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I am curious to know the science behind the new kind of navigation I've been seeing lately, mostly with bigger screen phone where there is a lot of space to utilise and sometimes it's uneasy for the user to interact with the elements without using both hands, specially on the dead top or dead bottom.

Twitter, Vine are the two of many that follow this new convention. Is this ergonomically the appropriate way of interaction?

Does it make the interaction easier as now thumb's arc covers the navigation much more easily as opposed to the navigation on bottom where your thumb is cramped slightly? I'm I right or there is something more to it?

Images for reference:

Vine Twitter

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Couple screenshots would be useful for reference. I do not use either of the apps. Also, what platform are you talking about? –  rk. Jun 25 '13 at 13:34
    
Android is using this type of navigation –  Akash Soti Oct 21 '13 at 10:29
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4 Answers

One reason I've heard why they do this is likely because Android phones are making the shift from having the menu, home, and back buttons to be soft buttons. If the navigation strips were at the bottom, they'd be right above those buttons. It's likely that you'll hit one of those buttons accidentally, especially if you're using the flatter part of your thumb. If it's at the top, at least you'll likely be using the tips of your finger or thumb.

Also, like another person mentioned, it's a design pattern standard for Android. Since this issue doesn't exist with iOS, the iOS standard has the navigation tabs at the bottom.

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On both apps, the primary mode of navigation between those 4 sections are via lateral thumb-swipes. (as opposed to clicking on the buttons)

So the buttons are acting more as visual indicator of the current screen, rather than as navigation buttons.

And because eyes have tendency to look upper-half of screen, visual indicators are more prominent when placed at the top, rather than at bottom.

In a nutshell, the reason why buttons are at the top has more to do with the fact that they're acting as indicator, and less to do with the "thumb-ability" of its location.

Sad reality is, on larger devices, both top and bottom of the screens are quite difficult to access for one-handed operation, particularly for females whose hands are nearly 3/4" shorter and 2/5" narrower than male hands.

Had those 4 buttons been function-buttons (hence no lateral-swipe access), Twitter and Vine would've put them at the bottom of the screen, because bottom it is still marginally more thumb friendly than the top, even on larger phones.

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Any research supporting your assertion that bottom and top are quite difficult to access? Also interested in why this would be particularly the case for females? –  Marjan Venema Jun 26 '13 at 7:04
    
Agree with Marjan. Not see this myself. Not seen any research that supports it. –  adrianh Jun 26 '13 at 8:25
    
As evidence - this report shows the majority of access is not one-handed uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2013/02/… –  adrianh Jun 26 '13 at 8:34
    
@Marjan, People tend to ignore large variance in hand-size. Female hands are on average 0.7" shorter than male hands, and 0.4-0.5" narrower which also has impacts thumb reach. I'll clarify my post to reflect that the second statement was in context of one-handed operation. –  Jung Lee Jun 26 '13 at 13:25
    
@adrianh I never claimed otherwise. It's a nice study, but it doesn't account for variance in screen size, and its growing trend toward large. Also, as you may have noticed, it is also not a well-controlled study in that it was based on field-observation, and they failed to disclose sampling size, variance, and methodology. –  Jung Lee Jun 26 '13 at 13:33
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Since both of those are different form their iOS counterparts, I am guessing that those are common navigation formats on Android. The reason they are on the top is because the phone have navigation buttons along the bottom, and you don't want to put a bunch of action buttons next to the "close" button.

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What you see is actually pretty standard Android ActionBar Navigation Tabs.

http://developer.android.com/guide/topics/ui/actionbar.html#Tabs

Your question is "why" in the general, what-is-the-ux-motivation-for-this-pattern type of question. In reality, for these apps and a majority of them, they are built this way because these are the patterns provided by the toolkit and commonly found in other apps. The developer is likely aiming for consistency with the ecosystem and not necessarily looking specifically at the UX implications of it.

Now, it may be worthwhile to have a discussion with Matias Duarte et al about the UX implications of this "standard" pattern. But, I doubt he or others are reading this thread.

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