I'll take my home screen in portrait, please!

Published: June 8, 2012

Unless you have a smartphone with a QWERTY slider, chances are you spend most of your time using the device in portrait mode. When you're in the browser application, you can squeeze more information on the screen in the same space. And if you're typing a message in portrait, the soft keyboard generally takes up no more than half the display.

Don't get me wrong, portrait isn't always best. Landscape is the only decent way to watch video on a smartphone. And flipping the device to landscape will make the keyboard larger and possibly easier to type on. However, the soft keyboard will then take up roughly 80 to 90 percent of the display.

But there's little to complain about here. Within applications, you can use your phone however you see fit. Landscape or portrait, it doesn't matter; your phone's accelerometer will kick in and let you use whichever orientation works best for you. 

Evan Blass of Pocketnow, however, has a beef with smartphone home screens. Unlike their application compatriots, home screens do not rotate with the phone. Not on Android, not on iOS, not on Windows Phone and not on Blackberry. No matter which way you twist your phone, the home screen will stay in portrait mode – assuming you don't have a QWERTY slider, you haven't installed a custom ROM or a third-party launcher replacement. And Blass isn't happy about it. He explains:

"Nearly everyone with a smartphone has experienced the same problem: you’re working on something in landscape mode such as typing a text or watching a video, and you need to return to the home screen to select another app, which you’ll also be using in landscape. Yet frustratingly, the screen is sideways, oriented in a portrait configuration no matter how many little shakes you perform to wake up the accelerometer. Non-rotating home screens were a problem back in the earliest days of smartphones, and while these devices have made amazing technological advances, they remain a problem even today."

No doubt, I see where Blass is coming from. But I fail to see this as a "problem". Not once have I ever thought, "Man, I wish I could use my home screen in landscape."

In fact, one of the first things I do when I get a new Android phone is disable accelerometer rotation. There is little I hate more than a screen switching to landscape when I accidentally tilt my phone too far to the side. Sometimes, for instance, I like to lay in bed and tweet or text before I fall asleep. If I'm laying on my side, the last thing I want is the phone to orient to landscape.

There are, however, a few occasions that I like to enable rotation. Before watching YouTube, I will enable rotation so I can watch videos in landscape. If a Web page has issues rendering properly or doesn't properly allow text reflow, I will enable rotation and browse in landscape. And I always use my phone in landscape to take pictures, although that doesn't require having rotation on. (You can always rotate pictures once you're done to fix orientation.)

But there has never been a time I wanted to use my home screen in landscape. Never. Not once. I remember using it in landscape on the G2 when I had the keyboard in the out position. It was terrible. Due to the four by four grid being turned on its side, and the four horizontal icons or widgets being stretched across nearly double the pixels, widgets were distorted and everything look stretched and disproportionate. Plain and simple, the aspect ratio of most phones of today make landscape unpleasing to use. The displays are generally very narrow and wide (like 16:9 aspect ratio, for instance) and make everything in landscape look unsightly  save for watching videos.

For me, landscape is more trouble than its worth most of the time: rotation might take too long or your position on a Web page might be lost when switching back to portrait. (Oh, that one kills me.) So I stick to portrait 95 percent of the time. And the last feature I want is for my home screen to be turned on its side. I'll keep using it in portrait, thanks.

Of course, all of this is mainly preference. I may rarely use my phone in landscape, but I see others doing it all the time. My fear, though, is that if software makers enabled home screen rotation, unlike most launcher replacement applications, they would combine home screen and application rotation into a single setting. (i.e.: Your phone either orients to landscape or it doesn't.)

What say you, guys and gals? Do you use your phone in landscape often? Do you wish your phone's home screen would rotate to landscape out of the box? Or, like me, do you stick to portrait most of the time.

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