I'm trying to understand how viewing a website in full screen mode could impact our browsing experience. Full screen mode has existed for some time for videos (e.g. YouTube) and Flash games. I've also seen it recently on Google Docs.

I wonder if web designers have considered offering full screen mode as a "readabily enhancer"? I certainly haven't really seen it. Is it because fullscreen is too restrictive (because users have to escape full screen to go somewhere else)? Are there other pitfalls of fullscreen?


6 Answers 6


The main problem with full screen mode would be whether users know how to get out of it again - especially when the fall into it accidently.

I suspect a lot of users wouldn't know how to escape from it.


As PhillipW guessed, I've seen users (and myself) get confused when they activate fullscreen mode accidentally. Users who mispress a key or function are already in a disorientated or misinformed state (else they wouldn't make the mistake to begin with), so adding to the confusion is just going to frustrate people.


I think viewing websites in fullscreen or not greatly depends on what device you are using. Because of this, I think there are no general advantage or disadvantage, but the choice should depend on the device.

Here are my thoughts:

Firstly, immersion or distance.

  • Working at desktop (and in a working enviroment) most people prefer a distant view, which gives you a mental distance either.
  • And at desktop, you need to control all currently running applcations. Probably you like to have a glimpse to Outlook while working on others.
  • Watching TV is fine for fullscreen. Here all attention is focused on the content and browser chrome or buttons would distract your pleasure.
  • Mobile and Tablet aren't immersive by its physical size. I think immersion or distance aren't a point to consider here.

Secondly, it depends on how many and how large the screen are.

  • Working with 2 monitors fullscreen isnt't useful if you need to see two programs simultaneously.
  • If you have a 21 inch monitor at your desktop, you will be blown away by fullscreen. As a rule of thumb the diagonal size of screen is the ideal viewing distance.
  • Tv-Screen lack of resolution, a decent reason to avoid loosing pixels by unnecessary chrome.
  • Mobile and Tablet usually have small physical screens and its wise to go fullscreen in order to save space.

Thirdly, technical limitations

  • Windows just allows you to go fullscreen at first monitor by technical limitations of DirectX, which is forced by graphic cards.

  • TV introduced In-Screen Views (2nd channel at a corner) just a few years ago and lacks of a usable input device to steer multi-tasking.

  • Mobile were very limited by its CPU power, in its early years, and thus presented just a plain black/White pixel menu. Nowadays they are small computers though.
  • And Mobile just introduced multitasking recently, so it wasn't possible to see two applications simultaneously.
  • Tablet hasn't this limitation, because its brand-new. A technical limitation could be the size of your finger, forcing GUI elements to be as large as possible.

Fourthly, the history and habit

  • Desktop is used to be windowed (if you just reckon its GUI)
  • TV is used to be fullscreen.
  • Mobile is used to be fullscreen.
  • Tablet is used to be fullscreen either.
  • 1
    Do you have any reference for this "As a rule of thumb the diagonal size of screen is the ideal viewing distance."?
    – Illotus
    Commented Nov 18, 2011 at 13:52

One problem with full screen modes when used in desktop oriented applications is that most of the time you have plenty of screen real estate. Hence there is less reason to hide ways of interacting with the system. In mobile applications the screen size tends to be so small that on touch screen devices it is reasonable to hide some controls.

On desktop full screen modes are good option when you working/playing with an application that doesn't require you to jump to other applications. Also there needs to be a convenient and visible way to get out of the full screen mode. For example in a lot of video players this is done via controls that become visible as soon as user moves the mouse or presses a key. Example running counter to this would be full screen mode in lot of browsers: you get to full screen by pressing some function key, but there really isn't any obvious way to get back unless you know the magic key.


Interesting question! I think, in many cases the fullscreen mode is useful, because a lot of people work on a single task (e.g. browsing internet, show photos or write a e-mail...) and it helps to focus on one task. The full screen mode is adapted of the touchscreen experience of mobil apps (iOS). IMO designers should always keep in mind the meaningfulness. Wrong way: take over features blindly.

I have found a interesting article: http://betanews.com/2011/07/20/mac-os-x-lion-is-here-and-i-don-t-like-it/

  • 1
    If you mean to suggest that full screen mode jumped from touch devices to desktop that is simply wrong as there have been full screen modes for various applications and systems for good long while.
    – Illotus
    Commented Nov 18, 2011 at 13:50
  • I thought, the question for the general use of the fullscreen mode.
    – sysscore
    Commented Nov 22, 2011 at 15:22

You will get too busy watching if you are in full screen mode.

And you will not see important messages, especially if the notifications of your messaging app are turned off.

That's the only disadvantage.

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