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I want to add a new function to my android application, but am a little bit confused in deciding where exactly to display the functionality.

I can either show it as a button in the application or add a menu entry.

What I want to know is: how often do Android users click the menu button?

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I'd love to hear an authoritative source on this; my parents were certainly confused about the menu button until I showed them. I find the convention okay for power users but it's just not discoverable. –  Ben Brocka Jan 3 '12 at 3:35
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As an iPhone user transitioning to Android, I also found it strange that major sections of an app were hidden away in the menu. I thought the Youtube app was quite shallow until months later I finally discovered that there was a browse section in the menu. I wonder how original Android users feel. This begs another question: is there such thing as an original Android user? iPhone has been out years before Android and most people should have been exposed to iPhone first. –  JoJo Jan 3 '12 at 6:42
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There are absolutely people who never used an iPhone before they used an Android phone, or indeed never used one at all-- my wife and me, to name but two :) Not least because Android phones offer more options in terms of form and function, including many that are much cheaper than an iPhone. (To this day I've still never used an actual iPhone, although I do have a lot of other Apple kit including an iPad, which I got long after my first Android phone.) –  scottishwildcat Jan 3 '12 at 11:35
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I'm another of those people who have never really used an iPhone. I've had probably less than 10 minutes of in-hand time with one and generally always feel puzzled about how to do things - specifically due to the LACK of a menu button or an obvious way to get to more options. (Full disclosure: I consider myself an Android power user) –  Karen Jan 3 '12 at 15:38
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It's important to note that the hardware buttons (including menu) are depreciated in Android 4.0, in large part due to this issue. The menu button is not part of the Navigation Bar and is instead replaced by optional Action Bars. developer.android.com/design/get-started/ui-overview.html –  Ben Brocka Jan 14 '12 at 23:05

8 Answers 8

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I think most advanced Android users are aware of this interaction. Test various versions of the interaction with users, you could do this with a simple mock up on the device. If you are concerned that users of your app may not find it then there are numerous patterns available to hint/help the user.

You could add some form of notification: http://pttrns.com/notifications Or consider some of these help patterns: http://www.inspireux.com/2011/02/07/top-6-help-design-patterns-for-iphone-apps/ (I know the article talks specifically about iphone, but I have seen most of these patterns also used on Android)

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Yup, it's always possible to teach users about the "hidden" features with a great first user experience. There's an article in UX Booth about all possible tours & introductions. In this case, the best ones are tip or transparency, which will direct users to pressing the Menu button. –  dnbrv Jan 3 '12 at 13:33

I'm an Android user (HTC Desire) and the Menu button is second nature to me; if I can't see a function on screen, the next thing I'd always do it try Menu. My Menu button is a physical one; I know that other devices don't have this, so this may be a factor.

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Yes they do, eventually, but what that menu does best is hiding stuff.

iPhone users tend to find it strange, but most users familiar with Android apps know about the menu and do press it, because it is standard:

The Options Menu is The primary collection of menu items for an activity and All but the simplest applications have menus. The system [...] provides standard ways for users to access them. In this sense, they are familiar and dependable ways for users to access functionality across all applications. (http://developer.android.com/guide/practices/ui_guidelines/menu_design.html)

But this does not mean you should put anything in the menu button that you would want the user to focus on, as it is not visible. And it does not mean that you should put anything in there that users must be able to find, without referring to it in some other way.

If you do not think your users will find what they need, then make it more visible than just putting it in the Options Menu.

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I'm an experienced user and developer and I often neglect to press the button to find extra options. I can only imagine that many mere mortals are unaware of its usage. I personally think it should have never been made into a hardware button, because there's absolutely no indication in most apps as to where and when the button should/can be pressed. It's not intuitive at all. This is why I like how ICS removes it when it's not required. –  Glitch Jan 3 '12 at 11:16
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I agree with you. I tried to clarify my post. What it does best is hiding stuff. –  JOG Jan 3 '12 at 11:54
    
+1 for link to guidelines –  FrankL Jan 3 '12 at 15:21

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) is removing the hardware menu button in favor of a more contextual menu button that appears on the interface itself (most often in the action bar). The icon only appears on screens where options exist, making it unnecessary for a user to have to check the menu on every screen. (See example of this button here: http://www.gottabemobile.com/2011/12/15/guide-to-google-android-4-0-ice-cream-sandwich/)

When designing for Android (pre- and post-4.0), I prefer to use this standard in lieu of the classic, more hidden options menus. For devices with hardware menu keys, it's trivial to code the app such that the action bar menu is opened by the hardware button as well.

I don't think this answers your original question (sorry!), but I wanted to offer an alternate solution in case you hadn't considered it. I think the change in the handling of the options menu with ICS is meant to avoid making users seek out options using the hardware button, which is what your question was getting at.

Hope this helps!

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In the Google I/O 2011 talk Designing and Implementing Android UIs for Phones and Tablets, Matias Duarte refers to the "out of sight, out of mind problem that's created with the menu button and hiding options under the menu button" when explaining the removal of the menu button. –  Pau Giner Jan 30 '12 at 22:17

There are such apps which are used only by 'Power' (according to you) users. Under which category does your application fall? If it is an app which might be used by the users who are new to Android, I suggest not to go with "Menu" option.

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its only for geeks ( morse code ..etc ) –  Vamsi Jan 3 '12 at 13:30

As always, the answer is really to test your design (or probably in this case, both alternatives) with a handful of representative sample of your app's users, if you can. Certain types of user (like me) will religiously press the Menu button on every screen to see what's there; others (like my wife) will need regular reminders that the Menu button exists at all, so who it depends who you're expecting to use your app. The days when Android phones were only for geeks are long gone.

In that respect, it's a lot like the menu bar in a traditional desktop app -- as UI designers, we'll quite reasonably put functions on there that might not be accessible any other way, often forgetting that a certain percentage of users will never look at anything other than the File and Edit menus at best, because they still don't know how to use the keyboard shortcuts for Open, Save, Print, Copy and Paste. (And they'll certainly never open the Preferences dialog...)

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I'm not sure if you can conduct a survey here :D but I suggest you to go ahead with showing it as a button which is more probable that the user will notice it :)

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I click the menu button a lot. It's an integral part of the operating system.

I've used Android applications where an introduction screen requires first time users press the menu button to continue.

It seemed to work well, because it introduced the options available in a relatively fluid way - and because the prompt wasn't persistent, the prompt didn't have a chance to become annoying.

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