January 27, 2012 | by Andrew Kameka
The menu button has lost its space among the elite conventions of Android UI design. What once was Menu, Back, Home, Search has become Back, Home, App Tray, and Google wants Android developers to get used to it. But should they?
Following Scott Main’s blog post on the Android Developer blog yesterday, Android fans are wondering if Google made the right decision to encourage developers to downplay the Menu button and embrace the Action Bar. In a reply to someone’s Google+ post, one disappointed user called it the “worst idea ever,” saying that “Android should have stuck with the menu button just because it’s always been there and apps are developed around that.”
Not anymore they aren’t. Google urges developers to stop relying on the menu button because the Action Bar is the new home for navigation. The Menu button was previously seen as a “catch-all for various user options” says Main, but the action bar puts a focus on specific actions. Take for example Dropbox. The pre-Ice Cream Sandwich version requires pressing the Menu button in order to search for a flee, but the Honeycomb/ICS version has a dedicated search button on the access bar. It’s quick, convenient, and neater. And in the event that I need to access more features – like settings, for instance – that aren’t on the action bar, there’s still the Action Overflow button.
It’s not that the Menu button is “dead” – it’s just been reincarnated. The Action Overflow contains the items once housed in the Menu section, and developers can still support Menu on legacy devices with one line of code. So what’s the problem? Who would have thought that a simple change to UI conventions, which arguably makes more sense, could upset people?
So I ask you, great reader of Androinica, who’s right here? Should Google have downplayed the Menu button in favor of the Action Bar/Overflow, or should the company have kept doing things the old and familiar way?