iPhone Preferences and Settings.app

Unfortunately, the preferences1 situation on the iPhone has always been pretty confusing. There's a comprehensive article on the topic at bjango.com: The settings used to be in the Settings app.

Even though Apple recommends it, placing preferences in their Settings.app is currently probably not a good idea. The list of applications in Settings.app quickly becomes unmanageable, and people don't look for settings in there. In the bjango article, Russell Ivanovic from ShiftyJelly explains:

We received several emails a week from people asking for features that were already part of our application.

People can't find settings if they're hidden away in Settings.app. This is obviously no good. Sophia Teutschler from sophiestication software nails it when she says:

The best advice I can give at the moment is to get rid of settings altogether.

I think the best solution at the moment is this:

  1. If you can at all avoid them, don't offer preferences.
  2. If you absolutely need to offer preferences, put them into your app. The bjango article has examples of how to best do that, and even offers free artwork you can use for settings buttons.

  1. I'm using "preferences" and "settings" interchangeably, although John Gruber is correct in pointing out that they are called "settings" on the iPhone, and "preferences" on the Mac (Windows seems to use both terms, as well as "options"). He also writes: "Settings are often unavoidable — things like usernames and passwords for online services must be adjustable." Usernames and passwords are great examples of settings that can easily be exposed within the application itself without even creating a "section" for settings; for example, you can ask the user to enter a username and password when he starts the application for the first time, or after manually logging out, or when he creates a new account, or when he changes an account. ↩︎

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Want to read more like this? Buy my book's second edition! Designed for Use: Create Usable Interfaces for Applications and the Web is now available DRM-free directly from The Pragmatic Programmers. Or you can get it on Amazon, where it's also available in Chinese and Japanese.