Designing for foldable and large screens

Yuran Liu

Hello app designers!

Today we are going to talk about designing for foldable and large screens. We’ve been practicing responsive web design for a long time – let’s use those concepts to optimze your mobile app for different platforms and devices. Mobile apps can use adaptive designs to deliver a consistent app experience. In today’s blog, we will be talking about the design recommendations when adapting your app to foldable and large screens.

Design for unique postures

Posture overview

The difference between foldable and large screens with regular mobile devices is the diversity of postures. Postures here are the screen configurations to foldables. We can separate different postures using modes and orientations.

3D images of Surface Duo devices in different postures, both folded and expanded to two screens.

Dual-screen UX pattern and example

Postures using a single screen have similar proportions to a general mobile phone. However, when using double screens or spanning mode. We have several canonical UX patterns for apps to adapt to dual screens.

Five Stylized Surface Duo images showing design pattern options: extended canvas, list detail, two page, companion pane, and dual view.

Depending on the use cases, an app usually can be some combination of a couple of these UX patterns. Take our Surface Duo Experience App as an example here.

Five stylized Surface Duo images connected by arrows, showing a navigation path through the Surface Duo Experience sample app.

In our design workshops with 3-rd party apps, we saw a high percentage of them that are quite suitable for the list-detail pattern. In this pattern, the next frame in the navigation flow can be placed on the other screen:

Stylized devices - a single screen phone, a tablet, and a Surface Duo - all showing an example of the List-Detail design pattern.

Consider ergonomics in spanning modes

When placing or choosing navigation components for spanning modes, it is best to also consider reachability while referencing the existing mobile app and tablet app design. For foldable devices, main navigation components should be placed closer to the sides or lower edge:

Two stylized Surface Duo devices, show the correct placement of bottom nav only on the bottom of the left screen, and correct placement of a navigation rail, also only on the left screen.

Components that need attention

Bottom navigation or navigation rail

In most cases, optimizing for foldable devices can build on tablet design principles. Depending on app navigation and information design, you can choose either bottom navigation or navigation rail. Be cautious if you plan to span the bottom navigation component:

Two stylized Surface Duo devices, show the correct and incorrect placement of bottom navigation bar. The correct placement is just spanning the bottom of the right screen. The incorrect placement is centered across both screens and so an icon is obscured by the hinge.

Dialog box

Dialog boxes should be placed on users’ primary hand side. Surface Duo has a handiness setting which users can set to right-hand or left-hand. Correct and incorrect placement is shown here:

Two stylized Surface Duo devices, show the correct and incorrect placement of the a dialog box. The correct placement is in the center of the right screen. The incorrect placement is centered across both screens and so is obscured by the hinge.

Resources and feedback

You can find more information both design and development on optimizing your app for Surface Duo and foldable devices on our Learn site: Introduction to dual-screen devices and Design Kit. If you have any specific cases would like to discuss, please reach out to us on Tech Community or find us on Twitter @surfaceduodev.

You can also live chat with us on Twitch this Friday, on October 7th at 11am PST, where we will share more insights on designing for foldable and large screens!


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