBack section below.