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Rotating a mobile device has unpredictable effects: Depending on OS and app rotating the device can have no effect, or it lays out the content to the new screen orientation, potentially showing a very different interface or different elements, or scrolling to a different part of the content.

From my personal experience, I find that I barely ever rotate the device to "access" the different viewport layout. However, on a daily basis I struggle with apps that react to the rotation change. Often this is caused by accidentially tilting the device, or sometimes I'd even just like to hang out on the couch but am forced to hold the device in ackward position to get the desired orientation.

What are the reasons for not allowing users to disable or lock the device rotation in the device OS or app settings? Does the gain from allowing responsive layouts outweigh the negative user experience of forced rotation change?


As a little background: Amongst other advantages from building a dedicated app instead of a mobile website, I find this control over viewport orientation particularly compelling. As far as I know there is no way to control the orientation change from a mobile website, however, some applications are simply designed for only one viewport layout. My question thus is merely to figure out what are the reasons for not offering this kind of setting.

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Your problem statements are all based on false assumptions. Screen rotation can be locked on all mobile devices, especially for situations you mention (like hanging out on a couch). Also, there are media queries that allow websites to change layout based on orientation. So, could you rephrase your questions or be clearer about the problem you're looking to solve? –  Koen Lageveen Sep 11 '13 at 7:59
    
Windows Phone does not have a OS level screen locking, nor do the main menu tiles allow for landscape rotation. With Android, for example, the main "desktop" does rotate on some devices, on others it is locked in portrait. My question is about OS and app level settings for this. Does it make sense to not allow rotating? Does it make sense to not offer the possibility to lock? –  kontur Sep 12 '13 at 17:49
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4 Answers

For starters, I am a little puzzled as to why you say that some Mobile OS's dont offer the option to prevent rotation. To my knowledge Android has the option among the basic default settings to prevent rotation as shown below :

enter image description here

With regards why there is a need for supporting both the portrait and landscape view in mobiles, I recommend reading this excellent article Designing For Device Orientation: From Portrait To Landscape. To quote the article:

YouTube’s mobile application is a great example of device orientation design. Portrait mode offers a feature-rich interface for video discovery and the user’s account. Landscape mode provides an immersive experience with a full-screen video player and playback controls. When the video ends, the display switches back to portrait mode, prompting users to quickly tilt the device back and browse for additional videos.

The article also calls out what additional benefits are there when rotation is enabled such as:

EXTENDED VIEWS

This interface adjusts to the screen’s size, adding or subtracting layout components according to the dimensions of the chosen orientation. For example, IMDb for the iPad uses the wider screen in landscape mode to add a filmography on the left. This list is also accessible in portrait mode by clicking the “All filmography” button in the middle-right of the screen.

enter image description here

COMPLEMENTARY VIEWS

With this interface, a changed orientation triggers an auxiliary screen with relevant supplementary information.

CONTINUOUS Like YouTube, a continuous design enables the user to access a secondary interface by a simple rotation of the device

With regards to why some apps only support a specific view, I recommend going through the answers in this question as they give some valuable inputs on why designing for a specific layout might workout better

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By default, Nexus 7 and 10 (and other Jelly Bean devices) are locked to portrait mode and need to be "unlocked" from the settings menu. Of course iOS is a different matter and I am guessing this is the mobile OS the poster is referring to. –  Oisin Lavery Feb 15 '13 at 6:10
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@Sherpanaut iOS also has a setting to lock the orientation. Double click menu button > Swipe left > Click left-most icon. –  thgaskell Feb 16 '13 at 19:27
    
Yep, but it's not the default. I think you can also set it to be activated with the lock switch - at least on iPad that is. –  Oisin Lavery Feb 17 '13 at 12:18
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Just a quick thought - there is a number of situations, that might make the locking necessary:

  1. When the application uses some accelerometer mechanisms and pivoting it may result in interface to switch to another orientation (upside down or landscape<>portrait)

  2. When your application gives access to a lot of content, you may consider it as well. One can read the articles in bed for example, and just movements can rotate the view. You have this option in Pocket or Goodreader.

In the same time, you can still use it, especially in apps offering some screen consuming features, where content is crucial, by hiding some parts of the interface. Take Facebook app for iPad - depending on rotation it displays chat or not. Everything depends on the case.

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Most of the problems with unintended rotation are caused by applications with bad rotation processing or by OS with not-precise sensors or too slow rotation rendering. Generally, if you rotate your device accidentally, you just rotate it back with no consequences.

Maybe OS should predict user intentions smarter. I think, rotation lock is a kind of compromise.

By the way, here is rotation lock feature in WebOS:

Rotation lock in WEBOS

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I have extensively used all three options: 1) rotation impossible unless you perform some complicated menu selections, such as with an Android device in the locked mode or a Sony reader, 2) rotation on user's cue (Palm T|X had a symbol in its OS bar which rotated the screen on tap, always visible) and 3) accelerometer-based automatic rotation. From personal experience, I can tell you that 2 is by far the best option, and there is also a good reason for it.

There are cases where a device seamlessly setting itself in the mode best suited to the current environment is great. Perfect example: automatic screen brightness. I am very happy with this feature of my phone, and never had a problem with it. I suppose that Apple wanted to do the same with rotation when they created the iPhone, coming closer to their vision of a device which adapts to its user's needs.

But the big problem is: device rotation is not a change in environment, it is a command input method. I never rotate my device for reasons unrelated to its use, and become happy when it obligingly rotates the view. I only rotate the device for two reasons: 1) when I actively want the view to rotate (e.g. because I want to fit a landscape image on the screen), this means that I am rotating the device on purpose instead of it following actions I took for another reason and 2) when I reposition my body for reasons of comfort (e.g. lie down).

For 1), the "rotate whole device" input method does not have any benefit over other methods such as an immediately accessible hardware or software button, as it is not something which happens seamlessly without me having to think about it (as opposed to the ambient light/screen brightness feature). For 2), it has great drawbacks, because in the cases I do not intentionally change the angle between my body and my device, I don't want the orientation to change. So it is an input which can be accidentally employed in common situations, rendering it a very bad UX input.

The "Lock screen" solution mentioned above is not terribly good, because I do want to change the orientation from time to time, and in the locked mode, I have no means of doing so, basically my input is disabled. On my Android phone, I can change the mode after diving deep into the settings, which is tedious. On a friend's old iPad I use sometimes, there is a physical slider to switch modes between locked and rotating, but it would have been simpler if this slider just switched between portrait and landscape mode. So I am afraid that this is a gimmick which sells devices because it looks cool, but actually hinders daily use, and I hope that it will disappear someday. For now we seem to be stuck with it.

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