Desktop/Laptop Screen Orientation

One obvious difference when we design for desktop versus mobile is the orientation of the screen. Laptop screens are typically 16:9 or 16:10 screen ratio, which are horizontally oriented.

This has an impact on how applications have been designed over the last few decades - so was the software a driver for hardware changing form, or was it the other way around?

Some of the early desktops did indeed have a vertically aligned screen (below, the Xerox Alto). enter image description here

So why did we go from a vertical orientation, to a horizontal one?

enter image description here

There is a Quora question here but doesn't explain why it happened, just the history.

As a follow up, are desktop/laptops design ever likely to revert to a different screen aspect ratio following on from increase of (horizontal mobile/tablet screens and usage?

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    For classic laptops, it’s probably mostly due to the size of the keyboard and the connection on the longer side being more stable, also there’s problaby more existing material (fotos, videos, software) in landscape format than portrait – except for single-page paper documents. For tablets and convertibles, the question is more interesting: a web search for ipad keyboard shows some pictures with the tablet in portrait orientation, but most are still in landscape mode. I’ve seen several (secondary) portrait screens in offices where the PC was mostly used as a typewriter for A4 letters etc.
    – Crissov
    Mar 21, 2016 at 13:03

2 Answers 2


Our eyes are positioned horizontally, which creates a wider view angle horizontally then vertically. Maybe this image clarifies:

enter image description here

The reason is now quite obvious: a wide screen fits our anatomy better than a tall screen.

  • 2
    Owls have long been an under represented population in Usability. Mar 21, 2016 at 16:57
  • But the principle stays the same. And yes, we have been neglecting owls for way too long.
    – Ruudt
    Mar 21, 2016 at 19:00
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    Interesting, but I think usage has more to do with it. Vertically oriented screens were used mostly by DTP publisher that wanted to see vertically oriented layouts. With the switch to computers being used more by consumers than professionals, watching movies became more ubiquitous, and this led to an even bigger width/height ratio. Many programmers by the way, turn their screens 90 degrees to get more lines in view instead of wider lines. Mar 23, 2016 at 8:13
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    Horizontal screens were common way before computers went mainstream (goo.gl/WdHgrB). Except for the very first (experimental) computers, computers had the same display ratio as televisions back then. The television ratio is deduced from movie which was deduced from the human view angle.
    – Ruudt
    Mar 25, 2016 at 15:35

The laptop's screen orientation and aspect ratio is influenced by a number of things:

  • Movies are mainly filmed in that aspect ratio and orientation
  • Since 2005 most computer games are made for that aspect ratio and
  • The aspect ratio and orientation is very close to the golden ratio
  • laptops need a keyboard because many laptops are used for typing, so the keyboard influences the screen orientation due to the need to keep the laptop footprint efficient when the laptop is "closed"


  • Increased media consumption makes sense. Not sure what the golden ratio has to do with it, and the keyboard footprint makes sense for laptops but not for desktops.
    – Midas
    Mar 21, 2016 at 13:28
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    Horizontal screen orientation is much older than any picture or video capabilities. Also, games followed orientation (well before 2005 btw), not the opposite. And golden ratio has nothing to do with orientation...
    – Yako
    Mar 21, 2016 at 15:20

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