Typically, when a user rotates an accelerometer-equipped device, Windows will rotate the display to the nearest quadrant (landscape, portrait, landscape-flipped, and portrait-flipped) and apps will receive a resize event in which they can adjust their layout.

Some apps, however, prefer to keep their layout as-is, regardless of device rotation. A full screen video player, for example, wants to remain in landscape irrespective of the device orientation, allowing you to watch videos while laying sideways on a couch with a tablet propped up on a chair!

Locking the orientation can be done in two places. First, you can specify the orientations the app supports in the app manifest under Supported Rotations on the Application UI tab:

sidebar (preferred orientations)

By default, all these options are unchecked which means the app will be resized (and thus redrawn) when the device orientation changes (and checking all of them means the same thing). When you check a subset of the options, the following effects apply:

  • If the device is not in a supported rotation when the app is launched, the app is launched in the nearest supported rotation. For example, if you check Portrait and Landscape-flipped (I have no idea why you’d choose that combination!), and the device is in Landscape mode, the app will launch into Portrait.
  • When the app is in the foreground, rotating the device to a non-supported orientation has no effect on the app.
  • When the user switches away from the app, the device orientation is restored unless the new foreground app also has preferences. Of course, it’s likely that the user will have rotated the device to match the app’s preference, in which case that’s the new device orientation.
  • When the user switches back to the app, it will switch to the nearest supported rotation.
  • In all cases, when the app’s preference is in effect, system edge gestures work relative to that orientation, that is, the left and right edges relative to the app’s orientation.

You can achieve the same effects at runtime—changing preferences dynamically and overriding the manifest—by setting the autoRotationPreferences property of the Windows.Graphics.Display.DisplayInformation object (this is the one you use in Windows 8.1; in Windows 8, use the DisplayProperties object instead). The preference values come from the DisplayOrientations enumeration, and can be combined with the bitwise OR (|) operator. For example, here are the bits of code (JavaScript) to set a Portrait preference and the combination of Portrait and Landscape-flipped (Windows 8.1):

var wgd = Windows.Graphics.Display;
wgd.DisplayInformation.autoRotationPreferences = wgd.DisplayOrientations.portrait;
wgd.DisplayInformation.autoRotationPreferences = wgd.DisplayOrientations.portrait | wgd.DisplayOrientations.landscapeFlipped;

Note that orientation preferences set in the manifest and through the autoRotationPreferences property do not work with non-accelerometer hardware, such as desktop monitors and also the Visual Studio simulator. The rotations that the simulator performs happen in a different way than those induced by a real accelerometer. To really test these preferences, in other words, you’ll need a real device equipped with that sensor.

To play around with these settings, refer to the Device auto rotation preferences sample. Its different scenarios set one of the orientation preferences so you can see the effect when the device is rotated; scenario 1 for its part clears all preferences and restores the usual behavior for apps. You can also change rotation settings in the manifest to see their effects, but those are again overridden as soon as you change the preferences through any of the scenarios.

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