Google Friendly Reminder: The Menu Button Does Not Provide For An Ideal User Experience


The Android Developers blog was updated today with a friendly post reminding developers that in Google’s vision for Android’s future — there will be no menu buttons. Google hopes to instead, replace the menu button with this little guy (above), dubbed the “action bar.” That means everything that was ever hiding inside the menu window — tucked out of view — will now be displayed plain as day. Inside the app. For all to see.

So, just what happens when you’re using a device running on Honeycomb or Ice Cream Sandwich that has yet to adopt Android’s new “action bar” standard? Well, older “legacy” apps will receive a don’t-you-dare-call-it-a-menu “action overflow” button (those 3 little dots on the side) but make no mistake, this is still a swear word to Google with the company saying on their blog, “this button doesn’t provide for an ideal user experience.” Ouch.

But if your app isn’t up to date, don’t fret. Apparently, it’s fairly simple to update legacy apps with a few simple code changes and Google even went the extra mile to provide a few icons to match the rest of the UI decor.

Personally, I’m going to miss the menu button. Seems to me those software buttons are looking mighty scarce after Google killed the search button. But perhaps I’m holding on to the old world. What about you guys? Would you rather keep the menu button? Or do you feel action bars are really more intuitive?

[Android Developers]


Chris Chavez
I've been obsessed with consumer technology for about as long as I can remember, be it video games, photography, or mobile devices. If you can plug it in, I have to own it. Preparing for the day when Android finally becomes self-aware and I get to welcome our new robot overlords.

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  1. I don’t know how to feel about this initially, but I like to embrace change and consider it a step forward… I hope..

    1. Well, considering one of the first things developers did with ICS is bring back the search button, this will be another helping of OMG, stop screwing with Android!!?>!

  2. I can see why google did what it did, but the current state of things is just a mess. Android can’t seem to properly detect when “legacy” apps have menu-accessible features, so I get the icon in apps that don’t have anything there, which isn’t exactly intuitive. But nothing is worse than the gingerbread browser, where the “…” icon doesn’t even show up all the time, so to access those features I have to scroll the page a little bit, then hurriedly move to the top to hit the “…” icon before the toolbar disappears, and then I am presented with a text-only menu with those features. Ugh. No thanks. 

    1. This has literally never happened to me.

  3. I don’t like the idea.  I don’t want things taking up screen space!!

  4. I like my menu button

    1. same here. It makes the UI look cleaner. iOS apps are too noisy

    2. my co-worker’s mother-in-law makes $71 an hour on the laptop. She has been fired for 8 months but last month her pay was $8637 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more here… LazyCash5.[com]

      1. Fuck off.

        1. Its a bot/ program. It can’t understand you.

          1. I’m aware of that. 

          2. So what was the point of talking to it?

  5. One of my favorite things about android has been the ever present “search” and “menu” options you can jump to in any application. I guess I’ll have to adapt as well.

  6. :-/  I don’t like this. I don’t like losing the hardware buttons on HC. I think that moving away from the hardware buttons is a huge mistake, from an ergonomic standpoint…

    you still need those functions, and putting them in an “action bar” (or even worse, at the top right corner of the screen) just takes up more screen real estate when they’re not in use.

    It’s like someone’s trying to turn my Droid in to an iPhone. Why? What’s wrong with having 4 hardware buttons? I LIKE my hardware buttons!

    1. I’ve yet to use ICS but, personally, I’m both excited and upset about the change (I’ve played around with HC but not enough to determine where I stand from it).

      As far as the positives go, it’s going to make the UX much more transparent allowing for a shorter learning curve. Will it make things easier to navigate? Maybe, maybe not. But at least it will bring many features previously regulated to the “menu” button to the front of an Application. Of course power users, like most of this site’s readers, are going to resent this change as we can find what we need in a list in only a few seconds; but Google needs to create an OS that is as easy to use as iOS if they want to keep the momentum they have now. 

      The negatives seem to mostly be smaller gripes, obviously it’s going to be annoying to lose screen space to the action bar but weren’t we already losing it to the capacitive/hard keys? 

