Categories: Mobile Apps
Our phones are getting bigger, but our thumbs aren’t. So how can we design mobile apps for large screens without sacrificing the user experience?
The rule of thumb
Phone screens may have doubled in size, but 75% of users still use their thumb to navigate around their phone. Almost half use just one hand when using their phone. As a result mobile apps for large screens are ideally designed so that key content is easily within reach of users’ thumbs. That’s because forcing a thumb to stretch too far is uncomfortable – and requires users to adapt how they use their phones.
One way that developers keep thumbs happy is by keeping necessary controls within easy reach. Instead of putting frequently used controls at the top of the screen, important UI elements should go in the center or towards the bottom of the screen.
There’s a reason your app “favorites” sit at the bottom of your iPhone screen. That’s because there’s no easier spot to reach with your thumb. Over time many apps have adjusted their navigation so that core or frequently used navigation icons sit at the bottom of the screen. Instagram, Snapchat, Spotify and Dropbox are just a few examples.
Things are a bit different on Android, where this real estate is taken up by system controls, but Google has a solution: floating action buttons.
Floating action buttons
Floating action buttons (FABs) are large buttons that “hover” towards the bottom of the screen and encourage users to take a particular action. Google recommends that these buttons be used for taking the primary or most common action on a screen.
Gmail uses a floating action button for composing new emails. Google Maps uses one for finding directions. The overall goals for floating action buttons are that they should be primary, constructive and contextual.
Large screens are also a great playground for exploring gesture. The center of the screen is best for tapping, while either side of the screen can be used for swiping. You don’t want to place a button too close to a corner as a user can end up navigating with a thumbnail rather than a thumb – with poor results.
Pinch and rotate are also possible gestures for single-hand users, although they’re less familiar than tap and swipe.
Mobile apps for large screens are here to stay
Large screens are here to stay, so your mobile app should be optimized to be as thumb-friendly as possible. If you need some help ensuring your app meets Android or iOS best practices, get in touch!