ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

Heather Maloney
Heather Maloney Heather Maloney, Founder of Contact Point IT Services and eNudge.com.au, has a Master in Technology (Information Technology) majoring in the web, and has over 16 years experience in the IT industry, most of which has been focused on delivering business benefits via the use of internet related technologies. Recent achievements: Contact Point were appointed to the Centrelink Creative Design Panel, serving around 30 Federal Government Departments with website design and development services, commencing October 2011.

Heather Maloney has written 38 article(s) for us.

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The Art of the Gesture: Your Mobile App

September 17, 2012 | Heather Maloney

Find out what gestures are available to use in your Mobile App.
Find out what gestures are available to use in your Mobile App.

One of the joys of using mobile devices, particularly tablet devices, is the multitude of ways that you can interact with the device using gestures, and moving the device as you hold it. If you are building an app for your clients and customers, you need to consider how you can enrich their experience through facilitating appropriate / useful / fun / surprising interactions – depending on the purpose of your app!

Available Gestures

The gestures available on the different mobile device operating systems are broadly the same, with a few notable exceptions. Depending on the available gestures, from most commonly supported to the more unique, are:

  • swiping horizontally with one finger
  • swiping vertically with one finger
  • pressing/tapping buttons, links and checkboxes
  • long pressing to get extra options
  • double tapping
  • pinching together with two fingers (usually used to make something smaller / zoom out)
  • spread two fingers, the opposite of pinching, (usually used to make something bigger / zoom in)
  • “drawing” on the device in any direction or writing / signing
  • dragging and dropping from one position to another
  • double finger swipe
  • triple finger swipe
  • four finger swipe (or claw), up, left and right

With the right app add-on, your Android device also allows you to create your own gestures to quickly achieve frequent actions e.g. calling your partner.

Device Movement

It is also possible to interact with an app by moving the device:

  • rotating it in your hands a full 90 or 180 degrees (and back)
  • tilting your device from side to side, with some apps (often games) picking up even the smallest amount of tilt
  • shaking the device side to side rapidly can achieve different results with certain apps

Screen Rotation Considerations

Some apps, most notably the famous and mega-successful Angry Birds, lock into one screen orientation, so rotating the device won’t change the orientation of the application (in Angry Bird’s case to portrait) no matter how you hold your device.

As anyone who has played Angry Birds knows, using that app in portrait mode (if indeed it was possible) wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as in landscape mode. If you have a compelling reason why your app shouldn’t be rotated, then you don’t need to support both orientations. However, you should at least consider enriching the customer experience by changing the layout of the screen to provide less / more / different functionality in portrait compared to landscape.

Mobile phones by default will be used in portrait orientation; tablet devices seem to be used predominantly in landscape, unless you’re trying to read the news one handed while standing up on a train!  Landscape usually works better for watching movies. Obviously the design of your app will be impacted by the target device, and how your users are likely to use your app.

My first experience of the beauty of rotation on a mobile device was when using the calculator app on an iPhone… in portrait you get the standard calculator view. Rotate to landscape and voila… you have a scientific calculator. Now… I think the last time I needed to use a scientific calculator was in Year 11, but it was a nice touch!

Supporting different functionality or screen design in different orientations will require more development effort though (read cost to build).

Using a Stylus

Some users like to be able to use a stylus, particularly when it comes to completing forms or drawing on the device. If your app requires a stylus though, you will be limiting the number of users that will benefit from it. Being able to take a mobile device anywhere without having to carry a load of accessories is another one of the key benefits of touch screen mobile devices.

Other Random Acts of Kindness

I must admit to having a huge laughing fit when trying to demonstrate to someone how to use an iPhone app that takes your blood pressure. It involved putting your finger over the iPhone App camera aperture, and pointing it at a bright light source. The app then found your pulse and displayed it on screen. What made this so funny was that I was simultaneously trying to take a screen grab with my other hand, and not drop the phone.

While it seems like a pretty crazy thing to do with a camera aperture and an iPhone, you have to admire the creative thought that went into it!

Wrapping Up…

Mobile devices have swiftly become an important and ubiquitous device in business and leisure alike. This is in no small part because of their ease of use. So when designing an app you need to carefully consider how you will enable your users to interact with it to ensure that it is easy, intuitive and a pleasure to use.

Your turn:

What nifty gestures / interactions have you enjoyed while using your favourite mobile device and app? Leave a comment and share.