Nailing the user experience for any app can feel like an insurmountable task. Get it wrong, and a user may be lost forever, without a chance to win them back. This is no exception for us at Infinite Flight. Controls have to be where you expect them to be while flying, especially during critical phases of flight. So what happens when you decide to change it up?
This article won't cover the nuances of UI design. That's a topic that deserves its own article on another blog. What I'll do instead is endeavour to prepare our readers and users for some upcoming UI changes in Infinite Flight that they may not even know they wanted (that's the optimistic hope, at least).
Our UI is part of what makes Infinite Flight what it is. When you grip your device to start a flight, your fingers and thumbs already know the routine. But what if there's a better way? When the UI works, there will inevitably be copycats, and this has happened to us recently. For real. Luckily, we're not bound by our UI choices for all eternity, and we use one of our favorite words here at Infinite Flight: iterate.
So that's what we're doing. Iterating. Something that kept coming up around the office was the fact that many critical controls were on the same side of the UI as the rudder control. While this may not seem problematic to those that are used to the existing interface, it can pose some real challenges in-flight. The most important example of this has to be crosswind landings and go-arounds. Keeping your rudder moving (in our case, your right thumb) in the landing phase is critical, especially in a taildragger and in a crosswind. Currently, configuring the aircraft for a go-around or a touch-and-go means taking your entire left hand off of the device, or releasing the rudder control to configure flaps. The result is often less than ideal.
The solution is of course to move some controls around. This will of course require some rewiring for many of our brains, but thankfully, not during critical phases of flight, since the rudder and throttle will remain where they are for now. Internal and beta experiments have been well received so far.
With the addition of live instruments and more aircraft systems comes the added complexity of presenting toggles and controls for this functionality in a way that is extendable for future aircraft. To combat this challenge, our developers are testing a new multi-tiered menu system that will give pilots access to more controls without spending too much on screen real estate. In addition to existing systems, new functionality must be planned for, such as navigation (VOR, NDB, etc.), electrical, hydraulic, APU, engine and fuel; the list goes on.
We've created a sample animation so you can see what we've been up to. Please note, all UI design is subject to change.
Many have expressed wanting to have interactive buttons, switches and dials by touching them directly in the 3D cockpit. This is of course something we considered, but it was discarded for the time being for several reasons. First, activating controls in 3D requires the user to first pan the camera and often zoom in/out which can be very distracting, especially during important phases of your flight. In addition, it takes a lot of precision to be able to push a button or turn a dial in 3D, and can be difficult to repeat with no mistakes. Lastly, 2D UI are easier to learn and build muscle memory with, especially on small screens.
That being said, this is something we are not discarding for the future and might very well add it as an option. In the meantime, we believe that this new 2D UI is the best middle ground between realism and usability.
We are assuming there will be some growing pains while we make this jump and I'm sure once this change reaches our beta testers we'll find many unintended consequences of some actions. Until then we'd love to know what you think about the changes you're seeing. Continue the discussion on our community forum, and we'll carry on trying to provide users with the best experience on a mobile flight sim.