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In the official Stack Exchange mobile apps (I use the iOS version, but I assume the behavior is similar on the other platforms), there are two distinct user actions used to refresh/reload the questions list depending on the situation:

  • To "refresh" the question list without new content having been detected, the user action is to pull down:
    enter image description here enter image description here

  • To "reload" the question list after new content has been detected, the user action is to tap the internal notification bar, and pulling down has no effect:
    enter image description here enter image description here

To me, the two operations are quite similar: regardless of if new content has been detected, the user aims to retrieve the latest content.

I see the value of the notification bar: it present an obvious signal that new content is available, even to those who may not be familiar with the common swipe to refresh action. My question is mostly related to the difference in language and gesture that's created here.

What, if any, is the reasoning behind having two distinct actions in both language (refresh vs reload) and physical gesture on the device (pull down vs tap)?


Note: This is not a Meta request to change the behavior of the apps. Nor is it asking for official justification from Stack Exchange developers (not that they owe me that anyway). I'm simply wondering why the designers might have chosen this, and I think UX experts might have some idea of the reasoning behind it.

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I've seen this behaviour in a few mobile apps and as such have come to believe that there's a few reasons:

  1. Copycat syndrome - if another app does it, and that app seems successful, go with the same behaviour to try and maintain familiar consistency
  2. Hybrid app development - often times the same UI content is shared across the web and native mobile apps. On the desktop web "pull to refresh" is foreign and would be cumbersome to try to explain to a user to "click and hold anywhere... Then drag down... To reload" as such if they needed a distinct click/tap action on the web, it may just be easier to use the same code on mobile
  3. Similar to point #2, the inverse is true... On mobile apps there often isn't a specific reload button, F5/CTRL+R, or URL to refresh the page, so the pull to refresh option is a very natural feeling equivalent

Personally on mobile I'm so used to the pull to refresh option, I do the same pull when I see the "tap to load" message. ;-)

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