Quite a lot of tech features are designed to protect us from ourselves, and most of the time I’m fully in favor of this. I like it, for example, that my iOS devices ask me if I’m sure I want to delete a photo. I like it that my Macs ask me if I really want to empty the wastebasket. I love that Time Machine performs hourly backups and offers me an easy way to recover an earlier version of documents – and so on.
But there’s one aspect of iOS designed to protect me from myself that I find irritating, and I’d love a way to switch it off. My iOS devices don’t trust me to ensure there’s no-one watching when I type in passwords …
Any password prompt in an app will briefly display the last character typed before turning it into a blob. That’s nice from a security viewpoint, but it’s a pain from a usability perspective.
I use long, complex passwords. I do my best to avoid having to type them. I use Touch ID whenever that’s an option. I use a password manager. And Password Autofill for Apps will further reduce the necessity in iOS 11. But there are still times when it can’t be avoided.
That’s already a hassle on an iOS keyboard, with constant switching between lower-case, upper-case, numbers and symbols – and not being able to see what you’re typing makes it even worse.
The times when the blob feature has saved me from revealing my passwords to a stranger? Zero. When entering passwords, I make sure I can’t be seen by anyone around me. The times when I’ve mistyped a password without realising it, and had to start again? Some number well above zero.
What I’d ideally like is a system-wide setting that allows me to hide or display passwords as I type. What I’d settle for is a checkbox that appears along with any password field that allows me to hide or display as I choose – and which remembers my default setting.
There are a few apps that address this. Amazon uses the checkbox approach (possibly because the app is really just a packaged view of the website). Facebook offers the option to display it, but only after you’ve got it wrong a few times. But this isn’t a behavior that should be left to individual apps, it ought to be a system-wide setting, and it should be up to users to make the choice.
Am I alone in this, or would other people like to see this too? As always, please take our poll and share your thoughts in the comments. The poll allows multiple options, so if you would like the facility and would be happy with either of the approaches I’ve described, you can check both.