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I want to provide tooltips for the UI buttons, but obviously a "hoverable" tooltip will not display on a touch device. what is an alternative way to display the same information as a tooltip (in this case, a short description of the buttons "Select", "Move", "Resize" etc.)

view of a pin ball editor

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Add a help icon, when you tap it show a help overlay.

enter image description here

Something like this, change to fit your needs obviously.

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Unfortunately, the best usability for the users is to include text labels (even for non-mobile UIs as well). See http://www.nngroup.com/articles/icon-usability/. It doesn't look like you have a lot of space, so I imagine you would include labels if you could.

Given your current design, I would add a prominent label that describes the selected tool (i.e. "Currently using: Select Tool"). Hopefully your users would be familiar with this kind of editor UI and would be willing to select all the different available tools to see what the label said (and thus, what the icon meant).

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Why not show the default tooltip on extended press? This is how Google Analytics (SE too) shows its tooltip. If you press the "Create segment" icon you will see the tooltip as below in Android.

Google Analytics Tooltip

Also users' "burden of learning new controls" is also waived. They will naturally try the default option first.

  • I'm totally new to UX design, but isn't using controls (in this case, long-press gesture) that are not visible bad practice? – Behdad Dec 5 '15 at 7:42
  • I don't think it's a bad practise. Rather its the default control for all major apps. So you expect the user to repeat the same gesture as the user does for any other app. – Ramnath Dec 5 '15 at 11:19
  • As an iOS user, I'm not familiar with long-press gesture at all. None of Apple made apps use long-press gesture and I found Pinterest's "shortcut" as Zoe Kulsariyeva mentioned completely by chance. – Behdad Dec 5 '15 at 15:17
  • Bit curious to know how does Google or StackExchange or Facebook or Twitter or Apple show the 'tool tips' in ios? If not long press /tap and hold, what? – Ramnath Dec 5 '15 at 15:29
  • As for Facebook, it shows tooltips when you visit a view for the first time and they go away if you tap anywhere on the screen. Twitter does the same. (For Moments for example.) Apple doesn't use tooltips as far as I know. – Behdad Dec 5 '15 at 15:32
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You could translate hover into mobile tap-and-hold: Pinterest mobile team has developed a tap-and-hold popup menu for iOS app that works like hover for mobile. http://www.cnet.com/news/pinterest-adds-animated-pinning-shortcut-to-ios-app/

enter image description here

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