I'm going to work on a tablet application, for which I cannot decide if it should have vertical or horizontal interface. While I cannot reveal details of the project, I can tell that this app is going to be for professionals. There are some arguments for landscape and some for portrait mode. So, I have googled some articles, and even found this thread: Are there any statistics on what orientation people prefer to hold tablets at? yet I am still a little bit confused. There are, of course, some types of apps for which vertical (e.g. apps with video content) or portrait (e.g., all the kinds of "photo booths") seems to be more appropriate. My app is going to include both types of content and some tools as well, which I believe (at least at this stage) could be both vertical and horizontal. It is possible to go both orientations after all (but this will increase production cost).

I wonder what would be the best approach to this project. Some ways to go:

  • build the app in only one of the orientations - either vertical or horizontal. To do this, I need some resources to dig through and decide which is better (quite hard in my case, but maybe looking at similar apps will let me decide).
  • build it in both orientations - however this will significantly increase the production costs.

Regarding the second scenario, I would need to focus on reducing the further development costs and cut off one of the versions (unfortunately!). I do have some ideas to implement, namely collecting statistics of the usage of the application (which orientation is preferred by the users), even using some MVP approach. However, I'm not sure about the real value of such stats. Let's just assume people prefer to use tablets in landscape mode - giving them both orientations would lead (I believe) to use the application in landscape regardless the real usability difference of UI between both orientations due to just this general usage preference, even if the portrait orientation would be more usable.

So, the question is how to extract the actual and valuable data from such statistics or is there any other numerical method that would let me determine the right orientation for a tablet app?

And the second one: what do you think would be the cost of skipping further development of one of the lines (vertical/horizontal)?


Most products for professionals such as IDEs, advanced photo and video editing tools, commonly run on desktops and notebooks, which has landscape orientation. I know only one case of optional using portrait mode on desktop, this is some DTP software.

It is usual kind of layout for such app: left tool panel and working area. Sometimes there is right panel, too. So this is familiar layout pattern for complex GUI software with a bunch of functions. Also there could be desktop ancestors or similar familiar to target auditory software.

One more reason for landscape mode is considering user's workflow. Sometimes tasks are time-consuming and some operations need thinking over. In such cases it is convient not to hold the device but place it on the stand. In other cases users put device on the stand to use external keyboard. I see a lot of landscape-oriented stands and not so many portrait-oriented. Also it is more convient to work with internal keyboard in landscape mode.

Thinking a bit wider on user interaction (in context) could give cues to you.

Conserning two-orientation support, I would prefer one which has high usability features and creates nice workflow.

Finally having equal options, drop a coin, it is great decision-support device in some cases.

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    Dropping a coin is always a solution :) – Dominik Oslizlo Jun 20 '13 at 12:00
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    Note that the Apple HIG for iPad Apps strongly suggests (used to require) both orientations be supported, as people expect to be able to use their apps in both orientations on a tablet device. The exception for them in this case was games. – ekinnear Jun 21 '13 at 17:12
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    @ekinnear - This. If there are arguments for both orientations, then give the user the best of both worlds and build them both into the UI. And actually for most "casual" games like puzzles, I like having both orientations available there too; it's just the shooter/platform type games that I can accept being landscape only. – KeithS Jun 26 '13 at 23:32

For a professional application I would go with this criteria: If a decent bit of typing is involved, go for landscape mode, else portrait mode. Reason being, you get a bigger keyboard (!) for typing in landscape.

But, that being said, a huge critical condition will be the usage of this application: If it is mainly to be used on the go - portrait is better to handle and type on compared to landscape (you need to place is down for optimal typing with both hands).

  • In an application suite (I get it the app does more than a couple things), I would break down the app to its core functionalities.

  • Sketch/think out how each of those functionalities works out in a portrait and a landscape mode. Be careful to focus on the interactions too, and not just the views.

  • Make the list of pros and cons for each functionality in portrait and landscape.

  • Ideally you would want to go with whichever side has a higher number, but, you can sort of balance this by adding a hierarchy to the features - from crucial to nice to have and then seeing what the crucial features need.

If the app is too big for you to do this in time, just do the above procedure for the crucial functionalities.

Regarding how to get your piece of cake from the statistics; unless you can find out the distribution for your specific demographic, I do not think you should worry that much about generic stats. Specially, since you have a particular target audience.

You can also whip up a coulpe question survey and do this yourself. If you have existing clients (or if this is in-house) it becomes easier to do so.

Your second question will be a guesswork in the current state. If you pull off an awesome design which works for your users, I do not see anyone missing not being able o turn their tablet. But, if any of the variables change, the tablet size, usecase, etc. then you need to reevaluate the situation.

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