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Apparently, some time ago Android decided to be even more like iOS by ditching the physical menu button on all new devices in favour of an ActionBar showing menu items, just like the navigation bar on iOS.

http://android-developers.blogspot.nl/2012/01/say-goodbye-to-menu-button.html

I am developing a new Android app. Should I force on-screen menu buttons (like the action overflow in the action bar) and ignore any physical menu buttons? It would certainly be more consistent UI if it is a good practice that is implemented by all new apps. If my app would be the only one ignoring the menu button in favour of on-screen buttons it would therefore be inconsistent. What is the right thing to do here?

My app is targeting Android 4+.

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I find this question hard to answer from an UX point of view. Perhaps the android.stackexchange could give more insight. –  Paul Jan 10 at 15:23

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

My impression is that Android intends to provide the same interface for both mobiles that have a menu button and for those that don't. Since you wouldn't know if your user has a menu button, you shouldn't depend on it.

However, maybe they do have a menu button. And if they tap it, the expected behaviour should occur. That is, my reading of the article is that Android doesn't ditch the menu button altogether, but they rather want us to use the ActionBar and the menu button in order to be compatible with all devices.

My understanding from reading section "Action overflow button for legacy apps" is that you can safely ignore the menu button as in older devices Android will make an overflow menu for you. But, above all, test! If you don't have a device with a menu button you can use an older emulator. Hope that helps.

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Thanks for your answer. I think you're right. I am already testing it in an emulator that does have the physical menu button. But I was in doubt whether I should enforce the action bar button in that situation or not. I guess I shouldn't. It's just that my interface looks better with the menu button on the top right. Otherwise it is looks empty if you know what I mean. –  Tom van Zummeren Jan 10 at 16:15
    
Also, the reason I want to ignore the physical menu button is, that it was a design mistake to begin with. I don't think users will try out the menu button for every activity they see to find out if it does something. I think it is better to see on-screen whether there is a context menu available or not. –  Tom van Zummeren Jan 10 at 16:18

I would say use both. When it is easy to use both do it. The worst thing would be to get in a situation where a person goes to hit the physical button that they are used to and nothing happens, that to them would appear that something doesn't work right. They have this physical button that from their knowledge should do something but it doesn't. This is an assumption, but it shouldn't be too hard for you to include both ways correct? From my experience it has always been better to include two ways of doing something if it improves the experience.

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