Immersive Apps vs Immersive Content

App shouldn’t be immersive, but their content should be.

Immersive app experiences are created by removing unessential elements from the screen. Anything that isn’t content is hidden so that your user’s videos, photos or texts can take up the entire screen. It’s wrong to try and create this same immersion throughout your app though, and trying to make everything immersive results in an application that’s harder to use.

When you remove menus, headings, and push data off screen like we’ve seen in the Metro style case study, the user will be drawn more into whats on screen, but your immersive app is now more difficult to use. Each hidden element adds a dimension of complexity for the user. Your app shouldn’t be immersive except for when dealing with individual pieces of content.

The Metro style design case study shows us how Metro creates immersive apps in a few ways:

  • It hides menus on each side of the screen. Since each is activated by a gesture it also hides the means to open those menus.
  • It hides date navigation within a pinch gesture. Going from a month view to a year view requires pinching-in.
  • It shows only a single month on screen while hiding the other 11 off screen, forcing the user to scroll.

Each technique to make Metro more immersive also makes it more difficult to use.

Defining What’s Content

The screens in your app above the content level, such as photo albums, dates and calendars, notifications, settings and sharing aren’t content.

Users don’t have many needs when they are consuming content, and removing on screen elements is a way apps strengthen the connection between the two.

When they aren’t consuming content, users are more complicated. Users come into an app with goals, habits, and mental models, and an app has to help the user accomplish those goals as easily as possible. It does this through tools and cues using sight, sound, vibration and animation. Examples of visual cues include menus, headings, and navigation controls.

In a photo journal app there’s no need to remove menus and navigation controls from the albums view because albums aren’t content, they are a tool to help users navigate to his photos. Immersive albums would only make the user’s search harder.

Activating Immersive Experiences

When a user is looking at a single photo on the iPhone or iPad, all the onscreen elements can be hidden or shown with a single tap. Apple makes moving in and out of an immersive mode very simple.

The iPhone has a wonderful cue for when users want a more immersive experience; they hold the phone sideways in landscape mode. In landscape mode users switch to holding their device with two hands, and are can use more of the screen to view photos and watch videos (which are usually in landscape format).

On the iPhone, some writing apps will also hide the navigation bar when users switch to landscape mode, giving them more space to write.

iA Writer

iA Writer is a good example of an application that offers an immersive experience around content. As a minimal text editor with no options, iA Writer’s only screen is the content screen. When the user starts typing, he engaged with the content and the apps menus and information displays fade out. Move your mouse or drag the screen (on the Mac), and you’ll see iA Writer’s menus reappear.

iA Writer also introduced Focus Mode that turns immersive content up another notch and fades out all but the current sentence. This connects the writer to what he’s writing ever more strongly.

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