The Android Style Guide and Google's emerging identity
0. phoneArena 13 Jan 2012, 09:55 posted on
The newly released Android Style Guide is not only a great new tool for developers as well as a tool for Google in its fight against problems of inconsistent UI design in apps, but it actually says quite a lot about how Google has traditionally done things, how it is changing, and points to where Google still needs to keep working...
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1. ilia1986 (unregistered)
An awesome article, Michael!! Yet again you manage to alleviate my concerns and worries - within the article itself - before I even click the "Post comment" button.
I would just like to add that I fear exactly what you've described: "The biggest trouble in this is that when you start to accept somethng as a norm, you may stop seeing how to make it better".
I own an iPhone 4. And to this day - I look up to Adroid as the Ultimate platform. Because that's precisely what I want it to be - a platform. A platform with which everyone is entitled to do ANYTHING he\she desires - without any negative implications whatsoever. Wanna have 50 home screens all filled with widgets, with blurry icons in the shape of dinosaurs, and a tweak according to which you make a J gesture on your lock screen - and it shows you the last application you downloaded on the Android market? You can have that. Enforcing norm and consistency can be a good thing of course... or it can be a bad thing.
It can be a bad thing because when you talk about consistency, norm - I automatically think about control and enforcement. And I think about Apple. What Apple has done ever since 2007 is creating some sort of a standard - a socially accepted one - as to how a smartphone must look, feel, behave, what it can do and what it can't. And their strategy brought them huge profits. One can see that.
However Android is different. It doesn't rely on standards. At least until now. It doesn't force users or developers to do ANYTHING. At least until now. While you say that this guide is of course optional - you do mention the very idea of norm. And when there is norm - there is nothing else. In the guide it says that on the homescreen you can scroll between pages by flicking left and right. Ever wanted to find a tweak for ICS which would allow you to scroll between pages by flicking up or down? Too bad. No developer would ever want to do that now - since that would be outside of norm. And that developer wouldn't want to "Stick out and not in a good way", right?
I hope that you - and other people - see my point. If you don't - think from my perspective - the perspective of a fed-up iPhone user - whose phone doesn't even support Widgets for God's sake.
3. shafboy (Posts: 179; Member since: 26 Sep 2010)
I agree with you and this is one of the reasons I like Windows Phone so much, they thought outside the norm and happened to meet my favourite taste of simplistic design which is customisable to a certain degree.
11. hepresearch (unregistered)
Inasmuch as iOS is the extreme of simplicity, control, and appearances, Android has been the extreme of freeform and raw power (depending on which handset you buy). What seems to be happening here is that Android is taking a fundamental step in the direction of the core principles of iOS. Windows Phone, in my opinion, has managed to wedge itself into the middle ground between these two... you get more manufacturer control, and ease-of-use, than Android, along with a little more power than the iPhone (until the iPhone 4S) and a little less eye-candy. Apple, though, clearly has the behavioral advantage, and as such, Android is going to have to take fundamental steps in the direction of iOS core principles. Until now, their only steps toward iOS have been in the department of behavior and appearance, and although these have really ticked off Apple, they were not tied to a direct shift in fundamentals. Now, Android is taking that first step to inspire some iOS-ish consistency, and Windows Phone will be more tightly sandwiched in the divide that remains. I think that, fortunately, WP has a sufficiently different behavior and appearance to keep the others from being too unhappy about it.
25. shafboy (Posts: 179; Member since: 26 Sep 2010)
I really like the concept of Android and customisable widgets, however upon using some of my friends' products (Androids) I have been dissapointed that there is lag, even a tiny bit, but there is. However the OS is beautiful and well designed.
26. hepresearch (unregistered)
Many people claim that Android has no lag... but they do tend to be wrong about that. Android was meant to be able to operate nominally on a wide variety of hardware, and operate well on high-end hardware, but with no specific promises on the graphical smoothness end of things. Now, I do have a few friends who have been gutsy enough to play around with CyanogenMod and further tweaks and modifications, and some of their work seems to cut down on the stock lag a lot, but Android was never coded with truly lagless behavior in mind. It is a beautiful and powerful OS, but it wasn't designed for the responsiveness and integrated, immaculately flawless, flow of graphics that iOS was designed to handle. Android has always been about the customization and task juggling, and iOS has always been about the ease-of-use and eye-candy.
