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A Question on Orientation

by on February 14th, 2012

Before you, my fellow readers, get all up in arms by this issue, let me be clear. By orientation, I mean either landscape or portrait (or colloquially, hot-dog or hamburger screen orientations). [Afterall, this is a technology site, and not some political blog espousing some view on sexual liberation and same-sex unions.] While this type of orientation may not have the same societal divisiveness as a discourse on the state of marriage, I feel that it is still somewhat divisive within the technology circles. Afterall, even when discussing screen orientation for the desktop, my coder friends and I have very different viewpoints (my coder friends prefer portrait orientation for better code readability), and this is for a screen where the orientation is more or less fixed. So what about tablets? Does screen orientation matter?

Well, yes. One of the things I’ve noticed on my long, lonely walks in the tablets section of my local electronics store is that landscape is the norm in presenting demo units to the general public. Not only that, but the default orientation for both Android and Blackberry tablets are landscape. In fact, my past experiences with Android tablets is that they’re generally unusable in portrait mode, mostly because of their screen aspect ratios. At a widescreen aspect ratio of 16:9, Android tablets in portrait orientation just look odd, especially compared with print paper, not to mention that the keyboard is nigh unusable because it doesn’t sit as naturally on the screen. Android tablet users, in many ways, have it easy. They only have one way to go and that is landscape.

Then we have the iPad. It’s one of the rare devices where the default orientation is portrait. However, iPad users aren’t forced into using it strictly in that mode. In-store iPad displays are designed accommodate both landscape and portrait orientations. At an aspect ratio of 4:3, it mimics regular letter paper and is pretty usable both ways, and many app developers agree. Many iPad apps are designed for both landscape and portrait modes, with different screen layouts depending on how you’re holding the device. Unless the app serves a specific purpose (i.e. video consumption), screen orientation isn’t forced by design, but rather an extension of the user, which prompted my original question.

Personally, I primarily use my iPad in landscape mode. It gives me the illusion of more screen real estate as I scan left to right (rather than top to bottom). However, given that Apple’s provided a fairly open choice in this matter, I’d love to know how you all use your tablets. Do you have a preferred default orientation? Or one that depends on the app being used? Would love to hear from you all in the comments below.

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  • Coach83

    I find myself using portrait more, like now for example but it varies based on what I’m doing. Video or say, laying down, landscape. If I’m wanting to read something over breakfast, portrait.

  • http://twitter.com/leafer01 Mr. X

    same.. I read books in portrait, but surfing/games/apps/video are in landscape

  • Mark

    About 90% landscape – 10% portrait.

  • Kenway

    My preferred orientation is landscape mode. In fact I am usually annoyed when I download a new app such as the CBC music app only to find that works only in portrait mode. I suspectbth many apps we designed pr an iPhone application and simply get ported over to iPad without a landscape option