Whether you swipe to unlock, drag out a pattern, touch your fingerprint, or any other magical incantation, you do it as much as a hundred times a day or more.

As often as every six minutes we are checking email, Snapchat, Facebook… Sometimes so much out of habit that you have to check again merely moments later… “wait, what time is it again?”  Over the years this process has been distilled down to be based on mere gestures or grips of the device, or even a quick glance for an iris scan. The point is, it has been optimized over numerous iterations to be as friction-free as possible. But Windows 10 and the new Windows Hello authentication system ignores lessons learned from these decades of authentication evolution in a frustratingly stubborn way. Every time you change input modes, the lock screen reverts back to the least-friendly option: a full long alpha-numerical password. It does this even if your last-used mode was a friendly option such as PIN or picture, and without regard of whether a keyboard is even attached. Who does it hurt worst? Precisely the target demographic! Let’s take a look at an example.

Wait, what time was it?

You have a fingerprint reader on your Surface Pro 4 keyboard and you use it every time you unlock your screen. Being the mobile professional that you are, you later flip your keyboard back and prepare to use Windows ink, but first, you need to unlock your device and are presented with… a full password form field, right there on your mobile tablet. This necessitates that you now open the options, switch to PIN entry, and type your code to unlock. You are punished with these extra gymnastics every time you dare to use your tablet as a tablet. It simply will not remember that you want to login with your easy mobile style PIN code.

Now just stay there, please.
Now just stay there, please.

Interestingly, this does not hold true in reverse.  When you later have your Surface on a desk again, keyboard unfurled, the login prompt will still be set to PIN, but will not require switching modes. This is because the fingerprint login is always ready for you to swipe your finger. In other words, there is never a reason to actually switch to the fingerprint sign-in option or hide the PIN entry box because the user can always scan their finger to unlock, even if the screen is prompting you to type a number. Given this fact, one wonders why the sign-in mode ever changes by itself. The UX would be improved simply by—astonishingly enough—leaving it alone and keeping it where the user put it. In other words, if I put it into PIN login mode, just stay there, regardless of whether I happen to use my finger at times.

Users are punished with these extra unlock gymnastics every time they dare to use the tablet, as a tablet.

I’ll note that my Nexus 5x phone works in exactly this demonstrably superior way: sure it prompts for a PIN, but I can always (and usually do) scan my finger instead.


This post is one in a series of UX Matters, exploring some of the largest opportunities for experience improvement in Windows 10.