I'm currently playing with an Android layout for an app that is to be used to configure a remote (wireless connected) embedded controller. It configures a bunch of modes and related settings in the controller, and also configures a settings scheduler for all these settings in different modes, plus general setup for the embedded controller's internal stuff. so it's not a trivial one page thing.

I'm trying to stick to the basic android 4 holo building blocks, and so have started with an action bar to hold system configuration actions and high level mode controls, then having basic numeric settings and running info for the different controller modes displayed/edited in the main part of the screen.

Though having spent time in this direction I am now wondering how relevant this is to a configuration app, where almost everything it exists for is actions.

For instance - I want my app to have the ability to put the external controller into standby mode... so I made a little IEC 5009 standby icon for my action bar. The issue is the status of standby mode in the controlled system is also needed to be displayed, but from what I understand, the action bar shouldn't have action icons that change their look based on status.

In a document based app, for instance like gmail or a web browser, it's very sensible to have the main focus of the app on the "content" being viewed or edited. And then have items in the action bar that do actions on that content, or modify the app's setup/view/etc.

The fundamental presence of an action bar is wanted - it does double duty as a title bar, and gives me up navigation. I even have a view control to switch between the fundamental "perspective" modes that makes a lot of sense.. it's really just action buttons that I'm not sure about right now.

I'd really love some perspective from someone who's done work on (or even thought about) an app using action buttons in an action bar that don't relate to editing or viewing "content".

I'd also be interested to hear arguments against using an action bar at all, and if there's any standard interface design pattern that better suits an app intended just for configuration of a complex collection of settings.

1 Answer 1


I'm actually working on a similar application that will be used to control a network connected device and I faced the same issue that you brought up. Originally I wanted to put all of my actions on the ActionBar as that's the typical Android way of doing things but it left me with a very sparse content layout.

I decided to break things out into two separate types of actions. Actions that were being taken against the remote device go into the layout. I supplemented these actions with a bit of information about the current status of the remote device to avoid having a simple grid of action icons. Actions that were being taken against the application (e.g. app settings, about box, export collected data) go in the action bar. This way there's a clear separation of what is being done to the app and what is being done to the remote device while filling out the app content and still using the ActionBar for relevant actions.

  • my issue is that my app doesn't actually have a lot of actions that you do just to it.. no import/export of anything (though now you mention it, that might be nice....) Thinking that in the absence of anything better on play or any more suggestions, then I will keep the high level actions in the action bar and find a way to show their status without adidng extra icons. Guess I can gret out the lower status "display" when the whole system is in standby mode, for instance.. Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 1:29
  • PS, sorry I can't vote you up yet. will do so once I reach 15 points here (speaking of which, this is kinda annoying seeing I have 2 other active SE sites on my profile!) Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 1:36

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