      I’m sure we’ll all grow used to the change soon enough and I’m sure that Google will address some of these issues in the next few updates. Yes, it might be more rough at first but how many of us would be happy seeing our less techy friends loving Android as much as we do? Not to mention we would have to spend less time fixing their phones ;].

  7. What’s wrong with the menu button?! I always liked the menu button, and I’m all for the evolution of Android, but I LIKE the menu button, and suddenly, Google is treating it like a pariah? “action bar”? “action overflow button”? Did someone put microdots in their cornflakes?

    1. menu buttons are just inconsistent

      1. Inconsistent with what?

      2. I don’t think it is. It’s like “File” in windows. Yeah it changes it’s contents from application to application, but the general rule is, if you can’t see a button for what you want press the menu button.

        Although I haven’t used ICS, from what I can tell, surely their “action bar” is less consistent? It changes depending what application you’re in.

        Also, am I right in saying the only clue as to what the action buttons do is in the icon or is there text tooltips? If not, that sound horrible for new users.

  8. I miss my search button, and I’m not giving my menu button up without a fight. Hell, I don’t wanna lose hardware buttons. Honeycomb has totally turned me off to the whole Android experience, and it looks like ICS is continuing the trend. I’ll keep my Rezound for a long time, I suspect.

  9. I like the buttons.. they set it apart from the iphone!

  10. Yeah, I really like the menu button and would rather it not go. I mean I can see having software buttons over hardware buttons have their advantages, but I don’t think there is a need to get rid of the menu button.

  11. I think it’s a really bad idea to kill both (menu button and search button) of them, I’m using a Galaxy Nexus right now and find it stupid that I can’t have a menu button on my homescreen to access whatever it used to in gingerbread or froyo etc. or before this we could press the search button wherever we were to search (in apps or on the homescreen), and it wasn’t necessary to have that ugly-space-taking search bar available all the time.

    1. I so miss my Search button. 
      Quick voice text to the wife from the music player, gmail, game was 1 push away. Now forget about it!

      1. I hope they bring it back, I mean it’s cool that now the multitasking is like honeycomb and I really like it but what was wrong with just long pressing the home button to activate it? instead of having a dedicated button for the recent apps, at least put the good ‘ol search button back. and if you wanna kill the menu button, fine kill it where it doesn’t belong but don’t kill it on my homescreen, I love it there.

        1. I had two friends who both owned Androids for over a year before they knew they could long press home.  They did not know until I actually told them. Whereas that was something I just ‘did’ and ‘knew’ the first day I got my HTC Magic.

          1. I see, well but it wasn’t something new, I remember back in the day, when Nokia was the best smartphone maker, if you long-pressed the app button, it would show you the running processes. and then on Win 6 mobile phones if I’m not wrong it was like that. or Google just can introduce it to new users. just like when you fire up your Galaxy Nexus (or any Android 4.0+ device) the first few minutes whatever you’re doing, the system highlights some part of it and introduce you to new or existing features. like when you launch app drawer they highlight one of your apps and say if you long press it you can put it on your homescreen. anyways, my point was removing either search button or the menu button is stupid. they can limit its use just to where its needed, but I rather have them on my homescreen for ease of use.

          2. I wasn’t aware of that but I completely agree. Google have taken a few steps with ICS in introducing new features but they could go a lot further without being intrusive.

  12. I’ve been using Android since 1.6. I have a Samsung Nexus S so I’ve been running 4.0 for a couple of weeks. I also have an Acer tab running honeycomb. I _REALLY_ don’t like the new approach.  It has nothing to do with not accepting change and everything to do with good UX design.

    In Gingerbread (my favorite version of Android so far) everything you need is cleanly located under the menu with just a couple of the most used features associated with buttons at the top of the app window. For complex apps, this was great. One tap and you get to what you need and only two places to look.

    In ICS and Honeycomb, sometimes what I want is on the mystery action bar, other times it is hidden away behind the dots (which are basically just the menu button without the physical button). The icons in the action bar are uniform grey in color which makes identifying the one you want quite tricky. Most apps also have buttons somewhere in the UI too. I routinely find myself having to go through multiple steps to find what I want.

