Tablet app UI: The user is always right

Tablet app UI: The user is always right

Summary: Tablets are very personal devices due to being used in the hand. They can be used in almost any environment and position. App developers better respect that.

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The iPad took the world by storm for a number of reasons, not least of which was due to the personal nature of tablets. They are used in the hands, which makes the use a very personal thing. Use any tablet for a while and it becomes an extension of yourself.

The screen is held in whatever way the user desires, a combination of surroundings and comfort. There is a blur of the line where the hand ends and the tablet begins. The personal experience is what attracts people to the tablet form, and nothing is as jarring as the tablet app that forces the user to hold the tablet in a way that is not natural.

If you use a tablet you've likely run into this head-on. You're sitting comfortably in a chair, tablet in hand, happily doing things without thinking about the device. You open an app like you've done hundreds of times to just do things. The app opens but the screen is displayed sideways as in the image at right. No matter how you tilt the screen the display will not rotate like all the other apps. It stubbornly sits there in landscape orientation even though you are holding the tablet in portrait.

It seems the developer of this particular app has decided that you must hold the tablet a certain way to use his/her app. Landscape displays more info side-to-side than portrait, and the developer chose to force you to view it that way. This makes you to rotate the tablet in your hand to fit the developer's wishes and not your own, even though you are the end user. That design decision by the developer was just wrong in my book. Like the customer in the old adage, the user is always right.

Tablet app developers, don't take away the one factor of the user experience that makes tablets unique, the ability to use an app while holding the tablet in whatever position is comfortable. Tablets are used in many places that conventional PCs can't be used, and that's what makes them resonate with consumers. They can be used sitting in a comfy chair, standing up on the subway, or even lying in bed. It is the personal nature of the form factor that has made the tablet resonate with consumers. Don't take that away by poor design of your app.

The first thought that occurs to me when I run into an app that won't work in any orientation is that the developer was lazy. Rather than add display rotation to the design of the app, the choice was made to fix it in landscape. If laziness was not behind the decision, perhaps the developer couldn't figure out how to gracefully make the app display rotate. All the other app developers do that but maybe it was beyond the abilities of the team behind this particular app.

If you are a developer and feel your particular app can only display properly in landscape, I beg to differ. I challenge to you put a disclaimer in the app store that your app can only operate in landscape. If you are right about your app, then the disclaimer won't hurt sales. Somehow I don't think any developers will take me up on that.

I don't think developers want users thinking that rotation was just too hard to implement. I hope they also realize that I am not unique in my feeling about the lack of screen rotation. If I have a choice between two apps, one that rotates properly and one that doesn't, you know which one I will choose. I am a tablet user, and I am always right in determining how I want to hold my tablet.

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Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Mobility, Tablets

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21 comments
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  • RE: Tablet app UI: The user is always right

    I couldn't agree with you more James. Tablets are as personal in their use as smartphones and screen orientation is a matter of personal preference. In the case of my phone I have it locked to portrait to easily use it with one hand, and it irks me when a developer decides that I must conform to their way of thinking and turn my device.
    kaonix
    • RE: Tablet app UI: The user is always right

      @kaonix
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      Michelle223
    • RE: Tablet app UI: The user is always right

      @kaonix That's sooooo funny coming from iFans. You complain when an App developer wants you to access their software their way, but yet give Apple a pass when they force users to access their iOS the way they want.<br><br>Don't you think iUsers would want to customize their home screens beyond having a gird of icons? Oh, and let's not forget Jobs advise about holding your phone wrong. Talk about irony. Ha ha ha!!!
      mrxxxman
  • RE: Tablet app UI: The user is always right

    You can always try to make a difference but the fact is that:<br>a: if you need the specific app, there's no way around it, except to try to make the developer change his mind (through articles like these)<br>b: if the app has alternatives (other apps that do roughly the same) that do support both views, the developer will notice the drop in downloads and commit the change (or realize that it's already too late)

