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I have an app that displays downloaded information that is cached. I could use valuable space to include a button that is used to re-download the information, or I could simply add a "shake the device to refresh" feature.

My question is, do I have to include some instructions about shaking the device to refresh? Or is it such a common feature that users will expect it?

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I ended up using a refresh button. It didn't take up any extra space since it was inline with the header text. –  you786 Apr 25 '13 at 21:12
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Shake, shake shake! –  Vladimir Putin Apr 25 '13 at 23:54
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I actually dislike shaking as a "feature" because it can be unexpectedly triggered. My favorite example is "shake to shuffle" getting triggered with every step when you're running. –  Ryan Amos Apr 26 '13 at 3:48
    
I've seen shaking used to say "no, I want some other suggestions". That means extra and other options, for example when the user started a search and the first set doesn't include what the user is looking for. I would never expect shaking to just refresh the page. –  Marjan Venema Apr 26 '13 at 10:24
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Obligatory Dilbert, and IMO the only case where shaking is an acceptable restart process: dilbert.com/strips/comic/1995-04-03 –  Dan Neely Apr 26 '13 at 12:34

8 Answers 8

up vote 42 down vote accepted

Don't rely on shaking as the only way of selecting any common action. The exception is novelty apps like whips or throwing dice.

For other apps it is poor UX as it:

  1. Is uncommon behaviour for many users, as most apps (sanely) don't use this action.
  2. Has poor discoverability as there is no cue on the screen letting you know how to use it. There may be an initial tutorial screen, but that isn't visible when using it.
  3. Often requires a grip change to do it, and is impossible to use when your device is on a flat surface.
  4. Poor accessibility for anyone using an assistive device.
  5. Breaks your visual continuity as you can't really watch what is happening while you shake it.
  6. Has calibration issues. You often also have to shake it a few times for it to trigger if it's insensitive. If it's sensitive, you then can have it trigger when you aren't trying to shake it.
  7. I (and many others) will uninstall your app and give you a 1 star review if I have to shake it to perform a common action.

Pull to refresh

If you want to have shake to refresh, fine. But you should also include something sane like pull to refresh, or a simple refresh button.

enter image description here

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Technically, pull to refresh is a hidden feature too :P –  rk. Apr 25 '13 at 18:44
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@norabora There is definitely precedence for the pull to refresh action, there was so much precedence that they decided to add it in their OS guidelines. –  rk. Apr 25 '13 at 20:48
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@norabora I reread what you commented. It was clear, I just misread it. My fault. –  JohnGB Apr 25 '13 at 20:51
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I will say that pulling down to refresh seems to really be only an option on a ListView. It doesn't make sense in say, a weather app which just has some graphics and text rather than a list of information to scroll. –  you786 Apr 25 '13 at 21:14
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@rk. Pull to refresh is not a hidden feature (when done right). In the Twitter example, you are pulling to scroll your tweets, and when you get past the latest ones, the pulling naturally reveals the refresh instructions. This is good discoverability IMO. –  Steven Noto Apr 25 '13 at 22:10

I definitely wouldn't do this; the pull down to refresh mentioned in John's answer is probably the most common gesture. Though if refreshing isn't automatic or is a common action for non-power users I'd personally recommend just sticking with a button; you have a pretty universal "refresh" icon at your disposal and refresh is quite often initiated from a button.

Additionally: shake means undo in iOS. If shake does anything it should probably be Undo (though it's pretty undiscoverable in iOS too so I wouldn't depend on people knowing that either).

I really wouldn't recommend making this particular nonstandard gesture anyway, since it's pretty easy to misenterpret physical movement of any kind as a "shake"; I've occasionally had my ipad tell me Nothing to Undo; I had to do a search to figure out why (I was "shaking" it accidentally). Shaking might even be more often discovered by mistake than intentionally, so I'd definitely warn against it if refreshing might be a "dangerous" action (e.g. it takes away something I was reading!)

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Yeah, I didn't remember the shake to undo feature of iPhones. Good point. –  you786 Apr 25 '13 at 21:13
    
On iPod Nano (6th gen.) shaking turns on shuffle with all songs on the device. –  tomp May 2 '13 at 14:18

Shaking is a physical gesture. Apart from a physical gesture, there should be a primary digital counterpart too.

  • Volume can be controlled by sliding the volume bar of clicking the volume buttons.
  • Phone can be answered by swiping/moving the slider or clicking the handsfree button.

Physical gestures can be thought of as short-cuts, it is fine if you have them, but you still need the default way.

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Definitely no to shaking. It drives me nuts when my ipad shifts to a new screen or goes to the next news post simply because I tried to re-position the way I'm sitting.

Unless this app is a game that uses directional physics or is an interactive feature, I would avoid using shaking as a refresh at all costs.

As JohnGB described, both Twitter and Facebook use the pull down to refresh content. Which is a great solution since the user can only do this intentionally.

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I agree with not relying in the Shake for the refresh feature, the Shake is not very intuitive, it's indeed mostly used for games or when clearly stated but some will people prefer to click than to shake, specially if they are doing other activity like walking, speaking, etc.

Re-think your layout and I am sure you can squeeze a little refresh icon in one corner. Refresh is a well-known feature and you can easily find an icon that will be clear enough for the user.

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Aside from the other negative comments about shaking as a gesture, I would also point out that on iOS devices, at least, Apple intended the shake gesture to be used for "Undo", and implements it as such in many of its own core iOS apps. So you may also have the problem that even if a user knows about shaking, it won't do what they expect it to do.

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Shaking is very appropriate if your device is an Etch-a-Sketch.

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I think "Shaking" as a control is horrible.

Since you're so often on the go with your app (phone/pad) you very easily activate it by mistake. That is a big annoyance for the user.

When you want to do use the shake it's hard to make sure you do it exactly once or if it triggered at all. Shaking also have to drawback of you not able to see the screen while doing the action (since it's moving). Shaking means: Shake, stop and see what happened.

I wouldn't use the control at all, except for maybe as a control in a game.

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