Bottom Navigation & One-Handed Use of Sky Tonight

Jun 29, 2022
Sky Tonight: bottom navigation & one-handed use
Image Credit: Vito Technology, Inc.

Star Walk 2 is one of the most popular stargazing apps on the market, loved by millions of users. When we created it, we tried our best, but now, almost ten years after its release, we know that we could do even better. However, instead of redesigning the app that already works great for many people, we decided to make a new one where we’d release all our ideas — Sky Tonight. When developing Sky Tonight, our goal was to make an ultimately convenient stargazing app. To achieve that goal, we designed it for one-handed use and implemented bottom navigation; in today’s article, we’ll explain why these features are so important and how they actually affect the user experience.

Who we are: Vito Technology is a mobile app development company that has been creating awesome high-quality digital products for over 20 years. Our main fields are astronomy and education.

What does one-handed usage mean?

One-handed usage is a possibility to control your device with just one hand. This concept gained popularity together with the trend for bigger screens around 2015. When phones had small screens, all areas were easy to reach; however, once the screens got larger, their top became almost impossible to touch effortlessly if you held a phone with one hand.

Why is one-handed usage important?

One-handed usage is convenient for most users. Here are the numbers:

  • 49% of users hold and control their phones with one hand;
  • 36% hold a phone in one hand and tap with the finger or thumb of the other;
  • 15% hold a phone with two hands tapping away with both thumbs.

Apart from numbers, there are also use cases. There are several situations when Star Walk 2 users need at least one free hand. One of them is a date night — imagine сuddling together under a warm blanket while staring up at the stars and looking for familiar star patterns in the sky! But to cuddle with your significant other, you need at least one free hand — holding your phone instead of hugging would surely ruin the moment.

Use cases are individual for different apps. Remember that if the app’s users tend to use it a lot in distracting scenarios, then you should focus on developing an app designed for one-handed use.

What is bottom navigation?

The bottom navigation represents a standard navigation bar in an application at the bottom of the screen. Such navigation bars usually display three to five destinations, each represented by an icon and an optional text label. Tapping this icon will take a user to the navigation destination associated with that icon.

Why is the bottom navigation important?

Bottom navigation bars make it easy for users to explore an app and switch between different views with a single tap.

Think about this: 75% of users touch the screen only with one thumb. Due to its anatomy, the thumb has a limited reachable area. Since most users hold a phone with one hand, developers should place frequently-used tools in an easy-to-reach area. According to research, this area is at the bottom of the screen.

Such research compelled Spotify’s team in 2016 to pull down the menu and place its core features (Home, Browse, Search, Radio, and Library) at the bottom. It resulted in a 9% increase in total clicks and a 30% increase in clicks on menu items.

The bottom navigation wasn’t a big thing at the beginning of the 2010s, so we didn’t implement this concept in Star Walk 2. The main navigation icons there are placed in the four corners of the main screen. This is great for showing as much sky as possible because the navigation bar doesn’t cover the bottom part, but reaching one of the upper corners is nearly impossible if you hold your device with one hand.

The other issue we faced is that in Star Walk 2, users cover the screen with their fingers when they try to tap the upper icons in the main window. We wanted to free as much space for the sky map on the main screen as possible but ended up placing navigation buttons in such a way that forced users to cover this sky map.

Why are these features important for Sky Tonight?

Hopefully, now you understand why we implemented bottom navigation and one-handed usage in our new stargazing app. Let’s recap:

  • To improve the app's usability by grouping icons for the ​​frequently-used actions in one easy-to-reach part of the screen;
  • To make the operation faster without constantly switching the way of holding the phone;
  • To free one of the user’s hands (for whatever they need it — holding a binocular or hugging their loved one);
  • To prevent users from covering the sky map while using the app.

Sky Tonight’s bottom navigation bar & one-handed usage

Let’s figure out what elements refer to bottom navigation and one-handed usage in Sky Tonight:

  1. Four buttons on the main screen: Search, Astronomy Calendar, Visible Tonight, and Menu. They give users access to the app’s menu and three main windows. We consider them “main” because these windows help users to answer the three most frequent stargazing-related questions:
  • What is that bright dot in the sky?
  • What astronomical events can I see tonight?
  • How can I find the object I'm interested in?
  1. Quick settings panel where we put the most commonly used settings, so you don't have to go through the Menu to change them.

  2. Round blue button of the main actions.

  3. Buttons that allow returning to a previous window. Each of these buttons depicts a particular window, so when you, for example, go from the main screen to the search window and then tap an event, there will be two buttons at the bottom. One of them will depict the search window (magnifier icon) and the main screen (house icon). Thus you can choose which window you want to return to — the search or the main screen right away. This makes navigation through the app easier and faster.

  4. A minimized window on the main screen. For instance, when you tap a target icon from the information window, the app returns to the main screen and shows the minimized information window at the bottom. This way, you don’t need to jump from one window to another for information. Simply expand the minimized window and see what you need.

Bottom line: We designed Sky Tonight for one-handed usage with bottom navigation to make it convenient, easy, and quick to use. It also helped to avoid the mistakes we’ve made in one of the most popular stargazing apps, Star Walk 2.