Landscape Tablet Users: You’re Holding it Wrong?

By  |  Monday, May 23, 2011 at 4:15 pm

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.



10 Comments For This Post

  1. Esteban Says:

    I wish that my life was so easy that my biggest concern was how other people hold their tablets.

  2. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Job another clueless programmer

  3. bkd69 Says:

    When we first got our new monitors at work a couple of years ago, I tried using it in portrait mode just to try it out, and gave up after a day or two.

    Then, after I got my Droid, I tried it again, and never went back.

  4. Ryan Patterson Says:

    I don’t know about you, but my eyes are embedded in my face in landscape mode.

  5. Pablo Picasso Says:

    Not me. 😛

  6. Ron Says:

    The fact that Bray has completely forgotten that tablets have the ability to scroll, tells me he is not thinking this the whole way through.

    Hopefully, he's not making decisions on the future of Android OS, otherwise Googles going to have an uphill struggle…

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  8. Steve Fenton Says:

    Angry Birds works better in landscape mode. That's the way Angry Birds data *wants* to be. If you want me to play Angry Birds in portrait mode you're mad.

  9. Kent Says:

    Other than reading books or web contents, everything else should be better in landscape.

  10. Russell Says:

    The argument for text content being in portrait mode I believe is to do with line lengths, and the ease with which you can scan from the end of one line to the start of the next. Of course the arguments for pretty much all other content being in landscape are still perfectly valid!