    For example, in gmail, when you open a message there’s a favorite and reply icon at the top. Then there’s the dots to access reply all and forward. Then at the bottom in the action bar there’s an archive icon, delete, label and mark unread. But then there’s the menu button (actual button on the Nexus S), which hides “Mark not important”, mute, report spam, settings etc.

    So now I have to check the action bar, the random buttons in the app, the dots and the menu button.


    I really don’t understand how they could see this as a UX improvement. It is complex, highly changeable between apps and adds steps to almost every action.

    1. They probably see it as a UX improvement BECAUSE it deprecates the “dots” and the “menu” button… which this article suggests are the same thing.  I only have a lowly Droid 2 so I’m unable to verify.  In any case, Google’s hope is that the random buttons/dots/menu/action bar decision will eventually be reduced to action bar/random buttons, but you’re right: the transition is gonna be gross.

      Conventional UX design “wisdom” would probably say that Google is doing the right thing here, but whether or not that is true is a matter of personal preference I think.  Still not sure where I stand on it, myself.

    2. I agree. I had a Galaxy Nexus for a couple of weeks before selling it. My impressions? I hate to say it, and know I’ll get flamed for it, but; “The Windows Vista of Android”. I had the same feeling the first time I saw Vista; “What the hell is this?!”. So far, like you, my favoroite Android OS stands at Gingerbread. Hopefully, they’ll make some changes for the better in 4.1 or 5.0

    3. Repost from another android blog post, but I think it’s important to deal with most folks who are afraid that their menu button is gone for good. 

      I read through Android Design and I think there’s a BIG misconception about the new, onscreen “MENU” button (those three vertical dots). It’s actually NOT the MENU button. It is called the “ACTION OVERFLOW” button and functions very differently than the capacitive menu button of Android 2.x. Whereas the capacitive MENU button housed a number of actions in one place, the Action Overflow housed actions that are deemed less important for the user’s day-to-day use of the app, and thus hidden.

      In ICS, there is NO Menu button; your menu are either on the ACTION BAR (at the top) or the SPLIT ACTION BAR (at the bottom).

      This is Google’s effort to unbury menu options that developers tuck away deep inside their apps. This is Google saying, “Look, developers, your menu options should not be hidden from the user. They need to be easily accessible, depending on how often you predict the user will interact with them.”

      With that said, Google gives the developers the task to decide which menu options are more important, and thus, go at top at the Action Bar. The less important actions are then “buried” inside the Action Overflow button, say “Settings” for example. And for contextual options, say, when a user has an item selected inside the app, the Contextual Action Bar appears (overlaying the Top or Bottom Bar) to facilitate that need.

      So the next time you read or watch an ICS review and hear the reviewer point out the “inconsistency” of the placement of the new “menu” button (three vertical dots), be sure you tell them that it is NOT a menu button, and that it can, by Google’s definition, appear in three places: 1) flushed right on the Action Bar (top); 2) flushed right on the Split Action Bar (bottom); or 3) tucked at the right of the Multitasking button at the Sytems bar for legacy apps.

      In the long run, it really would not matter anymore, as app designers will catch on to the ICS design standards. Legacy apps will have their Menu options moved into the Action bars, and the rest of the “mostly-used” commands will appear on either the Action Bar or the Split Action Bar. Consequently, these often-used options will now be clearly visible on the Action Bar, right upfront, easily accessible by the user. 

      And for the rare times they need turn to off the sound effects, or maybe lower the frequency of notifications from an app, then there is the Action Overflow button for that. And honestly, for purposes as rarely used as these, the button can be wherever it wants.

  13. Next: no more home button :D

    1. Look mom, no buttons!

  14. This has nothing to do with wanting to have fewer buttons, as people seem to believe, and everything to do with intuitive user interface design.  The Menu “drawer” concept, while useful and consistent, also obscures certain abilities of the application.  People like to have all their options laid out before them–provided that they are organized in such a way that is easy to grasp at first glance.  Stashing actions in a drawer effectively hides them, and causes new users unfamiliar with the concept to stumble a bit.

