RIP iOS Tab Bar 2007 – 201225 Mar, 2012
The Apple iOS tab bar—that persistent navigation element that runs across the bottom of the majority of iPhone apps—has reached the end of the line.
Sure, you’ll still see it as a legacy interface pattern in many apps, and many iOS designers and developers will insist on including it in their apps. But, no matter how hard they hold on, people need to face the facts that the tab bar is dead.
The tab bar isn’t dead due a lack of utility. It has definitely served a purpose as millions of users began to adopt and learn how to use this new mobile technology. In addition to navigation, one of the tab bar’s unheralded yet most beneficial features was its ability to limit the architectural sprawl of mobile apps by keeping the amount of tabs below five.
Cause of Death
I’m not going to put 100% of the blame on Google/Android, but they are certainly a large part of the tab bar’s demise. When the iPhone was launched, it redefined the way people interacted with mobile applications. Sure, there were some shitty Windows phones and Blackberrys, but Apple introduced something brand new. Since then. Android has grown significantly, and captures more market share across multiple handsets than the iPhone (although Apple is catching up).
For better or worse, the majority of Android apps do not feature a tab bar. There are other navigational elements—some accessible via hardware buttons on the phone—that Android users use to access menus and navigation. The Android Design guidelines that were launched recently are also very clear about not duplicating UI elements from competitive platforms.
Other platforms use the bottom tab bar to switch between the app’s views. Per platform convention, Android’s tabs for view control are shown in action bars at the top of the screen instead. In addition, Android apps may use a bottom bar to display actions on a split action bar.
OK, it is Android’s fault.
How Android Killed the iOS Tab Bar… Follow The Money
Since Android is now a viable player, most organizations that produce mobile apps have to consider the platform and its design standards when building their product. Most organizations don’t want (or can’t afford) to build and support two distinct mobile app designs for Android and iOS, and the tab bar is often the first casualty. Designers are testing new navigation UI patterns that can be effective on both platforms.
Apps like Facebook and Path have rolled out navigation that slides out on the left to reveal several navigational links. This method is flexible (not as limiting in terms of the amount of tabs that may appear in this area) and meets the design standards of both Apple & Google.
I predict that we will begin to see more innovations in ways to navigate our mobile apps in an attempt to standardize across platform. And in a few short years the tab bar will serve as a reminder of what mobile apps used to look like.
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