Looking at some articles written about Apples's new patent on specialised detection circuitry to whether the user is using the phone with their left or right hand, it leads to potential applications of the UI being customized for when you are holding the phone with either hand.

This appears to be a very useful tool to have when doing UI design because of the increasing size of phones and tablets, but perhaps it also causes some friction in terms of having a consistent structure and layout of websites (or apps for users).

Should customisation of UI for left or right hand only usage of mobile devices be simply flipping the interface to the other side (i.e. mirroring as you do for text in languages that are from right-to-left or left-to-right), or should there be certain parts of the UI that stays the same while other parts can be flipped?


8 Answers 8


Switching from 4 inches to 4.7 inches and then to a 5.7 inches phone, the major difference I have observed is the Travel.

Even after getting used to, a person with an average size of the palm will still struggle to reach out to parts of the screen which are beyond reach. This might require several readjustments of the hand's grip to the phone to reach out the upper half elements in the UI.

A good realization of this can be seen in the mobile market today where entry level phones come in relatively smaller screen sizes along with a flagship phone which is a bigger size. This can be true for iPhone, Nexus and Samsung Galaxy Note series for 2015-16 year.

I see the potential solution to decrease the travel between the UI on the upper half of the screen since naturally the majority of the hand holds the phone from the bottom.

Flipping the Interface might not solve the problem if the device is vertically larger in screen size.

Generally, only a part of the horizontal elements cannot be reached by the thumb of the user. For example, an icon on the left-most side of the UI might not be reachable for a right handed person, and vice versa. So, flipping might only give access to that one icon while the major travel lies between the upper half of the UI from the bottom half.

I would believe a lesser DPI value for Width automatically being applied while using One-Handed Mode could solve the problem of the reach to the icons and elements of the bottom-half UI.

As for the elements that cannot be reached vertically, I believe the current approach, at least on Android is to make the entire screen shift to the bottom right for Right handed users and bottom left for Left handed users. While this isn't the most optimum solution, I think to tackle the vertical travel, the screen estate will need to be minimized for the one-handed mode.


According to the study in 2012, Strategy Analytics in the UK and US amongst current smartphone users shows that more than 90% of consumers seek larger screens than those found on devices they currently own.

Keep in mind, that this was in 2012 where phones were relatively smaller and users didn't mind larger screens which has led us to this point.

The outcome of this study/survey was that Ideal smartphone screen size is 4 - 4.5 inches, study shows. Given that it's been 4 years since the study, one may argue that people might prefer between 5 - 6 inches of screen size due to the rise in mobile entertainment.

A study by the same Analytical company in 2015 suggests that 5.3 inches is the most preferred size by users.

Given this, the current approach on Android in the One-Handed mode strips down the screen size to 4 - 4.5 inches for a 5.5 - 6+ inches phone to either side of user's convenient hand for the one-handed mode.

Another reason why we aren't seeing the screen sizes go up, but the market for them reduce.

One key reason why the screen size of Nexus 6 by Motorola and Google was a failure. It was a 6 inches phone in 2014. The world was barely accustomed to 5.5 - 5.7 inches phone.

We see the feedback take this in due consideration with the releases of the next Nexus phones and their screen size. Nexus 5X - 5.2 inches, Nexus 6P 5.7 inches.

Comparing the study to these phones, it's easy to say that users were satisfied with these screen sizes in 2015. One assumption we can make is, the user's satisfaction of the screen size their phone has is directly related to if they can use the phone with a single hand or not. Given the fact in 2015 the preferred screen size rose to 5.3 inches and anything above alike 5.5 to 6+ inches isn't ideal for one handed use.

Another comparison can be the iPhone. The 6S Plus is easily overshadowed by 6S due to the screen size.

Given these above comparisons in mind, a good solution can be as shown in this video of Huawei's custom Android theme which enables one-handed mode to strip down 1-1.5 inches of the actual screen estate, while shifting the positioning of the navigation icons to right or left depending on the orientation.

A good way of implementation in one handed mode could be to research on the preferred screen size and accordingly strip down the screen to that size and free the other screen estate. This doesn't mean the other estate needs to be wasted really. Designers could make some use of the other estate, keeping in mind to not snatch the user's attention but probably show important notifications out there.

  • Interesting data in the update on trends in screen sizes. I suspect that design process really needs to look at the ratio between the users hand size and the device: once a device becomes 'too big' for one handed operation, then users will then switch to other modes. And people's hand sizes vary.
    – PhillipW
    Jul 5, 2016 at 10:04
  • Claiming the iPhone 6S is preferred over the 6S plus due to size is a FALSE claim based on how the stats are read. Yes the 6S is SOLD much more popularly than the plus but there's a huge price difference which is the biggest deciding factor in purchases as well as a catch 22 scenario where accessories are often made only for the base 6S model due to sales numbers (eg I can't buy a slim charge case for my 6S plus). Finally many of us suffered with small screens when that's all that was available. Now that I've used the 6S plus I could never use a smaller screen phone again.
    – scunliffe
    Jul 6, 2016 at 10:45

The initial assumption is wrong:

Regardless of their dominant hand, people seem to use their phone in their non-dominant hand as well, and vice-versa. An old question on Quora gives some insights on this: https://www.quora.com/Which-hand-do-you-hold-your-iPhone-in-when-using-it-one-handed

There is no clear winner: dominant holds vary

In addition, we hold our devices in different ways. The choice for a top left or top right navigation panel totally ignores the different types of grips: http://alistapart.com/article/how-we-hold-our-gadgets

You could argue that you go with the method that the majority uses: sadly, no dice! Research seems to show that the difference between use-cases is razor thin: http://realites-paralleles.com/2014/02/do-users-interact-with-their-mobile-devices-with-their-dominant-hand/

Possible solution

Perhaps the answer could be: Offer the user the power of customization: Give them the option of placing the main navigation on bottom, top or side (Which you can remember through cookies, device orientation recognition, App settings or Account bound settings).

