How Do Users Really Hold Mobile Devices?

Tharanga Ekanayake
4 min readMay 21, 2020


As UX professionals, designers all pay a lot of attention to users’ needs. When designing for mobile devices, designers are aware that there are some additional things that they must consider such as how the context in which users employ their devices changes their interactions or usage patterns. How do people actually carry and hold their mobile devices? These devices are not like computers that sit on people’s tables or desks. Instead, people can use mobile devices when they’re standing, walking, riding a bus, or doing just about anything. Users must hold a device in a way that lets them view its screen, while providing input.

Everything changes with touchscreens. On today’s smartphones, almost the entire front surface is a screen. Users need to be able to see the whole screen, and may also need to touch any part of it to provide input.

Steven Hoober carried out a fresh study of the way people naturally hold and interact with their mobile devices. Few other researchers made 1,333 observations of people using mobile devices on the street, in airports, at bus stops, in cafes, on trains and busses. Wherever we might see them. Of these people, 780 were touching the screen to scroll or to type, tap, or use other gestures to enter data. The rest were just listening to, looking at, or talking on their mobile devices. Steven Hoober found that in nearly every case, they held their phones in one of three basic grips. At 49%, the one-handed grip was most popular; 36% cradled the phone in one hand and jabbed with the finger or thumb of the other; and the remaining 15% adopted the two-handed BlackBerry-prayer posture, tapping away with both thumbs.

The study also confirmed what many of us know from our own phone habits. We change grips frequently, depending on convenience and context. We switch between one hand and two, or swap between left and right. Sometimes we tap absent-mindedly while doing something else and other times we stop and give the screen our full attention. Hoober found that two-thirds of one-handed grips are in the right hand a majority, but smaller than the 90% who are right handed. That means many of us favor our non-dominant hand, while using the other to write, drink coffee, hold a baby, or read a book about designing for touch.

When we hold our phones with one hand, the thumb is the only finger comfortably available for tapping. Even when we use both hands, many of us prefer mashing away with our thumb then, too. Of those who cradle their phone in one hand and tap with the other, Hoober discovered that most use their thumb on the screen. Combine all those folks, and it’s thumbs up: thumbs drive 75% of all phone interactions.

49% + 26% = 75%

The mobile phone’s Thumb Zone

While a thumb can sweep most of the screen on all but the most oversized phones, only a third of the screen is truly effortless territory: at the bottom, on the side opposite the thumb. For example, if you hold a phone in the right hand, your thumb falls naturally in an arc at the bottom left corner of the screen — no stretching your thumb or shifting the phone required. The same arc shape applies to the two-handed cradle grip, but the arc is larger because the thumb has greater range of motion.

Comfort and accuracy don’t perfectly align, however. Within this comfort zone, a separate, fan-shaped arc draws out the most accurate targets for thumb tapping, as uncovered in a study by Qian Fei of Alibaba. She also found that, for right-handed users, the bottom and top-right corners were the least accurate thumb zones.

The green thumb zone is the most comfortable and accurate region of phone screens for one-handed users. Avoid the red-zone reach, or at least compensate with larger-than-usual touch targets.