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When designing a mobile layout in a web application, is it fine to assume a given orientation (horizontal or vertical) or to ask to the user to adopt a specific orientation?

I have seen several native gaming applications that look tailored to an horizontal layout, but i do not know wether this is acceptable also for a web layout.

I assume that a web layout should work with the wrong orientation as well, since portability is more important, but then some means of encouraging the user to adopt the right orientations should be used.

As far as i can see, the orientation may have a big impact on the design of an effective interaction.

Edit: Since several answers target games, i underline that i am not asking about a web game, but a generic web application. I compare with games just because games are apps as well.

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6 Answers 6

Tailoring for a specific orientation in a phone web-app is going to cause problems for some sub-set of your users that are forced to use the other mode.

Here are a couple of examples showing situations which require a user to use their phone in one orientation or the other, regardless of the way the app thinks it should be used. This list is non-exhaustive, but if you build your application to only work in one of the two orientations, you will fail these users.

Horizontal

  • Phone has hardware slide out keyboard (e.g. Motorola Droid)
  • Phone is laid out propped up on table whilst doing something else

Vertical

  • Phone is being held whilst walking down street
  • Only one hand is available to hold phone

The correct solution is to make sure your application works correctly at different sets of horizontal resolutions. e.g. have one layout at approx 400 horizontal pixels, another one at approx 700 horizontal pixels and a third at approx 1000 horizontal pixels.

On the web this is usually done via responsive design.

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Thanks, you have a good point here. But i have two things to say: (1) still many games accept this kind of constraint, and for games usability is very important (2) consider designing for tablets, for example, what would block the user from adopting the most suitable orientation? –  danza Jan 13 at 22:17
    
1) Games always assume that they are the primary focus of the users attention over the period they're being used, they're entertainment. A web-app isn't entertainment, it can't assume the user isn't trying to use it whilst doing something else as their primary activity (like watching TV). –  Racheet Jan 14 at 10:17
    
2) Take a look at the android version of the Lenovo yoga. Some tablets are built assuming that the user is going to use it propped up in a specific orientation. Big Tablets are heavy older and physically weaker users are very likely to have to put them down and prop them up to use them at all. –  Racheet Jan 14 at 10:20

Most mobile devices are portrait mode so assuming it to be default is probably safe. But there are some apps or games which don't look good in portrait mode and for that asking the user to select the mode will be good choice. But if some game cannot be played at all in portrait mode I think opening it in landscape mode will be better option.

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"most mobile devices are portrait mode..." - Really? That sounds like a big assumption. –  JonW Jan 13 at 13:22

According to this article 90% of the people they observed on the street hold their device in a portrait mode.

However, I can see where some people can prefer holding their phone in landscape mode when typing for the buttons are larger and it best represents a normal keyboard. But when typing a long story, in portrait mode you'll see more screen and you'll be able to read more of what you type.

So you could tailor it for the larger part of the crowd, but I think it should depend on the (web)application. Some games disable the portrait mode, because their game is best viewed in landscape mode. For example, in Plants vs. Zombies you'll have more oversight when in landscape mode.

enter image description here

While candy crush offers more oversight when in portrait mode.

enter image description here

Most mobile applications will work best in portrait mode because the vertical height available improves the readability of text and forms. Applications like Facebook and Twitter work best in this orientation because the feed is easier read top to bottom rather than left to right.
Only if landscape mode would better suit the applications needs will I go for landscape.
And more-over, I think people will decide for themselves if they prefer a certain orientation.

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A game is tailored for horizontal orientation when they want to show more horizontal landscape (think of a racing game). But in a web app you show information vertically, that's why you scroll the web app vertically. Although it's not a hard rule, but a web app needs more vertical landscape. So locking it vertically will make it look good. And it's always easier to use a web app with one hand.

For all kinds of apps, if you have to think, choose vertical.

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A landscape mode is preferable for games only when the complete scene is being used for gameplay and there's less space allocated for HUD. The HUD doesn't have dedicated 'match-parent' width in landscape mode, as seen in Plant V/s Zombie or angry birds.

While the games which depends on showing more and more info in HUD, such as score, opponent score etc and doesn't need too much space for gameplay(or can have scrolling background) such as board games, makes more sense when they're in portrait mode. UI Based games, such as a Quiz game, makes more sense when they're in portrait, since we can allocate a dedicated space for header and footer HUD.

In the end it's all about using up the space properly. If you think you can better use it in a particular orientation, then that's the one for your game. We follow the same principle(Mostly dependent on HUD) to decide the orientation for the game. And we do not give any option to the user to change the orientation. Flipping screen gives bad experience, especially when the game is in progress and feels even bad when the game is time-bound.

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Is it fine to assume a given orientation (...) ?

Definetly not, you can't know how your user is holding his smartphone.

(...) ask to the user to adopt a specific orientation ?

I think asking the user to change his habit is not a good thing in itself. But if in your case the portrait mode is providing a really bad experience, you could have something like :

ask for turn

It's better to be honest, you're not asking the user to do something because you're lazy but because there is things that are impossible in portrait orientation.

I compare with games just because games are apps as well.

If you're talking about a native app, there is no problem to use a specific orientation.

Why it is not natural to force landscape for a web app ?

When a user launch an app, chances are he's doing it from the main screen so he's not doing anything else yet. I mean he's not coming from Google (portrait) nor a blog (portrait too). He's going to use an application, which he knows, is a tool and not "just" a website. There is no antecedents and he's used to see native apps working only in landscape mode.

On the other side, when he launch his mobile browser (which is an app) he's going to navigate in portrait mode (I assume most of the people hold their phone this way). So he'll go to Facebook (portrait), then Twitter (portrait), then Gmail (portrait) then to Google (portrait), type something to find your web app and come across a blog (portrait) which has an article about your product. Finally he's here and he's asked to turn his phone, which is clearly not usual for a website. So it's in his own rights to ask "why" ? Why are you asking this to me when I can navigate everywhere else without any problem ?

Let's be honest, I think most people will turn their phone without wondering if you ask them to because they are curious and at least, they are already here. But for the others it's better to have a message explaining the why.

Btw, here is an interesting article about device orientation : http://uxdesign.smashingmagazine.com/2012/08/10/designing-device-orientation-portrait-landscape/

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Thanks for your answer, this is exactly my point: why for a native app there is no problem, but for a web app there is? Can you elaborate a bit more on this difference? –  danza Jan 13 at 22:13
    
@danza I edited my answer and added the last part (Why it is not natural to force landscape for a web app ?), hope this helps :) –  Gabin Jan 14 at 2:56
    
Do you have any sources on that being the way people hold their phones? –  Mike Mersereau Jan 14 at 3:08
    
I made a quick search and found this survey : uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2013/02/… It's hard to use a smartphone in landscape with only one hand, most smartphones (iPhone, Windows Phone, Samsung Galaxy, etc.) are designed for portrait by default, etc. –  Gabin Jan 14 at 3:23
    
I personally know that when viewing websites, I hold my phone in landscape with one hand just fine. The only time I use it in portrait is when using applications, other than texting which I also hold in landscape since it's easier to type. –  Mike Mersereau Jan 14 at 3:32

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