Are the sort of switch controls you see on smart phones acceptable on the web - i'm talking about the left->right sliding on/off switches you have for Airplane mode and others. They certainly look nicer than checkboxes.. but are they usable on a desktop platform? I'm guessing they'd have to work on click, and drag to be fully useful.

4 Answers 4


I would argue that the sliding switch-style controls you describe for mobile devices are less usable on a non-mobile platform because they look like they are designed to be clicked and then dragged into a different state. This works on a mobile device where the primary interaction medium is tactile, but with pointer devices, the traditional interaction medium is the click - hence the checkbox, radio button, or 2-button group.

This isn't to say that the sliding switch control is unusable on a desktop - like you said, you could make it toggle by clicking on it, but the control doesn't afford this type of interaction at first glance on the desktop, and is therefore somewhat less usable than a traditional control.

  • I'd say this is the correct answer.. but looking around, I do think it all depends on what the question / answers are - If it is literally "On" or "Off", then it makes more sense. I was actually confused by the thesaurus.com example below!
    – Guy Bowden
    Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 7:20
  • While you're probably right, I would say keeping the controls consistent throughout different platforms is more important. Also, people tend to click everything that remotely looks like a button, so I doubt there would be any problems. Key factor: switches communicate on/off much clearer that checkboxes do. There is no traditional desktop control for on/off switches. Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 9:18

Here's something that makes sense to me:

"Switches should never require users to press a button to apply their settings. This is because a switch is already a toggle button. When you require users to press a submit button, you confuse them because it’s not what they expect.

You should only use switches on settings that need to take effect instantaneously. If a setting requires a button press before it can take effect, you should use a checkbox instead.

The visual cue of a checkbox is different than a switch. While “on” implies instance, a checkmark only implies selection. This means users expect a more immediate change with switches than checkboxes. "


  • that does make sense
    – Guy Bowden
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 9:53

I would say that because of the popularity of tablets, it is difficult to design web applications without taking into account of touch and gesture controls because it is just as likely for a user to be accessing a website on a mobile device. In the case of a sliding toggle control appearing on a desktop UI, I think users would be familiar enough with the concept to deal with it, but it wouldn't be best practice. You also have to consider accessibility for users in desktop applications, and I don't know exactly how you would implement it (perhaps the same way as a checkbox or radio button).

  • I guess this is the heart of the question really - how familiar are users with the switch. I'd say a regular tablet / smartphone user would get it right away. Someone else, perhaps not. But you've got to assume that everyone is familiar with a checkbox! The on/off switch would need some neat programming to allow it to work in several ways - click toggle and drag - otherwise it's just annoying.
    – Guy Bowden
    Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 7:22
  • I would say that general users would be familiar with the switch paradigm since it was developed from the actual physical switches. There are a lot of discussions to do with the actual usability of the switch UI (much of it is related to the labeling). There is no particular reason why you would use it in preference of other types of controls, other than that you want to appeal to mobile device users.
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 7:32

I think you have to use them to complement the content, I think what was done in this site is good.


The radio and sliders make the page more useable. I agree with you though, I would make the radios "one-click".

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