    Checking the Menu drawer is second nature at this point, but I recall that when I first got my handset, my brain would take a few seconds frustratingly looking for a feature I *knew* had to exist (like Settings) before I remembered that a) the Menu button existed and b) I should probably check there.  So I can see where they are coming from with this change.  I do worry, though, that app developers may end up churning out more cluttered UI designs in half-hearted attempts to comply with the new standard.

    PS, no Settings icon in the new action bar?  Where do they expect Settings to go, then?

  15. EDIT: removed. Disqus screwed up a reply.

  16. My DInc’s hardware buttons suck, at night they’re brighter than the screen itself. This configuration makes the most sense to me:
    4 on-screen buttons: Back, Home, Menu, Running Apps

  17. Think the issue isn’t nerd types like us.. It’s for those that aren’t nerds.

    I don’t see a preferences or settings icon in that bar, and that will be an issue…?

    I just discovered the advanced wifi settings on my transformer prime with ics. It was hiding “behind” a small, vertical bar looking icon.. So small hardly noticeable…

  18. I kissed the Search button Good Bye long time ago when I switched to Sony Ericsson phones, and never missed it. But Menu button is essential mean to free up some valuable real estate (especially on the phones) and I’m not ready to part with it. I have so strong about exposing unnecessary functions on top of the app screen that it may be a deal breaker for staying on the older versions of Android forever. Google, are you out of your mind? Stop chasing the cheap fame of Apple phones for dumbasses! With this approach you’ll end up deterring people with fat fingers, and start making phones with styluses, which is so 90s.

  19. I like ALL my buttons. I have a search button on my phone still and I use it all the time since Google always shoots me for the tablet site which sucks for entering text on my phone. I use the menu button all the time and its the reason I loved BB and hate iPhone

  20. I generally hate the idea of software buttons taking up screen space on a small-screen device.  Eliminating the menu (er, action overflow) button in favor of a bar that displays more buttons is a step in the wrong direction.

    Maybe the guy at Google who thinks this is the right way to go should just come out of the closet with his secret love of the iPhone and go work for the competition.

  21. So glad I have my rezound with the buttons. 

  22. I can see why they got rid of the menu button. With my first Android phone, it took me a while to figure out that if an app had additional functionality, I would probably get to it by pressing Menu. Additionally, sometimes Menu does something when you’re already on a settings page, which makes it harder to tell when there’s more content and when not. I think their goal is primarily to make the Android experience easier for new users, which, honestly, is something Apple does VERY well.

    However, I appreciate having my Menu button now that I’m familiar with it. It’s always in exactly the same spot so I don’t have to go hunting around each individual app’s UI for the “settings” button. I have a GNex, and if you’re okay with modding it, you can make the “three dots” work exactly the same as the menu button, even on apps where the three dots wouldn’t normally show up.

    I also like the hardware search button, again, because it’s in exactly the same place no matter which app I’m using. I’ve modded that back on too.

  23. I prefer the menu button. Much cleaner.

  24. To be honest… I’ve missed it ever since owning the GNEX. Part of the reason the RAZR seemed so attractive. Lots of little things I got comfortable with and are now gone thanks to ICS. 

    Better in the long run? Maybe. Time will tell I guess… but so far I feel a little like I’m at my friends house.

  25. stupid just plain stupid 

  26. sooo what their saying is,
    google wants to do away with the menu button placed alondside all the other buttons, just to introduce an “action button”… aka a different lookin menu button… Just at the top right of the screen on some apps, bottom right on some apps or noowhere on others so its more of a pain to use then just having it with all the other button…………
    yay for streamlining the user experience……………..

  27. Am I the only one who honestly wants buttons on my phone? There is nothing more frustrating than trying to use a touch-screen MP3 player while you’re driving. 

    1. I still dont like that the hardware keys trended towards capasitive buttons!  I like good old, honest to goodness real buttons you can feel like on the htc desire.

