Brave New WorldDesigning For A Maturing Android

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Android is huge: 480 million people currently use Android devices, and 1 million new devices are activated daily. This means that every three weeks, the number of people who activate new Android devices is equal to the entire population of Australia. (Recent studies by Nielsen1 show that more Android devices are on the market than iOS devices.)

Popular apps that become available on Android experience huge growth. For example, Instagram grew by 10 million users2 with the launch of its Android app — in just 10 days.

Looking at some of Android's problems.

Despite this unprecedented expansion of the platform, the majority of Android apps are… well, not great. Fewer quality apps are in Google Play3 than in the iTunes Store4. Part of the reason for this is that Android has been going through puberty in the past few years. It was disorganized and erratic, and many designers avoided it — even hated it5 — and naturally gravitated towards iOS.

Some of Android’s problems no longer exist, and others have been blown out of proportion. For the ones that do exist, we’ll provide guidance on how to deal with them and how to start designing your first great Android app.

Symptoms Of Puberty

Many Android apps underperformed because the platform wasn’t mature enough to allow great apps to emerge. Though a powerful laboratory — it offered manufacturers and developers the freedom and openness to create whatever they wanted — not many wanted to work in a sandbox environment every day. But that sandbox has since coalesced into a foundation for great design.

Android's systems of puperty.

The points below are what you might remember about Android — and possibly what curbed your desire to give it a try — but these issues have also been eliminated or improved. If your concerns appear in this list, then the next section will demonstrate how they’ve been resolved with Android’s maturation and how you can design a better app as a result.

Lack of Consistency in Google’s Own Apps

Not long ago, almost all of Google’s own Android apps looked different from each other.

Action bar at the top of the screen design pattern. Action bar design pattern in redesigned gallery.
Google took more than a year to start following its own advice. The action bar design pattern was presented in 20106 but wasn’t implemented until October 2011, with Android OS 4.0.

Lack of a User-Centric Design Culture in the Android Community

Google’s failure to set an example for other developers (because of its own inconsistencies) and the lack of consistent design guidelines and patterns contributed to another bigger problem: poor user experience. Good design starts with people; it leverages technology to help users accomplish their goals. Google wasn’t communicating this to developers clearly enough (unlike Apple7).

Dramatically Inconsistent Experience Between Devices and OS Versions

Manufacturers often customize the system’s UI and hardware buttons. This contributed to fragmentation, made testing and quality control much harder and made consistency in app design nearly impossible.

Hardware buttons in different orders.
Manufacturers used to put hardware buttons in different orders. Switching between devices was a pain.

Properly testing apps in the changing and fast-growing market was difficult for developers. Thus, a majority of apps didn’t function as they should have or were poorly designed.

Those apps are still there, but yours doesn’t have to be one of them. Android has since improved, enabling you to create a better and more consistent experience for your users.

Android Has Matured

The Android user experience today is more robust than ever before, making it easier for app designers and developers to deliver great apps. While some of the earlier problems still exist, most have become more manageable — and many more have been solved altogether.

One fundamental problem remains, however: there aren’t enough great apps. But with an improved and mature Android platform, designers and developers can solve this problem. All we have to do is give Android another chance.

Android has matured.

The areas below are what the mature Android has to offer.

Better App Discovery

Previously, the discovery process was limited to searching by keyword and then trying out all of the results. The new Google Play store offers better discovery through featured apps and staff picks.

The new Google Play store offers more ways to discover cool new apps.8
The new Google Play store offers more ways to discover cool new apps than its predecessor, Android Market.

Proper Android Design Guidelines

Until recently, no direction was provided for the basic elements that every app requires. Google has since created design guidelines9, which remove the burden of small design decisions from app designers and developers. We can finally focus on the core value of the apps we’re creating and ensure a consistent experience across devices.

Example of a grid and a 48 density-independent pixel (DP) rhythm.
Example of a grid and a 48 density-independent pixel (DP) rhythm, taken from the “Metrics and Grids10” section of the guidelines.

Menu and Search Hardware Buttons Are Gone

Google has started removing hardware buttons from its devices, uniting the hardware and software and making Android devices more elegant and easier to use.

Nexus 4 is an instance of Google’s new approach to hardware buttons.
The Nexus 4 is an instance of Google’s new approach to hardware buttons. They are always there, always in the same order. And gone are the search and menu buttons.

