So, with pre-orders for the Nexus 6 starting this week, the Google offering in the ‘phablet’ space, I was thinking about this larger form factor for devices. I’ve held a Samsung Galaxy Note and was a little overwhelmed by it but having had chance to play with an iPhone 6+ it started off a discussion…
This new generation of halfway phone/tablets with beautiful high-resolution screens are where manufacturers seem to be placing their chips. There’s no denying that the incredible, rich displays look fantastic and have a use case for engaging content-consumption but how does that translate to actual, physical interaction. I feel like they could lead to an entirely different user approach to interacting with devices on a simple but quite profound level.
After a laughably unscientific study of myself and some friends/colleagues, it seems that everybody uses their current phone in (and often locked into) portrait mode 90–95% of the time. The ergonomics of holding one of these new phones single-handed and upright takes some large hands or crafty finger positioning. Once you add trying to navigate your thumb towards the home button/navigational buttons you start verging on wobbly. Typing leads you directly into ‘worringly tentative grip’ territory and, given the price of these devices, that’s not the sort of hold I want to have on $500+ worth of phone. One of the ways around this I tried was to hold the phone landscape whilst one-handed and moving around which, for me, worked a lot better for thumb reach and navigation and seemed reasonably secure when doing so.
The input method does dictate that you use two hands due to reach, comfort and speed but that is generally the case in portrait mode too. However, usually the layout of the screen doesn’t make the most of the form factor by splitting the screen or rearranging positions of key functional components.
The issue here is that most apps haven’t traditionally been optimised for landscape mode due to the historical lack of screen length/width. They tend to just be stretched versions of the portrait view or even an extended version on the bottom half of the portrait view. Neither of which are taking advantage of the extended real estate or shape of the screen.
The iOS springboard now functions in landscape mode (well done) and they have started to edge towards this new paradigm with layouts like the Mail.app inbox but it’s still lacking in the majority of use cases and apps.
How should we be building our apps to cope with these larger screens and the possibility of the extended use of landscape view? Could we create our devices to be smarter and be more exactly aware of how we’re holding them?
Where we were once in a position of ‘YOU MUST OPTIMISE FOR TABLET’ for all apps which, although valid, I believe going forward we will see a much larger emphasis also placed upon optimising landscape view for the new generation of phablets. To quote my manager, “it feels like the natural position for the form factor” and that’s going to drive not only innovation but also user behaviour.
If you’ve been using any of the 5+" devices and have any thoughts on this, get in touch in the comments or on twitter @destroywerk