Arbitrary Android orientation locks are driving me nuts

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Some people say that Android lacks a common UI throughout apps. Maybe it does, though the same can be said for iOS. What drives me nuts, however, is not the apps’ UIs, but rather their orientation locks.

Android’s orientation lock works a lot like it does on iOS. There’s a global setting which is supposed to be followed, but this can be overridden by apps that haven’t been programmed to run in one of the orientations. What sets Android apart however, is to what extent the display is being hijacked. An app might have a main screen that is single orientation, but another that isn’t. This can result in screen switching away from the orientation you’re currently holding it in because it suddenly realized it can obey the global rule. Do the developers, or Google for that matter, have any idea how annoying it is to have an app that shows every other screen at a different rotation?

Some apps are worse than others, like Android Market (the actual app). Market itself will keep the global orientation (not all versions though), but will rotate the screen to fit any screenshots you decide to click. It’s quite annoying to sit comfortably and browse the Market in portrait and then suddenly be thrown to landscape. I don’t see any reasons why images can’t be displayed the way I have set my device to be held, even if that means they won’t be displayed on the entire screen. I disabled auto rotation for a reason, Google, don’t override my settings because you think an image should be as large as possible! What’s next, a WiFi system that switches to the fastest network regardless of what the user set it to connect to?

Market is even more backwards than just having an idiotic image viewer though, as the image viewer will switch for each picture. If a developer uploads five images where the first, third, and fifth are landscape photos while the second and fourth are portrait, a user that initially browses in portrait will have the screen orientation switch six times from the point he goes to click the first image to the time he’s back at the item description. Six times.I don’t know about you, but if I want to rotate my device that often, I’ll download a driving game and use it as a steering wheel.

What’s worse, Honeycomb’s on-screen buttons will switch place whenever the device is turned, and so will the definition of left and right. If you’re in portrait mode and accidentally click the screenshot in market, you have to locate the “back”-button in landscape mode to get out of it. If you want to browse through both portrait and landscape screenshots without physically turning the device, you have to switch between swiping right to left to switching up to down, sometimes for every other image. At least on (most) phones the “back”-button stays in place so you can decide that you can’t be bothered turning the device, but on Honeycomb anything that rotates the screen will at the very least turn into a quick round of “Where’s Waldo” to find the buttons.

The extent of the orientation switching is worse in Android than iOS because it often happens within the same app, but another issue that makes this a bigger problem on Android is that the OS can be customized to such an extent. I don’t know about anyone else, but I never make a home screen that is designed to rotate in Honeycomb. It makes no sense. The screen is 16:9, which means that ideally the icon layout should follow the same ratio, with some adjustment for status bars and such. You either have to use a square icon layout that can be rotated, which wastes screen real estate and looks horrible, or you have to stick to one orientation. 8 x 10 icons combined with the Honeycomb bar and launcher’s toolbar makes it a perfect setup for my Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus in portrait mode,, but rotating that layout squeezes everything together into a mess that doesn’t just look ugly – it doesn’t work properly either because of overlap. As a result, I’ve locked my orientation to portrait, which of course ever other app completely ignores. At times it gets to the point where I want to throw the Tab against the wall just to not have to deal with it, as it can be quite frustrating to have your navigation buttons move all over the screen. Just yesterday I was using the IR Remote functionality on my Tab to test compatibility with some equipment, and between warnings that the app needed an update (automatically throwing me out of the app and back to portrait from landscape) and warning me I needed an internet connection (resulting in another rotate session) I had to have looked like a moron who couldn’t for the life of him figure out which side of the thing was up.

In my humble opinion, and this goes for iOS as well, any app that is locked to one orientation should be kicked out of whatever app store it’s in and classified as a virus that overrides system preferences. Or even better, remove the ability for apps to rotate the screen at all – delete the APIs. Yes, I know that some apps like games pretty much have to be in landscape, but then the developer should implement a pause screen or warning message that displays in the orientation you hold your device, warning you to manually rotate the tablet to the right orientation to proceed. I don’t care if I eventually have to rotate my device to use an app correctly, I just want to be in control of when I do it – especially on Android where the button placement is dependent on screen orienation. Even on the iPad where my buttons don’t disappear from their places when I start certain apps I don’t ever want to see text that is rotated compared to the way I’m holding the device. Somehow, the multidirectional concept of a tablet compared to a laptop or stationary screen has caused us to go from computer OSes that always display programs in the same orientation to apps that are forcing the users to twist and turn a device like crazy just to see what the screen says. That isn’t progress, that’s a screw up of epic proportions.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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