Improving User Interaction with the Android ActionBar


Welcome to this review of the Pluralsight course Improving User Interaction with the Android Action Bar by Jim Wilson

Jim has over 30 years of software engineering experience, with the past 15 years heavily focused on creating mobile device and location-based solutions. He has co-founded multiple software-related startups and has served in a consulting role at several more.

After nearly a decade as a Microsoft Device Application Development MVP, Jim now focuses on developing Android and iOS device applications. Jim’s passion is mentoring software developers. He blogs at

Improving User Interaction with the Android Action Bar is the 7th course in the Pluralsight learning path for Android, and this month I am reviewing every course in this learning path.

Also in this series:

Part 1 – Improving User Interaction with the Android Action Bar
Part 2 – Managing the ActionBar Layout
Part 3 – ActionBar Navigation
Part 4 – ActionBar Interactivity

Improving User Interaction with the Android ActionBar

The Need for a Change

The Android ActionBar was introduced as a result of the realization that the original UI was too limiting.

Jim explains three particular assumptions that were originally made and why they led to a less than optimized user experience:

  1. Screen sizes are too small for options & navigation to stay onscreen
  2. The same solution is good for all devices
  3. All devices will have a hardware menu button

All of these assumptions were invalidated by rapidly changing devices. Over the last few years we have seen:

  • Screen sizes expanding
  • Broader variation in devices
  • Hardware menu button phased out and replaced by onscreen software buttons

What is the ActionBar

The ActionBar attempts to solve all of these issues. Jim says the ActionBar provides a tremendous number of capabilities in it.

It is also known as the App Bar and provides support for:

  • menu behavior
  • onscreen menu button
  • various navigations
  • application title and icon
  • different screen sizes and shapes

Jim runs through all of the parts of the primary ActionBar, i.e. the primary UI components of the ActionBar.

This discussion covers the App icon, the concept of “up affordance, Action items, Action overflow (the three dots … shown vertically) and more.

ActionBar Adaptability

One of the key things that the ActionBar gives us is adaptability.

Instead of giving it fixed rules, we provide it with guidelines for its behavior.

The platform takes care of handling the layout details based on our devices capabilities. So if we rotate the device from portrait to landscape, it can display additional items on it as the screen size used by the ActionBar increases.

All we need to do to enable this behavior is provide it with some hints.

Tabbed navigation

Jim explains that Tabs are place directly on the ActionBar.

The layout adapts to the space that is available, and tabs can scroll to create a “wide” list of activities.

We can also have scrolling/swiping behavior to move across tabs.

The ActionBar gives us a more consistent user experience as well as a lot more capabilities.

ActionBar across Android versions

Even when this course was recorded in 2012, virtually all Android devices supported the ActionBar.

It’s available in Android 3.0 and up, and even available to Android 2.x via an extension such as ActionBarSherlock.

Continue to Part 2 – Managing the ActionBar Layout

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