Nested PreferenceScreens + Honeycomb = Ugly

Android’s PreferenceScreen system for preference UIs is rather nice. However, there is one substantial issue with its appearance on Android 3.0: nested PreferenceScreen elements.

If you put a PreferenceScreen inside another PreferenceScreen, you create a “drill-down” interface. When the user taps on the entry on the outer PreferenceScreen, the UI shifts to a whole new PreferenceScreen showing the inner one’s items. This is a nice way to organize a long list of preferences, so they are not just one screen, scaring the user with their breadth.

However, in Honeycomb, not all PreferenceScreen UIs are created equal.

Here is an outer PreferenceScreen as rendered on a XOOM:

outer PreferenceScreen

This is the look of a PreferenceFragment in the new Honeycomb style.

However, if you click on the “Detail Screen” element to bring up the inner PreferenceScreen, you get this:

outer PreferenceScreen

This is the look of a classic Android PreferenceScreen.

While these screenshots were taken on a project that did not have android:targetSdkVersion=”11”, there is no change in this area even if that is specified.

The presumed workaround is to switch entirely to PreferenceFragment, but since that is not backwards-compatible, it will increase your app’s complexity. Another workaround is to eliminate the inner PreferenceScreen and just put everything in the top PreferenceScreen. This could either be done for all versions, or possibly only for Honeycomb by having a different version of your preference XML in res/xml-v11/.


Want an expert opinion on your Android app architecture decisions? Perhaps Mark Murphy can help!