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I was just wondering if there was any statistical study about what orientation (landscape or portrait) people to prefer to use on their tablets.

I am working on designing a metro app and a feedback was given that the portrait orientation could be used to show the expanded view of a selected item and I was wondering if that would be commonly accepted behavior since my initial understanding was that orienting to the portrait orientation should just show a condensed view on the relatively smaller screen space

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I don't have statistics, but I know that different platforms seem to encourage different default orientations—Windows 8 and Honeycomb Android tablets all seem to be designed for predominantly landscape use, whereas 7" Android tablets like the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire as well as the HP Touchpad and iPad seem to be generally designed for portrait use. –  Kit Grose Jul 26 '12 at 4:44
    
@KitGrose I got the landscape focus for Windows 8 from the link you gave but I am surprised to find that the ipad seems optimized for the portrait view –  Mervin Johnsingh Jul 26 '12 at 5:26
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It puts the home button on the "bottom" and the camera on the "top" when held in portrait orientation (and therefore not in landscape). Looking through the photos and videos on the Apple website they seem to have a very small bias toward portrait orientation, but not enough to say it's the "default". Certainly any app that uses a keyboard significantly is generally shown in landscape. –  Kit Grose Jul 26 '12 at 5:33
    
Isn't this going to vary with the size of tablet ? Small tablets being one handed and larger ones being two handed ? –  PhillipW Jul 26 '12 at 12:22
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Google Analytics tells me that a major consumer site I work for gets equal numbers of both portrait and landscape iPad users. Make of that what you will. –  Jimmy Breck-McKye Nov 17 '12 at 19:35
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4 Answers

This blog post tries to answer the question by looking at the orientation of the screenshots of different apps in the app store.

It looks like your are designing a windows 8 app (your are referring to a metro app which could also be a windows phone app) it is too early to tell whether the stats for this platform will be different.

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About 64% of apps are presented with landscape screenshots. (Landscape only: 58,5%, landscape mostly: 5.5%) or at least were at the time of the article.

source: http://thomaspark.me/2011/10/in-portrait-or-landscape/

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Interesting stats, however, can it be really significant? I mean, what if the developers are actually designing the apps in the way that it's better for them rather than for their users? And the other graph in the article is also very interesting, it shows that for each category the distribution varies a lot. –  Marcos Ciarrocchi Nov 17 '12 at 21:05
    
If you're considering Windows 8 as a platform, landscape only is likely closer to 99%. –  badp Dec 13 '12 at 19:25
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Since you mention you're designing for Metro/Windows 8, the best resource I can link you to is Optimizing for both landscape and portrait from the Building Windows 8 MSDN blog.

The most significant quote for your question is this one:

We initially thought that landscape or portrait orientation was mostly influenced by personal preference. Each person that we watched rotated the device and each expected the device and UI to work with them at that moment. What was surprising was that as people become more familiar with the device and the apps they cared about, the most unique influencer on whether they rotated the device was the type of content on screen. If the content and experience felt better in landscape, people naturally used the app in landscape-mode. If the content and experience felt better in portrait, the app was used in portrait.

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The question "on what orientation do people prefer to hold their tablets at?" is very similar to the question: "Do people prefer landscape oriented photographs or portrait oriented photographs"? There is no correct answer to this question since it depends entirely on the actual picture. In case of tablets: it depend on the application. In contrast to a TV or a movie theater, a tablet is by definition a device with which you can easily adapt the orientation depending on the application. Some applications will do better with portrait mode, others will do better in landscape mode, others can make good use of both orientations if well implemented. So the best answer to your question is: users will prefer to hold the tablet in the orientation the application was designed for.

Now, over to your real question: "is it good UX to have the portrait mode show a detailed view of a selected item while the landscape mode shows an overview?" In my opinion, viewing the details of a selected item is best done by... selecting the item. Not by rotating the screen.

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"There is no correct answer to this question since it depends entirely on the actual picture. In case of tablets: it depend on the application" -- I'm not convinced this is a true statement. Sure, it definitely depends on some apps. For example, I would never play pinball in landscape. However, in my experience, people have clear preferences. I never use portrait except in isolated cases. I know others who exclusively use portrait. Therefore I think the question can be answered, especially since a great many apps can be used in either. –  Bryan Oakley Apr 12 '13 at 12:59
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I'll just add my 2 cents, I had created 5 iBooks in Portrait mode and just acquired the iBooks author manual for tips and tricks (The Ultimate Getting Published Guide) They say that they're experience was not good when creating in Portrait Mode as certain text box did not appear in Portrait Mode. They also say that Landscape viewing is what most people will want to use on an iPad. I didn't know that and it makes buying the guide worth it.

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Hi JP. You reference a book in this answer, but I've not been able to find the one you're referring to (The Ultimate Getting Published Guide). If it's going to be useful for other people to read can you provide a link to it? –  JonW Nov 17 '12 at 19:09
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