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Android Menu Button Given the Boot, Action Bar is Way Forward


Android Menu Button Given the Boot, Action Bar is Way Forward

The menu button on Android handsets is set to disappear and be replaced by the software-based action bar, according to Scott Main, lead tech writer for the official Android blog developer.android.com/.

In a new post Main has states that, "Honeycomb removed the reliance on physical buttons, and introduced the ActionBar class as the standard solution to make actions from the user options immediately visible and quick to invoke. In order to provide the most intuitive and consistent user experience in your apps, you should migrate your designs away from using the Menu button and toward using the action bar."

Android Ice Cream Sandwich Action Bar

This transition has already started on some phones, with the Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) packing Samsung Galaxy Nexus leading the charge, and most new Android phones are set to follow. Buttons for Home and Back will remain as they are while the new ICS Recent Apps button will essentially take the place of the menu button. Any users that have also used an Android HoneyComb tablet will be familiar with these software-based controls.

The action bar sits along the top of apps and is used to house icons for quick actions such as search or refresh. Through the action overflow button (the three vertical dots) it also supports extra actions, such as accessing settings and information about the app. It's this overflow area that Main suggests should be used to house actions that otherwise relied on the menu button.

Android Ice Cream Sandwich Action Bar

Meanwhile apps that aren't updated but are used on HoneyComb and Ice Cream Sandwich devices will find an action overflow button appear next to the main navigation buttons at the button of the screen. However, Main goes on to explain that, "This is a compatibility behavior for legacy apps designed to ensure that apps built to expect a Menu button remain functional. However, this button doesn’t provide an ideal user experience. In fact, in apps that don’t use an options menu anyway, this action overflow button does nothing and creates user confusion."

Given that we're still seeing new handsets being released with Menu buttons, it could be sometime before this transition begins to pick up pace, but at least developers now have a clear message.

Are you looking foward to this transition or have you always found the physical Menu button a useful navigation tool? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.




January 27, 2012, 11:36 pm

Yes, something like this was inevitable given what ICS has done to the menu button. The blog post is Google trying to get app devs on board by supporting the new interface methods, and implementing the Action bar.

Perhaps manufacturers upgrading their existing handsets could change the function of the hardware 'menu' buttons to become the hardware 'app switch' button. Yes, the icon above the button would be wrong, but that wouldn't confuse anyone who's used the phone for more than about 10 minutes.

I imagine that new phones running ICS would either go the full on-screen route, like the Galaxy Nexus, or have hardware Back, Home and App Switch hardware buttons under the screen, negating the need for the navigation bar to be displayed at the bottom of the screen. It will be interesting to see which way they go.


January 30, 2012, 1:55 pm

As an ICS user, I can confirm that this makes no difference in day to day use.

To me, this sounds like a move by Google to make the user experience more uniform across difference devices. Good for Google, who's primary interest is the strength of the platform. Bad for the OEM's, who will have one less thing with which to differentiate themselves.

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