Why I think Android developers should rotate their phone often

In a well written app, when you rotate your phone, a lot happens on the background, but the user should not be aware of it. As a developer however, you should be aware, you should adapt to it, and you could use it in your advantage. Here’s why I think Android developers should rotate their phone often. Note: I’m linking to Stackoverflow questions here or there because the corresponding answers contain very practical and minimal code examples.

Adaptive layout

When a phone is rotated, the screen dimensions change. This may have a detrimental effect on the appearance of your app. It is very tempting as a developer to have only one testing device and adjust everything to that. Rotating your phone enables you to also get your landscape view good looking, and it also makes you aware of how important it is to expect the unexpected when it comes to screen size and resolutions, especially with Android, which runs on a wide range of devices (the HTC ChaCha for instance, has a screen that’s in landscape by default). You could decide you to ‘lock’ your screen to portrait. But when you’ve finished reading this blogpost, you might decide to do so only at the very last moment.

Activity restarting

When the phone rotates, the Android OS restarts the current activity. Something needs to be done to hide this event from the user! In a very simple app with views that have an id assigned, this will be done for you. But in many cases you will need to add code to make this work. Although you could catch the orientation event and prevent the restart of your activity altogether, the preferred method is to store the state of your activity in onSaveInstanceState. In the latter case, all important information about the current state of  your activity needs to be stored as key / value pairs (keys being strings). Stuff that does not fit the Bundle object used to be stored via onRetainNonConfigurationInstance, but this has been deprecated and fragments should be used instead.

Use it to your advantage

If you lock your app into portrait mode, you would not need to deal with the aforementioned issues. Well, at least not on rotation change. But your activity might be destroyed at any time. Especially when the user went away to do something else, but hopes to find your app in the same state as before when he / she gets back to it. This is one of the – in my opinion – nifty parts of Android’s ‘multi tasking’: stuff is kept in memory if possible, but destroyed and restored (in the original state, if the developer did his/her job) when needed in case of low memory. How to test for such events? That’s quite tricky, because it might take some effort to force the system to really destroy the activity. That’s when rotating your screen comes in handy: during this event, as far as saving and restoring instance state are concerned, the same happens as when your Activity gets destroyed.

Closing remarks

I’m currently using a Hackers News reader that actually did not implement the above. Every time I rotate my screen the app needs to reload stuff from the internet. When reviewing a developer, this is a simple way of testing whether he / she has at least some grasp of Android. If you care about your users and their experience, rotate your screen on a regular basis.










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