Windows Phone seems to be trying to bridge that gap, and they seem to be getting better at that with time. Windows Phone Mango devices strike me as having a very nice responsiveness and flow of graphics similar to iOS devices, although with not nearly as much eye candy, and yet I would say that they are rivals to iOS in the ease-of-use department thanks to Metro UI and the "Live Tiles". Although they seem very focused on iOS-like simplicity, WP still manages to hang on to some power items, like fully-integrated office software for document handling, integrated gaming platform, exceptional GPS services, improved multi-tasking, and the like. It is an interesting trade off. The lines between what the different OS's can and cannot do seem to be getting all the more blurry all the time.
4. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2614; Member since: 26 May 2011)
"What Apple has done ever since 2007 is creating some sort of a standard - a socially accepted one - as to how a smartphone must look, feel, behave, what it can do and what it can't"
Wow, you tapped on exactly what my next article is going to be...
5. robinrisk (unregistered)
First of all, everytime i see an interesting article, i inmediately know Michael is the writer. Another excelent piece of work.
Ilia, i think you have a point, but this will simply help streamline the experience and design. It will not force developers to anything, its simply some ground "suggestions" that will give the Android UI a little more personality.
For example, the menu key dissapeared on ICS, but now there are "Action Buttons", this guide helps developers know how to take advantage of that new feature.
So at the end, it's like saying, hey, we have the core features and charachteristics of the Android Interface and Identity, now you have a better defined Starting Point, so you can innovate as before, but with a more streamlined Android Experience.
7. ilia1986 (unregistered)
Michael - ah - I feel honored. :)
robinrisk - while you are right, of course - as a victim of Apple's totalitarian and corrupt regime - I fear that these suggestions will make way for further ones - which might eventually translate into controlled restrictions and the like. It just appears to me that Google would like to become more like iOS - a process I strongly fear and disapprove. The only thing good in iOS which google could take for Android is merely the energy efficiency.
8. remixfa (Posts: 13902; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)
i agree with most of that.
but everything with google is "optional". if the group comes to a consensus on design it will not be because google forced them, it will be because a group of developers found success in a common "theme" with their apps. Its already out there now. Whether you play Words with Friends or Hanging with Friends or any other Zenga game, they all have common design elements that have been successful for them.
a little commonality between programs isnt a bad thing. using michael's examples, instead of looking at each app and trying to find the options button, you would know its in the upper right. Right now its all over the place. Sometimes its a physical button.. sometimes its on top.. some times its on bottom.
As long as its something that the developers agree to themselves for their benefit and not something Google forces on them (in an Apple maneuver) I dont see an issue.
15. 8mileroad (Posts: 7; Member since: 31 Dec 2011)
Well written post, but I don't agree with it entirely. I think there will always be alternate launchers and stuff like that which will let you tweak stuff however you want.
2. protozeloz (Posts: 5321; Member since: 16 Sep 2010)
I really liked something Mathias said about his Magazine UI, he claimed that various articles are find on a magazine they all offered diffident content or various arrangements yet despite all the differences between each article from the other you can tell they all belong on the same magazine
6. protozeloz (Posts: 5321; Member since: 16 Sep 2010)
9. tacohunter (Posts: 408; Member since: 06 Nov 2011)
I always expect the best from Michael and he always delivers :D
10. ACCTDADDY (Posts: 12; Member since: 06 Jan 2012)
Who are you MichaelHeller? Every time I read an article by you It is so well put together, unbiased, and thoughtfully written I wish there was a section on here of just your articles and reviews PA should make a tab next to the home tab called MichaelHeller it would be the 1st tab I go to and read. Another excellent article!
19. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2614; Member since: 26 May 2011)
And, to answer your question, this is me:https://plus.google.com/u/0/11
23. SlimSoulja86 (Posts: 642; Member since: 03 Nov 2011)
LOL, Michael Why not Facebook Account. hehehehehe! I enjoy reading your articles, for the fact that they're long and one fell like is really reading informative articles rather than some random information to start a flame war. Thank you. PA should pay you more, lol
12. tacohunter (Posts: 408; Member since: 06 Nov 2011)
Michael, this is a really good site, maybe one of the best. And I got some good ideas to improve the site.
1. Posibility to add photo in comment (for fun, if someone adds a photo it's always a link)
2. Add some kind of forum.
So some of the PA readers can write an article about whatever they want to talk about: their experiences, ideas, expectactions, theories, etc. Maybe you'll find writer talent. But ofcourse with rules so their won't be troll articles.
