Inside UX: How Bloomberg’s UX team made multi-tasking on iPad Pro a reality

February 22, 2018

If you’ve ever seen a Bloomberg Terminal user in action, you know multi-tasking is essential. The ability to see numerous streams of financial information side-by-side on multiple monitors is a defining feature of the Terminal experience. At least, that was, on desktop. Historically, Terminal users weren’t easily able to multitask on mobile devices.

All of that changed in early 2016 when an opportunity led them to solve the unmet need within the Bloomberg Professional mobile app: multi-tasking.

The challenge: Splitting the difference

Earlier that year, Apple had announced Split View capabilities on the iPad: the display of two apps side-by-side, but at that time, it would only work for Apple native apps. Knowing that the ability to look at multiple screens was in high demand as a feature on the Bloomberg Professional app, the UX team was inspired to explore the idea of leveraging the split-screen functionality to address the challenge of multi-tasking within their own app.

Native split screen functionality offered by iOS. Example of the user writing a note while browsing the web.

For background, the Bloomberg Professional app is a “platform” app: a mega app with many mini apps (“applets”) housed within it, not unlike Facebook or WeChat.

In order for a user to perform two tasks simultaneously, he or she would have to navigate in and out of each applet – a very cumbersome and inefficient workflow for a buy side analyst for example, who may be trying to read a research report and capture secure notes at the same time.

Allowing two versions of the same application to run side-by-side, was not only a technical challenge but also a major interaction and visual challenge.

Nuanced animation for discoverability

A team of one designer and two engineers began to assess the feasibility of the idea and assess what would be achievable in the tight deadline.

“We knew seizing this opportunity would galvanize our team to think differently about innovation on mobile. We might not get it right the first time, but it seemed like a no-brainer to evolve the functionality of the mobile app to enable a multi-screen experience akin to the desktop Terminal,” Says Alex Hurworth, Team Lead for Mobile User Experience.

The team tried something small: keep the menu of applets the same, but experiment with using a gesture as a way to split the screen.  Using an example to illustrate the point: A user tapping on the Messaging applet button would ordinarily launch the user straight into the applet, but if they held their finger down (“long press” on the menu item) the applet would open in “Split View” mode, alongside whatever app they were already viewing.

Initial sketches of the concept.

But how would the user discover this gesture?  The team tried a range of implementations, but found exiting and entering the split screen wasn’t really intuitive.

After exploring many options, they came up with the idea of using a subtle—but ultimately very effective—animation to help users figure it out. The “long press” would visually start to appear differently, encouraging the user to hold the screen longer, signaling that something was going to happen.

Explorations of different animations for launching into the “Split View.”

In the end, the team landed on the version below because it struck the right tone with the brand and was appropriate for this UI element.  It looked similar to a progress bar, communicating a forward-driving motion and communicated the direction in which the new panel would appear.  Lastly, it felt most aligned to the native platform (some options felt appropriate for Android, but not for iOS).

The selected animation that was ultimately implemented.

Laying a foundation for innovation

The UX team has continued to refine the animation, with their most recent version resulting in double the amount of users discovering the feature. Feedback has been very positive with users emphasizing the value they are getting from the split screen functionality. The team has even seen other apps adopt a similar design pattern.”

The end product in action: The Bloomberg app split in two, showing a user writing a note while reading a news article.

This entire process demonstrated the value of collaborating in a cross-disciplinary way with the mindset of “fail fast, iterate often.”

“The ability to launch this new feature inspired us to think differently about the Bloomberg Professional app on iPad,” said Yvonne Caravia, Global Head of Mobile Product. “It was a major product launch that galvanized the team to look at the possibilities for our clients’ most advanced workflows.”