Additional sources: NN Group says that customizable UI's have the same level of usability, there's no downside to allowing such a setting: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/customization-of-uis-and-products/

Windows has been doing it for years: http://www.thewindowsclub.com/windows-surface-settings-left-handed

  • 1
    Some very interesting links on this answer: according to the second article I'm one of the 51% of people who hold their smartphone with both hands and to which this question doesn't therefore apply !
    – PhillipW
    Jul 5, 2016 at 10:11

Please don't flip anything away from where a user planned to touch a second ago..

If a user sees the settings ≡ icon on the right top while holding the phone in their right hand and cannot reach it with right thumb, they might as well move the phone to the left hand and reach for the icon with their right-hand index finger. So it shouldn't suddenly move to the left top side of the screen.

What would be perhaps more useful is to detect overall statistics of which hand is the preferred one for holding the phone in general and be able to provide a stable layout for this preferred hand, e.g. to detect if a person is usually holding a large phone in left hand and tap with right-hand fingers or the other way round. So not a second-to-second flipping, but better informed choosing of a default option between 2 possible layouts - and this setting can be manually adjustable if people disable this hand detection feature or use older phones...


Michael, I was think the same for right/left hand user, please correct me if i am wrong

flipping the entire interface to the other side

Should not flip the entire interface because for understanding / reading the information/content we do not required either right/left hand, rather the languages which required to read from right to left, required vision (eyes).

Certain parts of the UI (navigation) is a good solutions for both the users: as it will reduce the cognitive load for both (right/left hand) users. Now, the new subject will start if we discussing "which navigation UI should flip / which should not", because it involves top to down and bottom to top navigation and I think, it should entirely flipped for both the user. In this case, I better suggest to test wireframes with both the users.

For, Horizontal elements

Q. Why/When users use horizontal screen?

  1. may be user want to use both the hands
  2. may be user want to see more content for reading
  3. for playing a game
  4. writing an email which watching a video or listening a song
  5. take photographs, etc.

but, user is very well aware 'right-thumb' will not reach to the left-hand side of the screen (and, left-thumb to right-hand side of the screen). Changing the certain UI i.e. navigation will certainly reduce the users cognition load. Also, if the user holding a screen vertically-big-screen-mobile devices, user have to hold the device in such way, so that s/he can easily manage top-down and bottom-up navigation.

For smaller palm (which i notice in my usability testing, few users (woman) has big-screen mobile devices and have a shorter palm), those users use both the hands in vertical-screen as well. Few users also keep their nails longer either left or right, for these user, its little difficult to use the navigation because the nail hide the 'navigation btn / tab' and they have remember the info for a few seconds. Once they understand the touch points, they become a smart/power users.

As Tom.K suggested, we can "offer the user the power of customization", from settings: [radio btn] flip navigation for right hand users, [radio btn] flip navigation left hand user.

--sorry, i'm not able to 'comment' as i'm using old browser--

Michael: in that case, (this is my assumption), there are 87/100 users are right handed. For example, I'm a right handed but keep the phone on my left hand pocket and sometime navigate by left hand. Also, it depends on context, (1) here in bangkok people use smartphone while driving two-wheel, use left hand (risky and not allow but still they do) as they can control the accelerator by right-hand. (2) user whose right hand is busy with something (3) users are tired and just like to use by left hand (4) user just for the sake of using left hand for fun etc (these 4 are all my own example)

  • I don't know if it is necessarily a right hand/left hand issue as much as it is just which hand you happen to be holding the phone with.
    – Michael Lai
    Jul 2, 2016 at 8:06

You bring up a very valid point and one that reflects some of the annoyance from owners of larger smartphone devices. I know people who have downsized their phone specifically for this reason.

My suggestion would be to keep action buttons - ones that require touch feedback from the user - toward the bottom of the screen. This requires far less dexterity from the user and doesn't require extensive coding changes and the associated time and costs that go with it.


I think to consider simply mirroring the UI will produce equally usable results might be not true, as we will use the UI better with our more dominant hand.

Given that most people in the world are right handed, more consideration should be taken when designing the ui to be easier to use in the less dominant left hand.


There are some excellent answers here, with some great human factors links.

Just because Apple has decided to create a patent doesn't automatically mean it is something that will actually be useful.

There is a limit to how much the phone can know about how it is being held and how someone can interact with it. I suspect you will need a number of new sensors placed around the hardware device.

As to the benefits of such detection, there is no point assuming what these could be. Maybe Apple do not yet know what these benefits might be, or maybe they have a very specific use case in mind which we have no idea about (Apple work on things for many years before they eventually come to market - especially when it involves hardware manufacture).

What I do know is the user experience best practice always trumps technology, so it would not make sense to start switching the UI elements around based solely on what the sensing technology detected about how it was being held and used, because this could end up being very disconcerting for the user.


I am a left handed user and when I have a good single-handed grip around the screen I find it difficult to reach the back button in the title bar. Therefore Apple invented the edge-swiped back to resolve my problem.

I don't believe Apple will use this technique to move elements on the screen; iOS depends on spatial features to help users orientate themselves when navigating the product. People remember the position of screen elements spatially. Screens stack from left to right.

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