Google Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich was the first version of Google’s mobile operating system designed to run on phones and tablets. But it doesn’t look exactly the same on both devices. On a phone the notification bar is at the top of the screen, while on a tablet it’s merged with the task bar at the bottom.

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean also has different layouts for phones and tablets — but there’s also a new variant: a user interface for 7 inch tablets.

Google Nexus 7

When Google started handing out Nexus 7 tablets at the Google I/O conference recently, early owners noticed that the 7 inch tablet seems to have a phone-like user interface. Some folks even took steps to tweak the software to display a more tablet-like UI.

But Computer World checked with Google and found out that the Nexus 7 doesn’t actually use a phone layout. Instead, it uses a new layout designed for 7 inch tablets.

Tablets with larger displays will use the same interface that we’ve seen on tablets running Android 3.0 and later. But 7 inch tablets will have features drawing from the earlier Android phone and tablet designs.

The notification bar is at the top of the screen, and if you use the default home screen app, your home screen is stuck in portrait mode.

But when you use the Gmail app in landscape mode you’ll see a multi-pane view with a list of messages or labels on the left and the body of your email messages on the right. Other apps designed with multiple panes should work the same way.

Now that there are three different Android layouts: phone, 7 inch tablet, and 10 inch tablet, you might think Android’s so-called “fragmentation” problem will get worse. But Google’s developer tools for Android make it possible to code apps that automatically change their layouts depending on the screen size.

So most Android apps should be able to run on phones or tablets with large or small screens.

What’s a little less clear is what Android 4.1 will look like on tablets with less common screen sizes. While most Android tablets have 7 or 10 inch displays, there are also models with 7.7, 8, 8.9, and 9.7 inch displays. When they run Jelly Bean will they look like the Google Nexus 7? Or will they look like a larger tablet such as a Motorola XOOM?

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7 replies on “Android 4.1 UI is different for 7, 10 inch tablets”

  1. If you checkout Android 4.1 source code you will see that apps have much more than 3 layout (phone, 7″ tablet and 10″ tablet) 😉

  2. So basically they have crossed the 2.x phone UI with the 3.x Fragments app UI toolkit. Interesting to say the least.

  3. “What’s a little less clear is what Android 4.1 will look like on tablets with less common screen sizes.”

    A better way to put that is, we wonder how Android decides which UI to choose. It looks like the ro.sf.lcd_density value in build.prop has something to do with the decision. There may be other values considered as well.

    1. The real answer probably isn’t anything to do with an algorithm based on screen size and/or density. The type of interface used will almost certainly be selected by the device manufacturer on a case-by-case basis, especially in the case where they skin over the vanilla 4.1 UI.

    2. Er… no, the device manufacturer does not choose, nor is this based on the screen density(!!!). We have been talking about this for a long time, Android inherently supports a range of screen sizes. The modern mechanism for this is the -swNNNdp, -wNNNdp, and -hNNNdp, which let *applications* device which layout is appropriate based on the space they have available on the screen. So an app like Gmail may opt for its tablet two-pane layout for various situations on a 7″ screen, while GTalk selects to use a phone layout. In either case, the layout the app provides as the overall structure (two-pane vs. one-pane) and they specify this through layout managers that take care of resizing the UI to fit on the exact screen space they have.

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