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I'm trying to find some usability studies or even anecdotal commentary on the difference in user preferences of interacting with a select list UI on the desktop vs. mobile.

Traditionally, on the desktop, if you need to pick from many options a select drop-down input is the typical interaction:

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| Select 1                \/ |
------------------------------
------------------------------
| Select 2                \/ |
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Makes sense as it's 'tradition' and people are certainly familiar with this on the desktop.

On mobile, however, I find these can be a challenge to use. One select with 10 options? That's probably OK. But when you have more than one in a form and/or one or more of them may have 20+ options, I find the native spinner interfaces to be less than ideal.

In the above example, for instance, the path a user would have to take is:

  • tap to select first item
  • tap + swipe to select option
  • tap 'done' to confirm
  • tap to select second item
  • tap + swipe to select option
  • tap 'done' to confirm

As an alternative to that--at least on mobile--we could have a two tiered miller column:

Select 1
---------------------------
option 1                  >
---------------------------
option 2                  >
---------------------------
option 3                  >
---------------------------

They pick one then it slides to the next screen:

Select 2
---------------------------
   option 1                  
---------------------------
   option 2                  
---------------------------
 ✓ option 3                  
---------------------------

From a 'screen' cognitive load standpoint, the latter appears heavier (at least when presented as static wireframes), but from a flow standpoint, it's a actually a much lighter load. Instead of 6 taps, the user would have 3.

  • tap to open pick list
  • tap to select first option
  • tap to select second option (and auto-close list)

This feels right, but it's always nice to have some industry research to back up my feelings. :)

So, the question...I guess that's actually part of my question. I'm not sure which question to ask. But I think it'd be: Is there research out there that compares traditional screen based form input vs. mobile tap-based form input? And are there guidelines as to when to use Y on mobile when using X on desktop?

(I acknowledge that this may simply be too broad of a question...)

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1 Answer 1

I think that some of this will depend on the content you are actually looking at displaying. For example, if this is something like choosing a country from a list, there are some better ways of handling it (for example) than just a regular dropdown.

In general, the better user experience is when the user isn't hidden so much content. This article and this one may not be specific to mobile, but make some relevant points when it comes to drop down navigation.

This article talks about dropdown on mobile, but more for navigation so not sure it helps.

In order to help you look for more specific answers, maybe searching how forms are handled in mobile is an easier way to find some examples? Forms quite often use more dropdowns, so it's a good way to see how it's handled.

Seems from all of that relevant information that your inclination is correct - if it's fewer taps and the content is more visibile without being hidden, the user will prefer it. The dropdown for mobiles should be avoided where possible, especially when there is such an elegant solution available, like in your case.

Hope that helps you a little bit?

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