    Meanwhile you'll just have to put up with it :-)
    belli_bettens@...
  • RE: Tablet app UI: The user is always right

    Could it also be an aspect ratio issue? Meaning unlike the 4:3 aspect-ratio of the iPad where apps generally looks and works well in both landscape or portrait orientations, the 16:9-[b]widecreen[/b] tablets are essentially landscape devices? It encourage app developers to build their apps primarily for landscape mode, whereas iPad developers are encouraged (actually required by Apple) to build apps for both orientations?
    dave95.
    • RE: Tablet app UI: The user is always right

      @dave95. Android Tablets work exactly the same way.
      slickjim
    • RE: Tablet app UI: The user is always right

      @dave95. Except that, oddly, it not the more common problem. The Android OS originally was a phone OS and so portrait mode was the norm. A lot of apps - including the ZD app, just assume you're in the mode and either have no ability to run in landscape - or do so very weirdly and inconsistently (some views will rotate - others won't).
      TheWerewolf
      • RE: Tablet app UI: The user is always right

        @TheWerewolf <br><br>Which is the reason developers should be building tablet specific apps for tablets, not having users use phone apps. Apple from day one of the iPad launched encourage developers to develop specific apps for the iPad, not just settle for users using their iPhone apps. Google seem to have the opposite approach. Andy Rubin already made it clear that he doesn't think their should be tablet specific apps on Android/ICS. <br><br>[i]"I don't think there should be apps specific to a tablet," "if someone makes an ICS app it's going to run on phones and it's going to run on tablets."[/i]
        dave95.
      • Say Huh?

        @TheWerewolf <br>On my iPad I have the majority of my apps are iPhone expanded's and have more than a few that are locked into a one view mode.<br><br>I do have some of the same on my Transformer but have less.

        [i]Update: of the 53 apps on my iPad, 7 are one view mode, 32 are phone apps. On my Transformer, of 43 apps, 3 are one view mode, 30 are phone apps. - difference here is widgets on Android. [/i]
        rhonin
      • RE: Tablet app UI: The user is always right

        @TheWerewolf On Android, you're been able to have screen orientation apps since version 2.2 (Froyo). It's a non issue too because the screens on both phones and tablets are the same form factor, 16:9, which is why they scale up better than on iOS. That's not the case for iOS where the iPad form factor is very different from the iPhone's.
        mrxxxman
  • Games

    Not too many games work well in both portrait and landscape. They are generally designed with one dominating dimension. Oh sure, you could force the issue and shrink the game and add a ton of dead space if you insist on making developers build their apps that way. But why would you do that?
    Michael Kelly
    • RE: Tablet app UI: The user is always right

      @Michael Kelly Games are the exception to the rule in my book. The sophisticated graphics don't always lend well to screen rotation, and I can live with that. Regular apps are a different story, however.
      JamesKendrick
  • RE: Tablet app UI: The user is always right

    Must have the lazy programmers that put together the ZNET android app. No landscape in Honeycomb.
    AZDD
  • RE: Tablet app UI: The user is always right

    The user is wrong when he/she is trying to use a portrait orientation to view data which is so wide that it REQUIRES landscape orientation to view. Some reports are just so wide that they cannot be viewed in portrait orientation and have ANY meaning whatsoever. And if the app is good enough, users will rotate their device to accommodate it.

    But I do agree in general. *IF* an app can be made to work both ways, do it. But if making it work both ways renders the app useless in one orientation or the other, then it's better to get your app out the door and making money, than to worry about something like this.
    roncemer
    • RE: Tablet app UI: The user is always right

      @roncemer

      Agreed.

