Flashlight: A popular iPhone app

Flashlight is number 16 on the list of top 25 free apps of all time. It allows you to use the iPhone as a flashlight in two ways: Either by turning on the LED light used by the camera for flash, or by filling the screen with a solid color, so you can use the screen itself as a light source.

This app carries no message or meaning, it can hardly be studied as communication. The  kind of analysis that springs to mind  is a usability analysis, which the app begs for. Even as simple as it is, it is not easy to understand at first sight.

Usability studies traditionally comes of two kinds. The first is a user test, where a number of users are observed while using a product, often instructed to think aloud while doing it. The other is a heuristic analysis, examining the product to see if it follows established guidelines of best practice. What I will attempt here is a one-person self-administered user test. I will use it myself, writing down my thoughts. It will be less representative than if I had more users, but might incorporate some aspects of heuristics. It will also resemble the mode of classic textual analysis.

Flashlight´s very first screen was a dialogue sheet. Not very attractive, as I had no idea what my options involved. Afraid of missing something important, i selected «Customize and add» rather than «Don’t Show again» and «Cancel». This led me to a screen titled «Customize», with three different settings, as well as «Help» and «More info». Having no idea what i was customizing or setting, the following screens made no sense. I got out of these screens by pressing the «back» button at top left, and was finally shown what i expected. An on/off switch. If I switched to «on», the light came on. Easy to use. Why all the settings?
I revisited the settings, trying to figure out the list of «screens». When selecting one of them, I could press «show this screen now», which made the color fill the screen. I tried to touch the screen, and different things happened. Some times the color changed, other times I got back to the settings. It took a while of trying before I understood: Swiping left or right changed the solid color. Swiping up or down increased or decreased the intensity of the light. Tapping it brough the «Customize» screen forward.

There is an optional «full controls» available for the LED light. It features fast blinking («strobe») and automatic flashing of «SOS» in Morse code, as well as a «manual» button, which will turn on the light only while the button is pressed.

That’s it, really. What more to analyze? You might spin on about how apps create more uses for the device you are already carrying with you in your pocket, I guess.

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