Why a two hand UI does not make sense even on a two hand phone

An ex Microsoft employee has explained the company’s move to hamburger menus as replacement for the classic swipe UI just a few days ago.

He mentioned that one-handed use of phones is rarer than most people would think. We cannot prove this wrong as we do not have statistics ourselves, but what we can do is give an example why a two-handed UI is not a good way to go, even on a two-handed phone.

My personal device is a Lumia 1520 and I love it, especially its size. However, the changes in UI Microsoft introduced with Windows 10 make me mad. This article is all about that. Not the features of Windows 10 (which I, to be honest, really like) and not the type of design (style of icons, colors etc.), but the UI and its experience.

Windows 10 is installed on a Lumia 620 in my case. It is a 3.8 inch device and using the software with one hand is absolutely no problem; but who uses a 3.8” device these days?!

Bigger phones will become much less enjoyable in terms of usability. The reason is simple: Not all elements will be accessible as easily as now. Especially the 1520 will have some serious issues, even though it is a phone one would use with two hands only. I’ve covered this here already.

There are two ways of holding the Lumia 1520:

First, mostly when sitting on a couch and not moving at all, one hand holds the phone while the index finger of the other hands navigates through the UI. Every part of the screen can be accessed very easily and even smaller buttons can be pressed very precisely. A hamburger UI would not make a real difference here.

However, once the phone is used on the go, say when walking down the street, some issues would come up with a hamburger UI, but this needs a little of explanation.

Let’s first divide the screen into two parts.

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On the go the best way to hold the phone, so that it does not slip out of the hands and can be used as well as possible, is putting it in both palms and using both thumbs to navigate. It works very well actually, as almost no relevant UI elements are placed in part 1 of the screen. The only really important buttons there are beginnings of lists (e.g. of your chat history) and the action center, which is not being accessed that frequently. When one of these needs to be accessed one would only need to slide up one hand a little bit to reach it with the thumb. The other hand would keep the device safe. As you walk your input gets less and less precise. That is why it is good that the most important UI elements are placed on the very bottom. There the phone is held steady and even smaller buttons can be pressed pretty exactly. As you move towards part 1 of the screen input gets less precise, simply because the phone does not have anything to lean against and shakes pretty badly since the rest of the body is moving.

That is where swiping comes in handy. One can use the whole area of the screen to switch to another tab. The amount of buttons on the top of the screen is kept as small as possible and for everything else part 2 is used. This arrangement makes sense, as switching tabs is one of the major actions of the Windows Phone UI. With a hamburger one would have to first press the small hamburger icon and then the desired tab which would appear in a list. These buttons would be too small for part 1 of the screen as input is so imprecise there that either the user would accidently press the wrong button all the time and/or press an empty space.

This is totally contrary to the argument that swiping needs too many actions to access a certain page. The argument “two taps vs. five swipes” may be valid on the couch, but if the user presses the wrong button all the time they would possibly need not only more inputs, but also more time to access a certain page.

Also the users would need to keep one hand at the top of the screen as major UI elements would be moved there. Sliding one hand upwards to access a certain button once or twice is no problem, but once the hand has to stay up there the phone could drop much more easily. Let alone how awkward this hand placement would be.

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The best solution is a UI like in the Windows 10 people hub or the OneDrive app. No hamburger (or a hamburger only for very rarely used pages), but small pivots. These can be accessed through swiping (handy on the go) AND trough tapping (saves time and taps as one can directly navigate to the desired page) as every pivot is displayed, unlike in Windows Phone where the pivots only appear once the page was accessed through swipes. Also, in my honest opinion, this UI looks best as it not only is a logical evolution of the classic Windows Phone UI but additionally fresh and unique when compared to iOS and Android, which look pretty much the same.
Of course the search bar being on top of the screen is a bad placement, but at least this is not a major UI Change throughout the whole OS and therefore can be considered a small issue only. It is one of the things which needs a little editing only, unlike the UI itself which has a different dimension.

What do you think about all that? Let us know in the comments below.

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