I know that high-up people at Microsoft read Windows8News because occasionally they send me emails telling me off for something I’ve said, I never thought we could be really influential though. Only yesterday I
bitched wrote about how Microsoft have so far completely sidestepped the possibly thorny issue of using a Windows 8 tablet in a portrait orientation (I’m not going to say mode again). Now the company have come out with a blog post talking about this very thing.
We initially thought that landscape or portrait orientation was mostly influenced by personal preference. Each person that we watched rotated the device and each expected the device and UI to work with them at that moment. What was surprising was that as people become more familiar with the device and the apps they cared about, the most unique influencer on whether they rotated the device was the type of content on screen. If the content and experience felt better in landscape, people naturally used the app in landscape-mode. If the content and experience felt better in portrait, the app was used in portrait.
This makes complete sense. What they’ve not said however is how the Start Screen itself will behave when in portrait orientation. This might not be finished yet but it’s important because Microsoft have been talking so much about “muscle memory” the the like where we naturally remember the locations of objects based on aspects such as size and colour.
Given also that users can organise the Start Screen tiles however they want, it does now raise the question of if the Start Screen will rotate at all and if so, how the tiles will be rearranged. If the company has put a great deal of thought, and clearly they have, into this muscle memory issue, to make things as each to find as possible on the new Start screen, having the tiles auto-rearrange when holding a tablet the other way up would no doubt be counter-intrutive.
If the Start Screen tiles don’t rearrange when you rotate a tablet though the Start screen could potentially only show four tiles instead of twelve. Microsoft did say this…
We’ve designed Windows 8 to be ergonomically comfortable in all orientations. We found that a comfortable posture for using a tablet in landscape is to hold in both hands and touch the screen with your thumbs. For this reason, we’ve designed the majority of the experience to be easily accessible under your thumbs. We also optimized the system to scroll horizontally, which feels fast and fluid in landscape as well as in portrait mode.
The blog post goes on to detail more technical issues associated with developing apps that will happily rotate and work in both portrait and landscape (mode). This is obviously incredibly important. The number of apps on Windows Phone that don’t do this is simply staggering and on a tablet it’s simply not going to be acceptable.
Windows 8 is, as I regularly remind people, a work in progress. We wait to see what Microsoft will do about screen rotation on the new Start Screen.