A variety of Android device types still exist (for example, LG still produces devices with Android 4.0 and hard menu buttons), yet this diversity is one of the main reasons why Android apps are able to excel.

Fragmentation Isn’t All Bad

Fragmentation may be the biggest remaining challenge facing designers and developers, and it’s built into Android’s DNA — a permanent part of the Android experience. This diversity offers designers an opportunity to reach an unprecedented number of people globally.

Learning to work within this fragmentation will make you a better designer or developer overall, with broader knowledge and an improved skill set. Given the rewards, the challenge is worthwhile to pursue. And to succeed in this pursuit, here are a few things to keep in mind when creating your Android app.

Fragmentation isn’t all bad.

Tips For Creating A Successful Android App

Get to Know Android

To understand Android, you should learn how to use it and get to know its users. The best way to do this is by buying several devices from different manufacturers, with different screen sizes and maybe even OS versions. This will help you not only to understand user diversity but also to test your app.

To choose the best devices for your app, check the latest statistics from Google11 and select a device12 with your desired specifications. Independent studies, such as OpenSignal’s August 2012 report13, can also help you select devices.

Something to keep in mind is that Android updates are controlled by service providers and, as a result, usually arrive earlier on devices that are created in collaboration with Google, such as the Nexus series. Picking up the latest Nexus devices14 will keep you on the cutting edge of platform releases. You can save money by buying a used device, but make sure it runs the version of Android that you need before purchasing it (many old devices are no longer updated).

Talk to your Android-using friends about how they use their devices and what they are happy and unhappy about. That will help you get to know the environment and bring you into the culture.

Follow the Guidelines

Following the guidelines15 will help you create an app that feels native to any device. But that’s just one of many reasons why following them is worthwhile. They can also help you achieve the following:

  • Create an app fit for virtually any device,
  • Make the app feel true to Android,
  • Provide a UI that is familiar to users,
  • Make the app easier to develop and support,
  • Increase the app’s chances of being featured in Google Play.

Keeping Android navigation patterns in mind and using elements that are native to the platform will also help you create a consistent experience across devices.

When bringing an iPhone design (left) to Android (right), use elements that are native to the platform.16
When bringing an iPhone design (left) to Android (right), use elements that are native to the platform: this table view is styled for Android; the buttons for searching and adding contacts are moved to the split action bar at the bottom; and switching between data views is done through the view control17.

Custom apps are more difficult not only to support, but also to design18 when ensuring operability across devices. New Android apps look great thanks to the new design guidelines; they are also very different from apps created before Android 4.0.

Understand Android’s Look and Feel

Google has invested a lot of effort19 in bringing a consistent visual experience to all of its products, including Android. Android 4.0 introduced its own style: simple, plain, clean — more about function than form.

Although this provides great freedom in styling, you still have to consider the subtlety of Android’s visual style: saying more with less. Simply copying the styles and elements from an iOS app might not work. And releasing a new app with old styles or with elements that look like they belong on another platform could make users react negatively — which happened to Microsoft20.

Browsing Android Niceties21 is a great way to grasp Android’s style and to find inspiration.

Google’s Search app is a great instance of Android’s look and feel.22
Google’s Search23 app is a great instance of Android’s look and feel.

A good way to distinguish your app is through its icon. App icons for Android can take any shape or form. Users love great-looking icons and will gladly put your app on their home screen even if they don’t use it often. For tips on designing your icon, read the “Iconography24” section in the guidelines.

App icons for Android can take any shape and form you want.
App icons25 for Android can take any shape and form you want.

Build for Different Hardware Types

When designing your app, ensure that it will run properly on most devices. Keep in mind not only different screen sizes and aspect ratios, but also screens with low brightness or poor contrast and color, as well as slow, weak hardware.

For example, less-expensive devices might have smaller displays with lower contrast, so text that appears big enough on new devices with large screens might appear illegible there. Low contrast of text and visual elements might compromise the user experience as well.

Designs created according to the guidelines will easily scale to fit virtually any screen.26
Designs created according to the guidelines will easily scale to fit virtually any screen.

A few more things to keep in mind:

  • Use contrasting colors for text and elements. For example, don’t use white on gray for important elements; they’ll just blend together on bad displays.
  • Check your design on several devices with different brightness settings (low, high, auto) and in different lighting conditions.
  • Even when using standard sizes, make sure your text and UI elements appear big enough on small screens (i.e. screens with a DPI lower than 240). You might want to adjust these elements specifically for small devices.

