June 09, 2012

Why I think new Android menus are broken

Up until Android 2.3, Android devices required a hardware “menu button”.  Pressing the menu button was the standard way of accessing the functions provided by apps.  Quite a few people  complained that this model is broken because sometimes users wouldn’t think that they can press the menu button to find actions they can perform.  Google “fixed” this problem in Android 3.0.
In Android 3.0, menu button became obsolete, and Google asked developers to use other on-screen UI elements to provide access to app features.  But the issue now is that actions are in two different menus.  Take Google Maps, for instance. If you want to check into a place, that option is available from the drop-down on the top-left:
But let’s say you want to change the Google account used for Latitude.  For that, you’d need to choose Settings from the bottom-right menu:
Similarly, Google+ app has its options split across two different menus.  Some options on the left:
And some on the right:
I know this is not plain madness, and there are reasons behind this UI change.  There are recommendations in Android Developer (or Design) Guide to help developers decide which options belong in the top-left menu and which options on the other one (called Action Bar).  But the issue is, any large app like Google Maps or Gmail or Google+ is going to have a large number of possible operations, and only when you know a good amount of it you can correctly guess which menu has the option you are looking for.  Expecting a common user to guess that correctly is unfair.

After having used my Android 4.0 phone for about 6 months, I’m giving a Thumbs Down to the new menus.


  1. I must say I like the new left side menu. This is where all the app navigation goes. For instance in the Google+ they basically moved the homescreen to a left side "ribbon menu". This is a quicker way to navigate the app and seems appropriate for larger apps. This is coming from an app developer, so I am not a normal user. Hopefully this pattern will become common place and easily used by casual app users.

    1. Thinking about it, it has taken me a few months to complain about this. That means, I think, I can navigate the UI most of the time without issues. When I look for operations that are not very common, I think I have to look around a bit. When I have to look around it's a bit frustrating. But overall, I think I'll eventually like -- or get used to -- the new UI.

      Thanks for stopping by, Patrick.

  2. Hi thats really nice thinking
    you can see the three different kinds of menus and there purpose at
    Option Menu
    Context Menu
    Popup Menu