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iOS is optimized for views that have one primary action (e.g. "new email") in the upper-right plus a "back" button in the upper-left. For views that have many actions there are well-documented patterns like making one button into a "menu" or using a toolbar at the bottom or sometimes top of the view.

But what about views that have one additional action, for a total of two actions plus a back button? Seems like overkill (and complicated for the user) to waste a whole row of the screen for a toolbar with 2 buttons on it, plus if if the app is already released then you need to re-train users for the new location of the old upper-right button.

Are there examples of successful iOS apps that cram multiple action buttons into the upper-right of a page? Or do apps tend to put the new action inside the page somewhere? Or do they go with a toolbar for both actions? Or something else?

One valid argument is "Are you sure you really have two primary actions? Can't you simplify or remove or demote one of them?". This approach is often the right one, but there will still be some cases where there really are two equally-important actions. For those cases, I'm looking for good ideas for how to handle them.

If it matters, the app I'm working on is an iPhone/iPod app, not an iPad app-- obviously in an iPad app this is somewhat of a non-issue because there's enough space on the navigation bar to fit many action buttons, including a whole toolbar.

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Twitter has 2 action buttons in the upper right -- search and compose. Due to space constraints I think this only works if the actions can be represented with icons that are immediately understandable. –  Michael Histen May 30 '13 at 20:27

1 Answer 1

Podcast or the Music app has a scenario where they display both the "Now Playing" and the action sheet button.

My general answer to placing important actions together on the nav bar, in a toolbar, or inside the body of the view depends on the answers to the following questions:

  1. Are the actions performed on the same object? e.g. Save or Cancel a form. If yes, tie them together by the usual visual indicators: position, color, form, enclosed in the same container.
    If no, then separate them by the same.

  2. Do the actions needs to be spelt out? e.g. "Continue" or ->. This will determine how much area is needed to display the buttons and decides (for me) where the buttons should lie.

If needed, just draw at least two examples and give it to someone to perform one of the two actions and see how easy it is for them.

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