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There are two popular ways to unlock a phone. iPhone makes you type in a numerical code. Android gives you the option to draw a gesture. Which of these two is easier to remember and easier to execute?

iPhone password lock Android password lock

If the gesture is easier than the code, why haven't website login pages adopted this? Users could draw squiggly gestures with their mouse to log into their accounts. If they're logging in from a mobile browser, it's even easier because they can draw with their hands.

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By the way, digits are positioned this way everywhere to make it easy to remember either the number (1478) or a pattern (move from top left to the bottom, then go one step to the right). You actually notice this when you see the digits positioned differently by mistake, for example in two rows: 0 to 4, then 5 to 9: it makes it extremely difficult to type a short number this way. –  MainMa Jan 2 '12 at 9:34
    
@MainMa I agree about how the familiar positioning of digits makes it easier to type. I am quite pissed that my Magellan GPS uses an alphabetical keyboard rather than a QWERTY one. When typing addresses, I often get lapses of disorientation. –  JoJo Jan 3 '12 at 6:46
    
Not quite 'everywhere' - digits are arranged differently on calculators. –  PhillipW Jan 3 '12 at 21:21
    
Also ATM's have the digits arranged different. My credit card code is gesture-based and it's different in an ATM than in card readers. –  Naoise Golden Jan 5 '12 at 14:18
    
Agreed, sometimes the digits are 123,456,789,0 in each row (phone), or 789,456,123,0 in each row (keyboard keypad) –  CaffGeek Jan 5 '12 at 14:59
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9 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Drawing a pattern with your finger is a lot easier than doing it with a mouse. It's one of the reasons electronic pen/tablet became populare with graphics designers and CAD users. On a website therefore, typing in the numbers is probably a lot easier...

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If the gesture is easier than the code, why haven't website login pages adopted this?

  • Accessibility: How is someone supposed to draw a squiggle if they can't use the mouse?
  • Recordability: Look at a numeric keypad (1 in the lower left corner). "183456" is easy to write down in a text editor for the memory-challenged. Furthermore, the only squiggle I could think of that corresponds to it would be indistinguishable from "18346". Similarly, "159" is indistinguishable from "19", among other combinations.
  • Redundancy: If you want to remember a password that's entered on a 10-key keypad, it's easy enough to remember it as a squiggle anyway. I do this for some of my 10-key passwords, although I have to also remember the purely numeric way if I need to type it on both a phone keypad and a computer one.
  • Entropy:: I don't know how fast GPUs are these days, but you'd need to have a fairly long squiggle to make brute-forcing the password difficult.
  • Easy: For the front-end developer, it's easier to simply have a text box to type into than a fancypants custom UI control.
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The fact that it's hard to record a pattern is a good thing. It's insecure to write your password somewhere. –  JoJo Jan 2 '12 at 20:25
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Blind people can't see or use visual patterns.*

*Not without tactile or auditory feedback.

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Are you sure about that? By definition, they can't see the patterns, but does that mean they can't use them? –  Patrick McElhaney Jan 4 '12 at 15:02
    
It would be hard to create that pattern on a phone when you can't see the hit targets. Not sure how it would be done with the digit way though, speech recognition I guess? –  Matt Rockwell Jan 5 '12 at 14:38
    
On the other hand, the normal "slide to unlock" pattern on iOS is easier than a flat touchscreen-keyboard. I guess we have to wait for holistic screens for accessible unlocking options. –  Naoise Golden Jan 5 '12 at 14:51
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@PatrickMcElhaney I am sure. The ways blind people use touch devices include voice-over, which is de facto not a touch pattern for unlocking. baycitizen.org/technology/story/… –  tajmo Jan 5 '12 at 17:22
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Which one is easier to remember

I would say it depends on the kind of memory that prevails on the user:

  • Declarative memory would prefer a numerical password, since it "consists of information that is explicitly stored and retrieved".
  • Procedural memory would prefer a gesture, since "it is revealed when one does better in a given task due only to repetition".

Here a statistic on which is the prevailing one would come handy, but I can't give any scientific evidence to prefer one over the other. My bet would be that gesture-based is easier to remember. (I personally like gesture, I even remember phone numbers and PIN codes based on the gesture.)

But then you are forcing the user to have an exclusively new gesture to remember, where as most of the people would reuse a long ago remembered code, like their PIN number, date of birth, etc.

In the end, I feel they are quite balanced, and it comes down to using gesture for its novelty or not using it because it's patented.

Which one is better to execute

If it is for an app that can run on different devices, then we have to take the kind of inputs available into account: mouse vs. trackpad vs. qwerty keyboard vs. numeric keyboard vs. touchscreen.

If the gesture is easier than the code, why haven't website login pages adopted this?