  28. OK, NOW I’ll use the dreaded F word… fragmentation.

    Really, Google?  Do you have to try and be Apple with their “buttons are evil and one bit Steve Jobs as a child so we cannot have them” obsession?  Forget moving from silk-screened buttons like on my Galaxy S to software buttons.  How about going the other way, back to real physical buttons that move and give genuine haptic feedback.  That’s what I want.

    My laptop is a Thinkpad.  Why?  Because I get three physical buttons.  My mouse has physical buttons with a physical scroll wheel.  I want my Palm OS device with four physical buttons back.

    And as a software developer, seriously?  You’re going to force me to dumb down my app so that it doesn’t suffer from button-overload?  How is that a good thing?  It’s not, bosos.

  29. Well there might be more people rooting there phone to add on software buttons. I don’t personally understand why have onscreen buttons when you have em they take up the same space as capacitive ones.

  30. I think it’s a huge improvement.
    How can you say that you don’t like it, when you haven’t even tried it?
    The positives outweigh the negatives on this one, actually there are no negatives.
    Since the buttons are software you can skin them, and add or remove buttons on demand, it’s a much smarter and efficient approach.
    Just think about it, no more getting used to swiched button layouts.

  31. If an alternative to Android 4.x comes with the search and menu buttons, I’ll jump ship instantly.

  32. to me loosing the menu button is the same as when i use a mac. my reaction is i have to click some stupid button on the top of the screen when it would be easier to right click.

  33. UX Design is personal preference. In Google’s case it’s bringing people in to test out the idea with a few focus groups.

    I personally feel that the menu button is intuitive. If you own a PC you know what the File menu does. If you use a Mac you know what the Apple menu does.

    Over time I’m sure we can all learn what the action bar does, but it’s dramatic change to how you navigate. I personally find it much easier to click the menu icon.

    I don’t know mystery icons, each app can utilize them differently. The menu has text and an icon which I feel is the most clear you can be on UX.

  34. – Most important actions visible, not hidden, so you don’t have to press the menu button on every screen to figure out what you can do in an app

    – One less tap to access most important actions

    – Developers can hide actions in soft menu button if screen space is important

    – No more pressing the Menu button only to find out there is no menu or actions.

    Makes sense to me.  Works fine on my Galaxy Nexus.  In fact, I get frustrated when actions are hidden in a menu and require an extra tap.

    I do think they should always support a soft menu button in the global bar because icon bars (even with labels) aren’t always as effective as a text-only menu and you shouldn’t HAVE to have an action bar just to have a menu button. Also should standardize a way to clarify what an icon does in case it is unclear (eg, add label below icon when pressing action overflow).

  35. I’m amazed that I’m one of the only people that love this change.
    I can’t count how many times I’ve had walk through people to find the wifi sleep policy settings. The menu button is a bad UX for the vast majority of users because you have no idea what it will do or if it will do anything at all.
    I have a hard time believing those complaining have used Gmail in ICS. Having the majority of the action buttons on screen allows them to be dynamic. Additionally if there is no overflow then you know there is no need to hit the menu button because it isn’t there.

    It goes beyond just dropping the menu button…it is a paradigm change for app developers which I think is for the better.

    1. I prefer the change as well.  I actually find the virtual buttons my GNex easier to operate than the buttons on the bottom of my G2.  So I’m in favor.  

  36. Personally, I REALLY dislike this change. I have been using Android since the G1 and have owned about 10 different Android devices. When I first got my G1, I used it side by side with an iPhone (work and personal) for a couple of years. The hardware buttons were easily one of the deciding factors that made me like Android. Navigation was so much easier and everything was considerably more user friendly.

    I have hated these on screen navigation controls ever since I bought my Xoom. Other than the horrible viewing angle on the screen, my G-Tablet was considerably more user friendly.

    The recent “upgrade” to ICS has made the Xoom even worse. I’m sorry to say that I am pretty much done with Android on a tablet now, and these kind of changes are going to make me seriously reconsider when it’s time to upgrade my phone also. In my opinion, navigating the UI has completely turned to crap since Honeycomb.