For a great example of designing for diversity, read Sebastiaan de With describe the process of creating the Alarm app27.

Use Density-Independent Pixels to Define Layout

Part of providing a consistent experience is ensuring that UI elements stay roughly the same size across Android devices with varying pixels per inch (PPI). This doesn’t have to be a laborious task of calculating the number of pixels a button or font should contain in order to look great on a particular screen size. You can make the device do the work for you.

The recommended size for buttons in the action bar is 48 DP.
The recommended size for buttons in the action bar is 48 DP, which will result in different pixel sizes on different screens, but you don’t have to worry about that.

By defining sizes with density-independent pixels (DPs), you ensure that elements will appear at about the same physical size on any screen. Text will remain readable, and buttons will be comfortable to tap on any Android device, regardless of screen size or DPI. (See the section “Use Density-Independent Pixels28” in the guidelines for more.)

In our practice, giving developers guidelines on sizes of elements and fonts has proven useful.
In our practice, giving developers guidelines on sizes of elements and fonts has proven useful.

6. Create Assets for All Densities

Four sets of assets29 are required to accommodate all Android devices and to make the interface crisp: low density (LDPI), medium density (MDPI), high density (HDPI) and extra-high density (XHDPI). Start with a 640 × 960 screen for XHDPI assets, and then scale them down for other densities.

Start with XHDPI, and then scale down to other densities. Compare the actual sizes of these assets.30
Start with XHDPI, and then scale down to other densities. Compare the actual sizes of these assets.31

MDPI and XHDPI resolutions are exactly the same as the iPhone’s regular and Retina screens. So, if you have an iPhone design, you can use it to style the Android counterparts, or you could even test your designs on iPhone or iPod screens. But don’t forget about Android’s unique look and feel.

An XXHDPI bucket has been added to support the next generation of mobile devices, those with approximately 480 DPI screens. Although no such devices exist yet, the XXHDPI bucket is used today for launcher icons on XHDPI 10-inch tablets, such as the Nexus 10. (Because these devices are so large, the launcher icons are scaled up using the XHDPI assets.) To accommodate the next generation of screens, all you’ll need to do is scale your HDPI assets up by 200%.

Consider Different Versions Of The OS

Many Android devices will never be updated to the latest OS; it takes a couple of years for new versions to dominate the market. But users with newer devices won’t be pleased with apps whose looks or controls are outdated (as demonstrated by Microsoft’s Outlook app, mentioned earlier). So, deliver the most up to date experience possible. If you intend for the app to run on older platforms, create a separate version of the app for those devices.

Expand Your App With Widgets and Live Wallpapers

Take advantage of Android’s engaging features, such as widgets32, live wallpapers and notifications. Widgets enable users to receive updates without running the app, and notifications are improving with each version of Android. Google is providing great support for designers and developers on how to notify users33.

Widgets are a convenient way to peek into an app without opening it. This enables you to focus a user’s attention on a small portion of information, which would then expand within the app.

Widgets may have buttons and scrollable areas. Think of them as advanced app icons.
Widgets may have buttons and scrollable areas. Think of them as advanced app icons.

Gmail’s widget offers a sneak peek into the mailbox and enables users to compose mail right from the home screen.
Gmail’s widget offers a sneak peek into the mailbox and enables users to compose mail right from the home screen. Chrome’s grid-view widget displays favorites or history.

Android users love to customize their devices and make them personal, and these items give them greater flexibility to do so.

Properly Test on Devices You Support

One of the most common reasons for negative reviews in the Play store is an app not functioning as promised. Target your design to the most popular devices, and release only for the ones you have tested; otherwise, you’ll end up with bad reviews from people frustrated by your app not working properly.

The highly successful Dead Space game receives most of its one-star reviews34 because the game doesn’t run on certain devices.

Design for Tablets, Too

Although several great Android tablets are on the market, they are not as popular as competitors such as the iPad. But if your goal is to build a truly universal Android app, then you need to consider tablets as well. The guidelines advise designers to use multi-pane layouts35 for tablet UIs and to build their interface using fragments.

Tablets use the same graphical assets as phones, but consider the context in which tablets are used. For instance, people usually hold tablets further away from their eyes than phones and, thus, are less precise in their tapping. So, the UI will require larger fonts, bigger buttons and more white space around elements.

Don’t forget to run your app through the “Tablet App Quality Checklist36” as well.