      One of the things I notice about Mr. Kendrick's articles is that he sounds like a baby. Take 2 seconds to view the screenshots. If they're all in landscape, DON'T DOWNLOAD IT. Why download the app then complain that it's only in one orientation. One doesn't have to be "tech savvy" to figure out the solution to this "problem".
      tallbruva
      • RE: Tablet app UI: The user is always right

        @tallbruva +1. I've gotten to where I can usually tell Kendrick's articles just by the title and avoid them. I looked at this one because I'm a developer and thought there might be something worth reading, despite not being able to stomach that sneering, looking-down-his nose picture at the top of the page.
        nfordzdn
  • RE: Tablet app UI: The user is always right

    "No matter how you tilt the screen the display will not rotate like all the other apps. It stubbornly sits there in landscape orientation even though you are holding the tablet in portrait."

    Ugh, and I dare say the iPhone has a similar limitation: Some apps refuse to go landscape. Even OS native apps like settings refuse to go landscape.

    With the iPhone, being able to switch to landscape is is important because of the tiny keyboard. I make a lot less mistakes in landscape and type a bit faster than I do in portrait.

    The only apps I can forgive for this are games, which depend on the orientation for playing them properly. Every other app IMO should absolutely be designed to be used either way.
    CobraA1
  • RE: Tablet app UI: The user is always right

    Ok...I don't really use the iPad that much. Only for development reasons do I really touch one. Otherwise I'm on a Mac or PC doing code and design work. This article is stupid. I'm sorry to be so frank or to use such a childish word to emphasis my feelings but overall this article is dumb. Just because you want something in portrait mode doesn't mean that it''ll work that way. So I should lose sales due to portrait mode issues when I know that landscape mode is the best design choice possible. Now I will entertain your idea and say that if I got inventive enough I could do portrait mode for certain things but you used a Email App for your example. REALLY! Of all apps to use you use the one app that best showcases why landscape mode is best. A vertical scaling email app will not look as good as a horizontal app. You lose much needed reading space and navigation becomes hindered greatly. Now again, I could become inventive and make it work but then I have to ask what is best for you (the user) and best for me (the developer). Do I waste time and money making something work that might not, and lose sales in the process or make it "just work." As Apple so adequately puts it. Sometimes the "Just Work" part comes with sacrifices. Personally if an email client/app is your biggest gripe slash example then you are in need of a laptop/macbook, because your wants are unrealistic. Not trying to sound mean but atleast use a better example then a email app. Okay my rant is finished.
    dw59
    • RE: Tablet app UI: The user is always right

      @dw59 And just to add. Yes I have seen portrait mode email apps before but honestly most people use horizontal/landscape to view those. But I'm just part of the minority I suppose. Better brush up on my coding skills.
      dw59
    • RE: Tablet app UI: The user is always right

      @dw59 "A vertical scaling email app will not look as good as a horizontal app."<br><br>Says who?<br><br>"You lose much needed reading space and navigation becomes hindered greatly."<br><br>Reading stuff, especially if it's a long article, is often better in portrait. Navigation controls should get out of the way in such a case. See iPhone's implementation for a good example. And I imagine the iPad's own mail app works either way (although I don't have an iPad myself, so I don't know what it looks like in portrait).<br><br>"Now again, I could become inventive and make it work but then I have to ask what is best for you (the user) and best for me (the developer)."<br><br>Heaven forbid you become inventive. Too bad the competition seems to have to have a better imagination than you do.<br><br>It's always about what's best for the user, and the user is always right. And the user has the right to be as nitpicky as they want, because they can always switch to your competition.<br><br>"Do I waste time and money making something work that might not, and lose sales in the process or make it 'just work.'"<br><br>You mean those sales you just lost to the competition because you were stubborn about a portrait orientation?<br><br>"Sometimes the 'Just Work' part comes with sacrifices."<br><br>I think you miss the point of the phrase "it just works." If a user thinks its fundamentally broken, obviously it doesn't "just work."<br><br>"Personally if an email client/app is your biggest gripe slash example then you are in need of a laptop/macbook, because your wants are unrealistic."<br><br>Try telling that to Apple and their own implementation of their email client.
      CobraA1