As other answers point out, drawing a gesture on a touchscscreen/trackpad is easier than doing it with a mouse, and impossible with a keyboard. So in case the app has to be accessed using any of the latter, the code is the only way to go.

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A gesture might be easier to execute on a touchscreen, but I would argue that only "simple" gestures would be easier. This means it would be much less secure. See my answer for more... –  Matt Rockwell Jan 5 '12 at 19:02
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I think there are two reasons for this.

  1. Sites normally have a username and password, both of which are required and they have to be unique. If you are going to type in one, then you may as well type in both. The difference with a phone is that 10 people can have the same pattern, because what differentiates them is the phone they are using.

  2. On a smartphone, entering a pattern is easier. Possibly, with a mouse it would be possible. But on a laptop trackpad, it would be hideous. On a non-touch phone it would be dreadful. So unless you can control the input device, it is not practical.

The login pattern has the devince defined, so this is not an issue, and the uniqueness is covered above, so it works. Just because an idea works in one environemnt, does not mean it is suitable for everywhere.

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The gesture one is easier to unlock for someone who is trying to break into the phone. Look at the picture example. I bet this is a gesture that a lot of people would use. In fact I bet most people would pick one of 10 or 15 basic patterns. Of course people who are very suspicious or clever would come up with ones that are incredibly difficult to figure out, but think of how many inverted "L" shapes, squares, etc would be the gesture that people would use.

Yes, you could make a really tricky one, but how long would it last? You have to think about practicality as well, you do have to use the same thing to unlock you phone each time you want to use it.

With numbers, although some 4 digit combinations might be slightly easier to type than others, all combinations would have essentially the same amount of effort, with a large number of possibilities and be much harder to crack.

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true, also the fact that the dots need to be connected reduces the amount of variations that can be used –  Naoise Golden Jan 5 '12 at 19:14
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I think patterns are easier to remember as numbers are a very very abstract thing, just like the language. Images and patterns are the natural way the brain works so you can remember them easier.

Additionally, you can execute them easier, I think. That's because drawing a shape is just one swype where typing numbers are at least 5 taps (4 number + enter).

You can see this also on the samsung-android keyboard technology "swype". This technology let's you type around 10x faster than on any iProduct possible - because it is just one fling for a whole word!

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IMO patterns are even more abstract than numbers, how do you describe pattern over the phone? With PIN you can name the numbers, with patterns that's slightly more difficult. Although I agree that pattern is easier to remember, I don't think that it's because pattern is less abstract. –  Lie Ryan Dec 31 '11 at 12:37
    
They are easier to remember because they are less abstract. –  Michael Dec 31 '11 at 12:44
    
Why are they less abstract? Say I'm trying to describe over to my friend over the phone that my password pattern is in the shape of "inverted triangle that starts with the top-left and end in the middle left" (FYI, not my real pattern), that takes so many words, alternatively I can describe that same pattern as 1384 but that brings us back to remembering numbers. Several times, I've shown my screen to my friends and draw my pattern, nobody can remember how I draw it even after giving them a description of what I was trying to draw. –  Lie Ryan Dec 31 '11 at 12:48
    
My pattern are quite simple, no inter-crossing lines (e.g. 1524) or cross-diagonals (e.g. 18 or 29), there is only straight lines and adjacent diagonals. But it always took them a few retries and repeat to finally get the right pattern. In any case, it's much harder for people to remember abstract shapes than to remember numbers that have well-defined symbols and names. –  Lie Ryan Dec 31 '11 at 12:56
    
That's the sense, you should not give away your password ;). –  Michael Dec 31 '11 at 13:56
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Numbers are easier to remember, since we usually link that with some numbers that we'll never forget, like your date of year in reverse, or the number of your car or anything, But from security point of view patterns are more secure I guess, If we can link a specific patter with something, its more secure than numbers. and yeah patterns are fun to use than numbers :D

If they're logging in from a mobile browser, it's even easier because they can draw with their hands.

Note : not all phones are touch screen :)

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"all phones are not touch screens" have a totally different meaning than "not all phones are touch screen". –  Lie Ryan Dec 31 '11 at 17:38
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@LieRyan English is not my first language :( btw, edited. and happy new year :) –  COD3BOY Dec 31 '11 at 17:46
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Because a phone is expected to be used by an individual.

Web logins require a username and password to distinguish you from other users. You would soon run out of unique codes/squigles.

A better use could be to login to your computer maybe?

If used in tandem with a username and or password it would be more secure, but then you would have to switch between keyboard and mouse which would be more time consuming that just typing in a traditional username and password.

Also think security, if it was used on say a website would it be easy for a bot to work out the number of possible combinations relatively quickly (as there would be many less combinations than their are key combinations on a keyboard).

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