Give Android A Chance

Designing for Android might be challenging in the beginning — it’s not as simple as it looks — but by following these 10 steps, you’ll have a head start on delivering a fantastic user experience and building a truly great app.

Give Android a chance. Designing for this newly matured platform is an interesting and educational process, and you’ll deliver a great-looking app while obtaining a new set of skills. You might find the experience to be very rewarding.

Update: While we were writing this article, case study has been published by The Verge about the Facebook Home37 application — next big thing for Facebook. But this isn’t about Facebook anymore. Thought this particular application is quite controversial, with limited device support and experience far from perfect, Fb designers have proven that with enough effort 100% of your ideas can be implemented and delivered on Android with no compromise. They have revealed a great opportunity and may even have marked the beginning of a new trend of creating greater presence on Android.

Examples of Great Android Apps for Inspiration

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Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/newswire/2012/two-thirds-of-new-mobile-buyers-now-opting-for-smartphones.html
  2. 2 http://www.theverge.com/2012/4/13/2946602/instagram-40-million-users
  3. 3 https://play.google.com/store
  4. 4 http://itunes.apple.com/us/browse/
  5. 5 http://adroitalien.hubpages.com/hub/10-Things-I-Hate-About-Android-Smart-Phones
  6. 6 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1ZBjlCRfz0
  7. 7 http://developer.apple.com/library/ios/#DOCUMENTATION/UserExperience/Conceptual/MobileHIG/AppDesign/AppDesign.html%23//apple_ref/doc/uid/TP40006556-CH19-SW1
  8. 8 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/market-lg.jpg
  9. 9 http://developer.android.com/design/index.html
  10. 10 http://developer.android.com/design/style/metrics-grids.html
  11. 11 http://developer.android.com/about/dashboards/index.html
  12. 12 http://www.android.com/devices/
  13. 13 http://opensignal.com/reports/fragmentation.php?
  14. 14 http://www.google.com/nexus/
  15. 15 http://developer.android.com/design/index.html
  16. 16 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/contacts-iphone-android.png
  17. 17 http://developer.android.com/design/patterns/actionbar.html#organization
  18. 18 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/07/21/iphone-apps-design-mistakes-overblown-visuals/
  19. 19 http://www.theverge.com/2013/1/24/3904134/google-redesign-how-larry-page-engineered-beautiful-revolution#ooid=1iOG5vODr8k-SiE4XkfhRhojCWYBPRHE
  20. 20 http://www.androiduipatterns.com/2012/11/bad-outdated-ux-will-be-rejected-by.html
  21. 21 http://androidniceties.tumblr.com/
  22. 22 https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.google.android.googlequicksearchbox&hl=en
  23. 23 https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.google.android.googlequicksearchbox&hl=en
  24. 24 http://developer.android.com/design/style/iconography.html
  25. 25 http://developer.android.com/design/style/iconography.html#launcher
  26. 26 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/screen-sizes-lg.jpg
  27. 27 http://dewith.com/2012/an-android-design-process/
  28. 28 http://developer.android.com/training/multiscreen/screendensities.html#TaskUseDP
  29. 29 http://developer.android.com/training/multiscreen/screendensities.html#TaskProvideAltBmp
  30. 30 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/densities-pixel.jpg
  31. 31 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/densities-pixel.jpg
  32. 32 http://developer.android.com/design/patterns/widgets.html
  33. 33 http://developer.android.com/design/patterns/notifications.html
  34. 34 https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.ea.deadspace_row&feature=apps_topselling_paid#?t=W251bGwsMSwyLG51bGwsImNvbS5lYS5kZWFkc3BhY2Vfcm93Il0.
  35. 35 http://developer.android.com/design/patterns/multi-pane-layouts.html
  36. 36 http://developer.android.com/distribute/googleplay/quality/tablet.html
  37. 37 http://www.theverge.com/2013/4/16/4205000/talking-heads-how-a-late-night-hack-turned-into-facebooks-next-big-thing
  38. 38 https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.verge.android
  39. 39 https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.doubleTwist.alarmClock
  40. 40 https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.skype.raider
  41. 41 https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.evernote
  42. 42 https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.joelapenna.foursquared
  43. 43 https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tumblr
  44. 44 https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.nytimes.android&hl=en
  45. 45 https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.path
  46. 46 https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.endomondo.android
  47. 47 https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.expedia.bookings

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Alex (@akomarov) and Nikita are Russian designers located in Melbourne, Australia, and Riga, Latvia. Together they run a nimble mobile UX/UI studio, www.komarov.mobi, that helps clients create exciting experiences for innovative mobile products.

