Tim Bray, Google’s Android developer advocate, has stirred the pot by unequivocally declaring that portrait orientation makes for a better tablet experience than landscape orientation.
He notes that outside of tablets, tall and narrow is the natural way to convey information. Books arrange themselves into dual walls of text, newspapers are arranged in columns and windows on the computer screen tend to be tall and thin, or at least sliced into vertical panes. “So hold your damn tablet the right way up. That’s the way the information wants to be, anyhow,” Bray writes.
I think I understand Bray’s frustration. Some apps, when in portrait mode, treat themselves like half a landscape. The iPad’s Mail and Notes apps, for instance, use a left pane for navigation when in landscape, but this extra navigation layer disappears in portrait mode, hidden behind intrusive drop-down menus. Why not use some of portrait mode’s vertical screen real estate to display navigation options as well?
Still, Bray’s conclusion is odd, considering that Android tablets are designed with landscape mode in mind. Promotional materials for every Honeycomb tablet to date favor landscape, and Android tablets’ widescreen resolutions seem to look more natural when held with the long sides on top and bottom.
Bray’s conclusion also ignores the many areas in which landscape mode makes perfect sense, such as video. No one would argue that users should deprive themselves maximum screen real estate when watching a TV show on Netflix or Hulu. Gaming also lends itself to the widescreen, with platform games that run lengthwise across the screen and first-person shooters in which the landscape view shows more of the battlefield. I also prefer landscape when using music applications, such as virtual drum kits and keyboards.
The bigger point here is that tablets are totally adaptable for the task at hand, including uses where portrait mode is more conducive than landscape, and vice versa. Tablet users are not bound by the rules of the laptop, so rotating the screen is no biggie. Hold your damn tablet any way you like, I say. Whatever suits the moment.