Semi-modal view with better context

Posted: May 4th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Custom UI, Development, iOS, UX | 7 Comments »

For a long time, since beginning of iPhone programming, the modal view has not had any major innovation. A quick search on cocoacontrol for “modal” returns 3 types of modal view:
– Fullscreen cover-up modal view
– Centered-popup type
– Date selector modal

The context problem

Out of the 3 types, the date selector is the only type that keeps the user aware of the current context that he is in (date for which field). By contrast, the other types of modal view practically cover up the entire screen and none or little context is visible. These implementations have been sufficient so far and sometimes the developers just have to include some context within the modal itself by setting the view’s title or include some kind of static labels.

But what if we could do better by adopting the same interaction by the date selector component? What if we need to somehow keep most of the context visible while presenting user with supplementary controls for adjusting behaviors of the context?

The Park Guides app by National Geography

The beautiful Park Guides app (iTunes link) launched just recently in Apr 2012 did an excellent job in solving the context problem.

So instead of the usual fullscreen modal view/popup view/UIActionSheet, the app shows a semi-modal view on top of the current view similar to the date selector component. However, the most interesting feature of this app is the way the current context is kept visible using a nice subtle animation. Instead of simply dim the view in the background like UIActionSheet, the entire view is scale down to about 80% and pushed back like a stack, creating a unique wow effect and at the same time, more of the background view is visible to the user. This is a great new way to interact with iPhone components.

It’s best to view the effect in a video clip here (1.3MB, .mov)

When it works, when it wouldn’t

Arguably this fancy implementation may not work in all cases. If you have a long Settings modal view in your app, it is not suitable. Or if you have a modal screen with text input, it wouldn’t work at all.

Nevertheless in many of the use cases it will be excellent addition to your app. Say for example you have a long Settings screen and different Tabs in your app, you might want to consider breaking down all the settings into different places where they are being used there and then.

Another use case showed in Park Guides app is providing extra content to the current view with a modal image (2nd screenshot above), adding more context while facilitate information-hiding.


In an attempt to learn CATranforms3D for the first time and replicate the same experience, I’ve created a custom Category add-on for UIViewController that makes presenting such a custom view easy.

Here’s the post explaining the library : KNSemiModal Category for iOS

Or you can go directly to the source file on Github here UIViewController+KNSemiModal