Since API Level 5, we have had easy access to overridePendingTransition, allowing us to replace the standard slide left/right transitions with all kinds of craziness. I just noticed that the latest update for Google Maps is using fade for a lot of transitions (not sure if it always has, but noticed it after the last update).

My questions are:

  1. How can we use different transitions to help users understand application flow?
  2. What should we be careful about when overriding default transitions?

I'm considering maybe using slide transitions between different "sections", ie. from a homepage to a list of articles, then using for example fade between different screens within the articles section (ie. show article, comments, etc). The idea here is that slide is kind of like moving from one to room to another, while fade is more like turning around or changing focus.

Any thoughts?

  • I'd be interested in user test results for any meaningful metrics on this topic. – Rahul Oct 31 '10 at 18:22

Good question. You should check the Android User Interface Guidelines to see if they have some documentation on this.

I'm not familiar enough with Android guidelines (despite owning a Nexus One - I guess that says something about the quality of apps) to be able to make a reasonable guess, but I do think you should try to adhere to platform standards as much as you can.

But if Google doesn't recommend anything, then I'd be curious to see if there's really any significant difference between, say, a slide and a fade in terms of communicating to the user that the state of the application is changing. After all, animations largely serve that purpose. Certain animations like zoom are more meaningful because users associate them with things like maps (or at least planes viewed from "above") but I don't think most animations like slide/wipe/fade/etc have specific associations.

  • The defaults are to slide left for new tasks, and slide right when you go back. But I suspect that that is as much a matter of Google not really thinking to hard about, more than any well informed decisions. The fact that the new maps application use fade as well, implies that Google has spent some more time on this. Furthermore, defaults are default, but not every situation is the same. For example, when clicking an image in a grid view, it makes sense for the image to "pop out" rather than the entire grid to slide left. I'm doing some testing in an upcoming app, will post back some findings. – Gunnar Lium Oct 31 '10 at 21:42

@Gunnar I'm not sure that left=new and right=go back. In fact many apps I use on my Android seem to use no particular pattern. New tasks often simply take over the screen and many will slide in from the left or right.

When it comes to comments or detail within an article, on a small interface I know my own preference is to reveal in context whenever possible. Take a look at the way the mobile web version of Google Reader behaves in the browser. How the data is loaded (ie - Ajax vs full load) would be a decision to consider as well, but I think that fade or slide suggests something completely different.

You could certainly use a directional slide to indicate app flow. To me fade suggests a different flow, while hide/reveal suggests within context. If you've got a specific app you're building, you could test different variants via prototype and solicit opinions from users.


It's quite a subjective question actually. For me the default transition animation i.e. new activity moving in from the right and old activity moving in from the left feels natural and correct.

I can't really tell you where I'd use the fade-in and fade-out animations to be honest but for me it does not make sense to try to communicate it using these effects.

In my opinion however a combination of both would be the best way to communicate that you are moving to another part in the same application whereas the default animation communicates that you are switching to another application.

There is another example in the API demos called Transition3d which is a nice idea in special cases. Building on that one could also try to simulate some kind of cube where switching to another part of you activity rotates the cube forth and back.


Take a cue from iOS. Left slides make sense as you navigate deeper (broad to narrow) into a piece of content. Right slides when you go from narrow to broad. Another transition that iOS guidelines enforce is when modal screens need to be presented. Say before you go deeper into something you need the user to submit his username or zipcode or something. Since this screen will only appear once and is modal thereby blocking application flow, the screen slides in from the bottom.

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