So for example: remix can write an article about the iOS fragmentation he talked about the past two weeks. if he wants :) that would be interesting to hear everyones opinions fully explained
13. remixfa (Posts: 13902; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)
I've been hoping one of our glorious writers would take up the mantle. Kind of wondering why many are happy to talk about android fragmentation but no one touches iOS fragmentation. Showing that iOS has the same issue if not worse, will quell a lot of the fan boy "android fragmentation" food fights.
I've offered to freelance for the site before as well as moderate to keep up with some of the annoying spam that tends to plague the site. If they want me, im easily accessible. I also know an excellent no-holds-barred editor, but i doubt he wants to keep proofing my work for me :) lol
14. tacohunter (Posts: 408; Member since: 06 Nov 2011)
Y maybe but this is just an idea so the PA readers can easily express their opinions, ideas, it would be awesome. Trust me I personally enjoy reading more then writing but adding a forum will certainely be nice. Of course it needs rules, like the article must first be approved so you can't instant post it.
And the add a photo option idea is just great.
So what do you think? Feel free to reply
21. remixfa (Posts: 13902; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)
i could go for that. who the heck would wanna listen to me ramble on even more though? lolol i dont know if i could sit through an essay written...by....gallito...cant quite...put..my finger... on...wh..y.....
18. PaulNotFromSweden (Posts: 51; Member since: 16 Sep 2011)
Outstanding article, Michael! Other writers at PA should aspire to write this well. Regarding the topic, I agree that there is a fear of less innovation if developers feel constrained by a style guide. However, a common look and feel should benefit the platform as more non-techies adopt it. Now, going from an HTC to a Sammy can be daunting because they seem quite different. It shouldn't be that way if they're running the same version of the same OS. That's where the guide can really help. Windows and iOS have a definite edge in this regard.
Keep up the great work!
22. Cwebb (Posts: 501; Member since: 05 Oct 2011)
I can't agree more with the first paragraph of building block #1. I got Android back at 1.5 because I wanted a smartphone but couldn't afford an iPhone. The reason I stuck around was because of the awesome hidden features that you need to surf the internet to find (I have/had a bunch of free time and OCD). I laugh when people see my phone compared to their same phone even before it was rooted, because I had a different launcher, keyboard, etc. Its one of those things that is BEAUTIFUL about Android, but the people who have it for the same reason I first got it don't know about these awesome features and just complain that they want an iPhone (They usually just use to for basic stuff anyways). What Google needs to do is make a massive guide for those people to look through and find all these little features that I had to dig to find.
Also, I love ICS. I have an AOSP ROM on my Evo 3D, and you couldn't make me change back. I'm sacrificing bluetooth and my camera for it. Its not that I didn't think GB was bad because I loved it down to the colors they used, but ICS is more put together and seems like it got its full time to develop unlike previous versions. When I had my Transform and *gulp* Intercept I hated the styling of Froyo and everything before. They tried to go to this cool grey, but it looked too bland. ICS still isn't my favorite theme, I LOVE WP7's Live tiles/keyboard/Metro UI style, but couldn't give up the afromentioned functionality. But I think Live Tiles are the way of the future.
24. AppleConspiracy (Posts: 627; Member since: 18 Oct 2011)
The most important fact that we should learn from this excellent article, and many other analysis, is that design as a way of visual form doesn't matter much. What matters is actually the paradigm, the ideology, consistency, standardization and so on - the platform of interface in most abstract meaning of this word.
So in a way, Apple has marked the final death of design as we have know it.. Everything is about brand identity and its interface as a platform.
Everyone was ignoring that until Apple came to reign several years ago, and now they pay the price and try to catch up.
Visual representational systems from human history proved that already, however at some point the liberalization of arts in 20th century gave us the illusion that we can do without it, that we can be free. Now it becomes pretty clear we can't.
27. yodanim (Posts: 7; Member since: 16 Sep 2011)
I like the idea of a consistent UI, but it has to be original to android, the grid of apps is like iOS - hence the multilple lawsuits, and now I have to hear about Roboto font and side-to-side swiping -- sounds to me a lot like the Metro font and UI from Windows Phone. The good news is that it's all optional - people are free to download skins and widgets to their hearts' content only limited by their imagination, lag, harware specs, and tolerance of "busyness"