A UX Story, How Updating to iOS 17.0 Cost Me 17 Dollars

Like many responsible adults I have monthly bills to pay. Including numerous credit cards that I strategically use to maximize for rewards, cashback, and sign-up bonuses. Despite the benefits credit cards provide, they also complicate my life. Never missing a payment is paramount in keeping my credit score healthy. And paying in full and on-time is crucial in avoiding interests and fees. I don’t use auto-pay because I like to review my statements before paying to ensure everything is in good standing. As a result, I searched for a robust system that would remind me to pay my credit cards on time. After experimenting with various methods, I eventually settled with the Apple Reminders app and its companion widget. It worked perfectly up until a new usability defect was introduced in iOS 17.0 which ruined my perfect on-time payment streak and degraded my user experience and trust.

The Evolution of My Reminder System

For years I had used the Apple Calendar app set up with recurring events, but there wasn't a way to mark them as complete when paid. Therefore, I was never certain if I had actually paid already or not. To improve on this, later I switched to a ten-dollar physical agenda I picked up from Target. It laid on my desk opened to the current week; I had the joy of physically crossing out bills once paid. The problem with this was that I then had to handwrite a new entry each month for every credit card bill due date. Ultimately, these systems had shortcomings that made them ineffective. I continued to search for a better system. Eventually, I found it.

I discovered and started using the Apple Reminders app around 2015. A versatile and powerful app to manage to-dos. To this day it has been the best tool for managing my to-dos which includes paying my bills on time. I loved how with the Apple Reminders app I could set recurring reminders that remind me a few days before my bills were due. And how they synced across all my Apple devices. Whenever I paid a bill, I could just mark it as complete and forget about it until the following month. This system essentially combined the best of both worlds of my previous systems: recurring (Apple Calendar) and the ability to mark as complete (physical agenda). Thanks to this robust system, I had never missed a credit card payment, which meant I had never paid any credit card interests or fees!

Making Reminders Unforgettable By Using Widgets

I consider most of my to-dos important and the last thing I want is to forget them. You know what they say, “out of sight, out of mind.” And I certainly can't rely just on push notifications in a time and age when every app is fighting for my attention. It's too easy to forget them. A major advantage of using a physical agenda was that it laid on my desk and it was always opened to the current week. Important tasks for the current week were always visible, which included reminders to pay my bills. Forgetting about important due dates was nearly impossible.

Conveniently, in 2020 iOS 14 introduced widgets. Widgets could be placed on the Home Screen next to apps to quickly see useful information about any widget-supported app. In particular, the Reminders app provided a nice companion widget that displayed a preview of current reminders due for the current day. In effect, this simulated my physical agenda always being opened on my desk. Soon I started using the widget to complement my overall system.

Currently, the Reminders app widget is placed on the first page of my Home Screen. The widget itself is sandwiched between two rows of apps on top and two rows of apps in the bottom. Having it smacked in the middle makes my to-dos for the current day visible every time I unlock my phone throughout the day. From the widget, if I wanted to, I could tap on it to directly open the Reminders app and start managing my to-dos.

iOS 17 Makes Widgets "Interactive"

The Reminders app combined with the companion widget had been the perfect setup. Then I updated to iOS 17.0 from 16. That's when my problem started. In iOS 17, Apple introduced “interactive” widgets, the next generation of widgets. What this meant was that not only could widgets display information about some of the apps on the Home Screen, but many could now be directly interacted with from the Home Screen without opening the actual app! The Reminders app widget specifically added the ability to mark to-dos as complete directly from the widget itself without opening the actual Reminders app! Though nifty, the way the interactive widget currently handles gestures can lead to a major problem as I found out first hand.

Ecountering the Usability Issue with Interactive Widgets

From time to time, I like to review my recent credit card transactions for integrity. One day after logging into one of my credit cards accounts, I noticed a large red banner that read, "Past Due." This was the first time encountering this type of banner. Somehow, I was one day past due! What the heck?! How could this have happened?! My Reminders app had always kept me on top of my due dates. I panicked and immediately paid off the balance in full taking the outstanding balance to $0.

A few days later I encountered a $17 interest charge! I had never paid interest or a late fee on a credit card! Perplexed, I scratched my head. I had no idea how I ended up in such situation. My setup that I had perfected over the years had never failed. There was something off, but I didn’t know what. My initial hunch was that it was something to do with the Reminders app or iOS update, though wasn't sure. Several days later something happened. While swiping through my Home Screen pages, I caught myself inadvertently marking one of my to-dos as complete through the Reminders "interactive" widget. Ahah! I was convinced this was exactly what must have happened last time, but this time thankfully I noticed! This led me to be more cautious.

The problem arises due to the indistinguishability between trying to do a swipe gesture, vertically or horizontally, while on the Home Screen that has a Reminders widget in it, and intentionally wanting to mark a reminder to-do as complete. If the swipe just happens to start from the widget area, then the widget will intercept the swipe and act on it, which includes marking the reminder where the finger landed as complete! This means when trying to swipe between Home Screen pages where all the apps are there's a high chance, depending on the widget placement, that will lead a user to interact with the widget inadvertently while trying to do a completely different action.

In my case, since I have multiple pages of apps, I often swipe horizontally from page to page to get to other apps or vertically to open the notification center or global search. But since widgets are now interactive, it is too easy to interact with them while trying to perform a different action. Ultimately, this led me to inadvertently mark an upcoming payment as complete by initiating a swiping gesture by accident on one of the to-dos through the Reminders interactive widget. Because of this I believed I had made the payment which wasn't actually the case, as a result it made me late and cost me $17 in interest and fees.

Working Around the Usability Issue

Since the problem revolves around interactive widgets, I needed to start there. I first tried to figure out if I could make the Reminders app widget non-interactive as it had been in versions prior to iOS 17. Though that wasn't an option. I looked in several settings. I even googled to double check, but nothing about disabling them. I did, however, stumbled across a insightful reddit post where other users described the same usability problem about inadvertently marking reminders as complete while swiping. I felt a sense of relief that it wasn't just me.

As of iOS 17.1.1 it’s still a problem. The only workaround seems to be to not use the Reminders widget to avoid unintentional interactions. Though, I really like the ability to see my to-dos for the day at a glance. For now, I'll continue using the interactive widget, although with caution.

A Reminder to Thoroughly Test for Usability Errors

In theory, the newly introduced interactive widgets seem like a handy feature, and overall, it might be, just not the way user interactions and gestures are currently handled. This is especially true for the Reminders widget where users' intent to swipe the Home Screen pages and mark a to-do is completely indistinguishable. In my case, the Reminders app widget takes up half of one of my Home Screen pages, and it’s smacked in the middle so it’s hard not to touch it while swiping through screens, especially when not fully paying attention.

This is an obvious yet subtle case where Apple didn’t adequately test the interactive widgets for usability problems. As a consequence, it resulted in my first late credit card payment ever and cost me $17. Though I don’t consider the Apple Reminders app as a safety-critical app like software on an airplane or on medical devices, this can quickly cause great financial harm for those who rely on financial-related reminders. Luckily for me it was only $17 and I was able discover the problem early on. Hopefully Apple will soon address this problem and fix it before it costs people serious money or forget other important to-dos.

As a developer and designer, this serves as another anecdotal reminder why thoroughly testing user interface changes and interactions is important. We just never truly know how or for what purposes users are using software, which could be in ways that we never anticipated for. Sometimes in ways that can cause financial harm like it was in my experience.

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