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  1. 1

    Daniel Schwarz

    May 8, 2013 9:44 am

    I’m currently challenged with creating an android version of a Pinterest-inspired platform (http://airwalk-design.com), these tips will certainly be handy. Looks like I have my work cut out for me!

    0
  2. 3

    Please post your comments and opinions here, we’d very much enjoy having a discussion about it.
    Have you had a positive/negative experience creating something on Android recently?
    Want to ask us something that we didn’t address in the article (or haven’t elaborated enough).
    Disagree with something?

    We’d love to know!

    3
  3. 4

    Glad that you could hold your nose long enough to give the most popular and powerful mobile platform such a condescending recommendation. Since the release of the original EVO a few years back Android has taken the lead over iOS, and then a year ago it’s follow-ups (EVO LTE and the One X) widened the gap by finally providing better screens and cameras, the last two areas of superiority still held by the iPhone at the time, since hardware, OS and market share had already been conquered by the little green guy. The technical gap between phones released just this month and the iPhone are now just simply astounding.

    That doesn’t mean that some of your advice isn’t sound, even if much of it is quite basic. However, there are so many Apple-centric misconceptions and misinformation in this post that I am shocked that it survived any sort of editorial process.

    While there are still developers foolishly building apps for the smaller and weaker platform first, even most of those dinosaurs get around to realizing that they better get an Android equivalent built soon after. The problem they face is that by the time that they do, often times they just do a port of the iOS app, not taking advantage of the advanced feature set of Android, and by the time they do there is already an alternative available in the Play Store that does have those features. There may be more apps available for iOS, but that is a function of being older, when comparing quality there is no disparity except in the cases where developers access capabilities not deemed necessary by Apple’s ham-fisted control of the user’s device.

    Ah, and then we have the dreaded problem of fragmentation. A word that means about as much as the nonsense marketing term “retina display,” and not coincidentally, is also promoted by the same folks. If having to take different devices, resolutions, screen sizes and other variables into consideration is difficult for a designer, then they have no business using that word to describe themselves. Designing for the iPod With a Phone now has the exact same issues, although granted, not to the degree that Android does, Why is that? Because Android users have choices,

    That’s right, fragmentation = choice. Cars, televisions, computers, furniture, pants, shoes, and even the food we eat are consumer items that all suffer from fragmentation. What they don’t have is a company with an attack dog of a PR department feeding red meat to a legion of rabid fan boys and lazy journalists disparaging the choices they provide. We logically and correctly assume that it is a good thing to be able to choose between a Mustang and a Civic or a Granny Smith and a Macintosh (bet you can’t guess which of those I prefer!)

    A good designer doesn’t make assumptions based solely on their own experiences, Not if they expect others to continue to use what they create. The days of designing apps for a single phone are over. People in our line of work who came up during the reign of the iPhone are starting to get a rude awakening. Many are fighting it tooth and nail, like the company they prefer designing for, but that battle, and possibly even that war, is over. Some, like the authors of this piece are starting to reluctantly move in the right direction. The bottom line is, the game has changed, change with it or be left behind. As harsh as that may sound, it is a fact. What else is a fact is that acceptance of that idea will open paths to becoming a much better designer. Like people who design cars, televisions, and the ads that run on them, etc. Come out of the walled garden and try a Granny Smith for a change. You may find out that you’ve missed a lot while you were locked away.

    -5
    • 5

      Nikita Yermolayevs

      May 9, 2013 3:15 pm

      Hey, Joe. Thanks for reading the article and providing such an elaborate opinion.
      I think you’re making some good points, but they seem a bit bias to me (do I even feel a bit of ‘hate’ in your voice?). Some of them these points are exactly the reason this article exists. With so many things to address, I’m going to go through one by one. :-)

      1. ‘However, there are so many Apple-centric misconceptions and misinformation in this post that I am shocked that it survived any sort of editorial process.’
      I’m gonna try to address the points you consider misconceptions further. If I miss anything, please, feel free to expand and give me a note.

