Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Button order in web browsers and phones

Disclaimer: I work for Google; however I do not work on the Android team and this post reflects my personal opinions only.

Do you have an Android phone?  Look at your Chrome toolbar.  Now look at your Firefox toolbar.  Heck, look at your Internet Explorer or Safari or Opera toolbars, if you have those handy.  Now look at your phone's face buttons.  Notice anything?

The Nexus One gets it right:

Likewise the Droid:

A smartphone is an Internet access device, and as such its interface should strive for consistency with the most widely-used Internet access interface: the web browser.  Maybe the Menu button could go to the right of the Home or Search buttons, but it seems obvious to me that on a smartphone with Back, Home, and Search buttons, those buttons should appear from left to right in that order.  And therefore, for example, the Back button should not be on the right side of the phone.

Alas, via the gadget blogs in my RSS reader, I find that many Android smartphones permute button order in violation of this principle.  One might speculate that button order is a manufacturer-specific quirk, except that the layout changes even within a single manufacturer's devices.

What's going on here?  Does this parallel not occur to the designers of these phones?  Do they disregard consistency for the sake of trivial product differentiation?  Or is it just that I'm the only person bothered by this?