Be careful with iPhone orientation specific content

I stumbled across Engage Interactive’s post about iPhone orientation specific content last night. What they have managed to do is to change what is displayed on screen based on the orientation of the iPhone. If you hold it upright you’ll get their Blog; rotate horizontally to the left and you get their About page and rotate to the right to get a mini portfolio.

I’m a Software Engineer by training and that part of me is screaming out how cool this is. Technically, it’s a really impressive feat and it looks fantastic. We need this kind of innovation to push the field forward. However, the usability side of my brain thinks that in this case it’s not such a good idea.

It’s just not the expected behaviour – it violates the ‘Rule of Least Surprise’ which simply says to “Do the least surprising thing”. I think Eric S. Raymond sums this up best: “Novelty is a barrier to entry; it puts a learning burden on the user, so minimize it”. In fairness to Engage Interactive – when you visit their site on an iPhone you get a mini tutorial. But, I don’t really want to be reading tutorials on how to use a web site! On a slow connection this would just be annoying!

However, I do think they are on to something – as a technology demo it opens up some pretty exciting possibilities for others to build on. Personally, I think using the orientation sensing to display an entirely different page is just too confusing. But, I can see it being good for augmenting the existing page – maybe using the extra width to display more detailed information, or add extra views such as graphs etc.

But, well done to Engage Interactive for coming up with the first example of this that I’ve seen – keep up the good work.

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  1. Posted August 22, 2008 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Hey Ashley,
    Thanks for the link. :)
    I do actually tend to agree with everything you’ve said. I’ve been playing around with the code some more recently and one of the best uses I’ve found is like you say, showing extra content when there is more space. On a blog for example, you can show the archives or an advert perhaps when holding the phone in landscape. Hold it portrait and you just get the post itself.

    Something I’ve been attempting is having a page with the summary of all the blog posts and instead of a more link simply allowing the phone to be turned portrait and whichever post you are currently over will show in full. Again though – more of a novelty than a genuinely useful function.


  2. Ashley Towers
    Posted August 22, 2008 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    Hi Will – thanks for the comment! It’s funny you should mention that one – I was thinking the same thing whilst I was making a coffee after clicking post!

    I think this is a similar situation to the Wii – there’s an entire new way of interacting that’s just appeared from nowhere and it will take a while for the best ways to use it to bubble through. I’m looking forward to see what emerges though!

  3. Posted November 14, 2008 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    Have you seen bloombergs application for Iphone / Itouch.

    Very nice design. If you have the page up showing stocks for a certain company 1 way will show news story and small graph of share price. Rotate it and the graph is displayed full screen. Its a very nice design and works really well. It is free so I recommend you have a quick look.

    I understand your concerns it would need to be labelled that your page is setup to change when roated. For a whole site maybe not but for a small section / about page it is possibly handy

2 Trackbacks

  1. By How am I supposed to know I can tilt the iPhone?! on August 27, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    [...] Usability Friction Usability shouldn’t be a drag Skip to content AboutContactPrivacyLinksAdvertising « Be careful with iPhone orientation specific content [...]

  2. By Bookmarks about Usability on December 17, 2008 at 12:45 am

    [...] – bookmarked by 6 members originally found by kakashisaidhi on 2008-11-16 Be careful with iPhone orientation specific content – [...]

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