      2. ‘While there are still developers foolishly building apps for the smaller and weaker platform first, even most of those dinosaurs get around to realizing that they better get an Android equivalent built soon after.’
      I honestly think, that iOS comes first not because Android is bad or iOS is better (in terms of OS or UX), but because iOS considered a better starting point. It’s just a matter of survival for app producer. Let’s be honest, with quite a few great apps starting successfully on Android, there a lot more examples of apps failing. Even if as many as on other platforms, the matter of fact is — most successful and popular apps started on iOS. Let’s hope it’ll change soon. Android getting better and as you said (in “slightly different” words :-) ) developers turning their heads towards it, so this might be changing already. And since more developers are getting into Android, we’re trying to give them something to start with on their way to the great app.
      The point I’m also trying to make is, Android ‘rejuvenate’ very slowly and with app built for older devices might be a thing to consider. This potentially adds more work and things to account for, therefore costing more to develop. http://developer.android.com/about/dashboards/index.html — thought 2.3 share getting smaller each week, with almost 40% of active devices running it, it’s still a number to be reckoned with. Don’t you think?

      3. ‘Ah, and then we have the dreaded problem of fragmentation. A word that means about as much as the nonsense marketing term “retina display,” and not coincidentally, is also promoted by the same folks. … Designing for the iPod With a Phone now has the exact same issues, although granted, not to the degree that Android does, Why is that? Because Android users have choices,’
      Not sure who are the ‘same folks’, but regardless of terms and words, Android has dramatically inconsistent experience throughout the device range currently in use. That’s what we call fragmentation, and that what needs to be accounted for. Designing for iPhone and iPod actually IS *pretty much* the same thing. Hell, even designing for iPhone 5 and older devices do not bring much change into the design process. While designing for Android in comparison to Android design requires you to account for so much more — the difference in devices, OS versions, and mostly users. As a tiny example of difference in design decisions: on iPhone you KNOW where the bottom edge of the screen is and how big is the keyboard exactly, while on Android, you have to assume it might be anywhere. Especially with on-screen keyboards being different for each manufacturer. This was actually always a challenge for web-designers with different screens, browsers, software and hardware limitations, but it had never had the same scale. I come from web/flash designer field myself, I remember those good-old days very well. :-)

      4. ‘That’s right, fragmentation = choice.’
      Exactly, totally agree. That’s what we meant saying, fragmentation is in Android’s roots, in it’s DNA. That’s what is great about Android, it gives you choice! But it also brings inconsistency to the user experience and designer/developer should be able to deal with it one way or another.

      5. ‘… The days of designing apps for a single phone are over. …’
      Great closing line, couldn’t agree more. Actually, one of the goals of this article is to give designers and developers right expectations on this change they are facing. Many of them hated Android and we’re trying to make this transition less painful for them (not easy to do something you hate, right?). Because, it IS a painful transition. I might be wrong, but you sound like you actually went through this transition yourself some time ago. Do you have any good advices to those colleagues of yours?

      Is there anything left out?
      Again, thanks for taking time and bringing this to everyone’s attention.

      7
      • 6

        Thanks for the reply, Nikita. No offense meant, but you are still being condescending. And, no, you will not negate what I have to say by implying that I am a “hater.” You may sense scorn in my tone at times, but that is the result of reading way too many articles that begin with the extremely flawed premise that Android is gaining, maturing, possibly catching up to, or might someday be as good as an OS it long ago eclipsed. It isn’t anything personal, nor meant to insult anyone. More along the lines of how one might react to a kid who walked into the room and announced that “it’s a real shame Jimi Hendrix died so young, with his talent he could have been as good as John Mayer someday.” Sorry for the somewhat tortured analogy, but saying “incredulous” didn’t quite seem to be enough.

        You say that many developers find iOS to be a better starting point, if so, they should definitely rethink that. Which makes more sense: developing for the majority and with a full feature set knowing that you may have to remove some functionality for the other OS, or to develop for a lesser used and less feature rich OS and hope you are able to add stuff for the more powerful OS later? As someone who has been in this business for a very long time, I know which method I’d choose every single time.

        On fragmentation, I will try not to beat this dead horse much more other than to reiterate that it is a nonsensical term in general, and even more so in the world of design. Canvas size should be the least of all the problems a designer solves, in fact it should be one that is second nature to solve. And no, I don’t believe that it is any more necessary to worry about the 40% of older Android devices than it is to worry about iPhone users using older devices that aren’t powerful enough to even properly run the latest OS. It is a non-issue cooked up by PR people at Apple and repeated mindlessly by people who either have an ax to grind or don’t bother to think for themselves.