  37. That’s funny coming from Google – the company that never gets user experience/interface right… or anywhere near right. The new navigation across all Google properties is absolutely terrible. The UX/I on G+ is terrible too, with new incoming items pushing videos you’re watching out of view as you’re watching them. The list of Google flubs goes on and on.

  38. So their new definition of a proper user experience is to clutter up the screen with a bar of buttons that would never have been visible before? Why make a move towards having a LESS clean interface and reducing screen real estate that is needed for more important things than option buttons?

  39. I think this is a bad idea. On top of the normal bar with the home & back button, now we have a secondary bar in every application with app-specific buttons? That’s a huge consumption of screen space.

    As an android user for over 3 years, the menu button in no way negatively impacts my experience with the phone. However, losing that screen space I would consider a huge negative impact. 

  40. I do like the menu button – a lot – but i trust Google did its research and knows this will be for the better.

    I cannot say the same for the search button though, I used that all the time, and it’s a lot more handy than touching the Google bar for text-based searches and voice commands – especially voice commands.

  41. I miss the search button on EVERYTHING.  I could search within apps, I could search for Pizza while I’m chatting on facebook… I could send a text message to my wife while I watched a youtube video….  super missed :( Need to root and get my search button back! lol

  42. I have no problem with this. My issue is that if you’re going to use this soft Menu button it should ALWAYS be at the bottom right, and not “sometimes” be up at the top or wherever. Consistency is key!

    Trying to use my Tbolt for work is maddening bc I’m so used to not needing the menu button anymore.

  43. I like the menu button…I still don’t know what those action buttons do, I’ve used the gmail app and only could figure out how to compose and delete. Not very user friendly and intuitive to me. I’ll have to get used to that. Just as long as I don’t get stuck with Apple’s idea of easy workflow with only a home button, I’m fine. I almost never used the search button anyways

    1. In gmail (or any other app) hold down the buttons and text will pop up telling you what they do

  44. This is different and so I hate it.  But when it becomes standard and I’m used to it and they make another change, I will also complain about that.  I want my UI experience to never change because if it does, it will be different and I hate that.  But when years go by and the interface hasn’t changed, I will also complain because now it is outdated.

  45. I miss my damn buttons!

  46. Error

  47. I’m using the Open Kang Project ROM on my GNex, and it has the option to have 2 persistent menu buttons, one on each side of the nav bar, at all times. I use these menu buttons all-day everyday, if for no other reason than that I always know exactly where they are. This is a poor decision by Google..  Has anybody started a petition?

  48. Never really missed the search button, SE phones done have them :), but I will miss the menu button and judging by the amount of comments here, its a bad decision!

  49. I could go either way on the menu button, but I MUST have the physical search button like on my OG Droid Inc.

  50. What’s stupid about losing the search and menu buttons is that… the space is still there! It’s not like the phones are more narrow. Look at the image above — now there’s empty wasted real estate on the phone. If you’re going to make something more ergonomic, ethnocentric, polytechnic or whatever, at least understand the parameters of the device. It’s like getting rid of a window on your house but the hole is still in the wall. What, what?

  51. I think losing the menu button is an improvement. It definitely helps to make apps more discoverable. Traditionally, most apps have exposed some actions via buttons on-screen and buried others in the menu. So you’d have to scan around the screen to find what you’re looking for, then if you didn’t find it, hit menu and look in there. Eventually, you’d learn what is where in the apps you use, but it wasn’t an ideal experience.

    This way, all actions go in one place: the action bar. The most important ones are a single press away. The less important ones are hidden in the overflow. They still require an extra press to expose them, but you’re only looking in one place for both things.

  52. Dropping the menu button is a travesty. I think it’s a sell out to dumb user UIs. OK, maybe your average idiot iDrone can’t find the extra functionality if it’s in the menu, or behind a long press, but that’s because he’s not looking for it. Fine, leave him be. But me? I want my options placed logically, such as in menus; not scattered all over the screen where I have to hunt around for them among the other 50 features! I much prefer having the dedicated menu button, and not waste valuable screen real estate by throwing ambiguous icons everywhere so I have to try 5 different ones before it find the one I need, instead of hitting a menu button and seeing an unambiguous textual listing of my available actions.

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