Google Asks Android App Devs to Design by the Book

It’s well known that Android is fragmented or, as Google CEO Eric Schmidt contends, “differentiated.” In a bid to codify design principles for the operating system’s look and feel, Google unveiled Android Design at CES on Thursday.

This website seeks to help appdevs create apps with a more uniform look and feel for Android 4.0, also known as “Ice Cream Sandwich.”

“[Google] definitely wants to have a uniform look. They never have provided a style guide before,” Melissa Skrbic-Huss, creative lead at Amadeus Consulting, told LinuxInsider.

“This is Google’s attempt to try and rein in the craziness of how Android apps look,” said Al Hilwa, a research program director at IDC.

The major issue with Android’s fragmentation “is the loss of brand identity,” he told LinuxInsider. “If you call a device an Android device, what does that mean?”

Android Design’s Aims

The Android Design website goes into great detail. Among other things, it spells out Google’s creative vision, design principles, style, themes, typography, patterns, gestures, building blocks, and switches and dialogs.

Google has three overarching design goals for its core apps and the Android OS at large.

One is that apps should be sleek and aesthetically pleasing on multiple levels, with crisp, meaningful layout and typography, and clear, fast transitions. The experience should be “magical,” Google said.

The second is that the apps should be intuitive and easy to use, without overwhelming users with too many choices.

Third, the apps should empower people to try new things and use the apps in inventive new ways while feeling personal.

Google did not respond to our request for further details.

Why a Design Guide Now?

The Android Guide is Google’s “attempt to inject a level of standardization in [Android’s] look and feel,” IDC’s Hilwa said.

But why now, with 400,000 Android apps out there and about 700,000 new Android devices being activated each day? Why didn’t Google want to maintain its laissez-faire approach?

For one thing, it’s seeking to move everyone onto Ice Cream Sandwich. That will require quite a bit of work, because “there is a huge change [with Ice Cream Sandwich],” Amadeus’s Skrbic-Huss poiinted out.

“Even though a developer may have known the best practices for older versions, this [Android Design] makes it easier and quicker for the developer to adapt to the newer platform,” she elaborated.

Ice Cream Sandwich uses a new font, “Roboto,” which was designed for high-resolution displays. It adds framework-level action bars on phones, and support for new phones without physical buttons.

Keeping App Devs Happy

Google is probably trying to resolve some of developers’ complaints about Android.

Developers have to worry about differences in the UI of different versions of Android, differences in hardware specs, and differences in the versions of Android that run on various hardware platforms, Simon Khalaf, president and CEO of Flurry, told LinuxInsider.

“Software and applications are the fuel of an ecosystem, and software developers make that fuel,” he pointed out.

Fragmentation enabled the rapid pace of R&D development — “a key factor in Android’s success,” according to Hilwa — but the problems with the OS “will become more prominent to the extent that the market matures and the growth rates flatten.”

Schmidt’s discussion of fragmentation “is evidence that it’s an issue for the brand and the platform,” he argued.

Will Android Design Fly?

Google has traditionally maintained a hands-off policy with respect to Android, allowing OEMs and devs to tweak it as they see fit.

Will OEMs and devs resent being reined in, or will they buy into Google’s vision?

“It’s only natural to bring out a tool like [Android Design] right now,” Estuardo Robles, vice president at AppsGeyser, told LinuxInsider.

“First, launch an open source platform that takes the world by storm,” he said. “Now, with critical mass in place, you begin to groom those apps, and work with the most dedicated developers by providing them tools to eventually harvest amazing apps.”

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