        As for designers who hate Android, or who only have the ability to “design” for a single canvas, I’m not sure that they are worth the effort. Technologies come and go, and things change very rapidly in this business. I was once told that I was wasting my time playing with a toy like PHP, because it would never be adopted and I should concentrate on learning .NET. That guy could probably still code circles around me, however I am still in the business and he works in a furniture warehouse. The moral of that story is not the one that would seem obvious, first of all he is happy doing what he does (project manager), and it isn’t about technology choices (.NET is still around and he was also a JAVA expert and DBA extraordinaire), the real moral is that what seems so obvious today will probably be completely wrong tomorrow. In the case of Android, anyone who thinks that a shift is coming and maybe it is time to pay attention is already at least two years too late. Even the stock market has figured it out, shouldn’t supposedly cutting edge designers and developers have already been on this? With the possible exception of SharePoint, hating a technology is stupid, and the stupid should be left behind.

        -19
  4. 7

    Your example of Google not following it’s own advice with the Action Bar is not very accurate. The AB wasn’t introduced until Android 3.0, which didn’t support phones. That’s why the Android 2.3 version of the gallery app didn’t have it, and why the Android 4.0 version did.

    0
    • 8

      Nikita Yermolayevs

      May 9, 2013 1:48 pm

      Excellent comment Craig, you’re exactly right, thanks for pointing this out. That’s what is curious in this case: Google design team gave specific example of using action bar pattern on compact mobile devices and I don’t remember it being in any of Google’s apps until Android 4.0. Even though, they’ve released 2.3 in-between with pretty substantial updates.

      To be honest, I don’t think it’s because they are lazy or anything, but because their goal was to bring consistent experience through all devices, big and small. And tablet-aimed 3.0 was an iteration, what actually helped bring everything together. Is there any reliable source of explanation?

      2
  5. 9

    Don’t forget that app discovery on Android is also being complemented by apps like Hooked (game recommendations) and Best Apps Market (free apps) which attempt to improve the app discovery experience for users, though improvements to the Google Play Store are always welcome!

    2
    • 10

      Nikita Yermolayevs

      May 9, 2013 3:21 pm

      Exactly, great point. Many third-party apps and even stores specific some app category help to improve discovery. The problem is, you still have to discover those third-party tools somehow.

      2
  6. 11

    I jumped on the Widget bandwagon about 8 months ago with one of my applications, and it has done wonders for my user base. If your widget gets its own space on a users screen, the usage of your application will go up dramatically. More space, more views.

    4
    • 12

      Nikita Yermolayevs

      May 9, 2013 4:18 pm

      That’s fantastic news and perfect example of why that much attention should be put into expanding app presence beyond the actual app. Thanks Dan.
      What’s your app name? Can you share your story with readers?

      2
  7. 13

    Some good points in the article, but I also find the title and the tone patronizing and condescending. (“Give Android a Chance?” Really? Looking at the installation base of Android maybe we should give Windows Mobile or iOS a chance?) Is it suggested that other mobile platforms have fully matured, while Android is only in the process of maturing? Is iOS considered a fully matured mobile OS? So what about the rumors of upcoming redesigns to the look of iOS, with more minimalism replacing skeumorphics? I guess that can also be called “maturing”.

    Do not get me wrong, I am not a fanboy for any camp; I use both Android and iOS on mobiles as I use Linux, OSX and Windows on desktops. I can honestly say there is no such thing as “best” or “most mature” system.

    Inconsistencies in Android apps? I guess every iOS app has the close button or representative X icon in the same corner of the screen? What about navigation buttons? Menus? Size, shape, style and color of UI elements?

    As far as the number of “great” apps on Android goes, that is purely subjective. I find some high-quality apps on iOS, and at the same time, I like the number of choices I have on Android. Then other times it is the other way round. “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.”, right? (Yes, that is one fanboyism you can accuse me of…)

    The word “fragmentation” is worth about as much as “amazing”, “beautiful” and “magical” in describing the worth of an application.

    Choice, whether in apps or in hardware, is invaluable. Unless, of course, you are a company who believes that “It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want”.

    3
    • 14

      Nikita Yermolayevs

      May 9, 2013 4:14 pm

      Thanks, Adam. We never meant to hurt anyone’s feelings with the article title or to start a holy war.
      Many designers and developers have gravitated towards iOS for their own reasons. It might be a matter of perception of course, but to many iOS seems like a better investment (we actually started as iPhone designers ourselves couple of years ago). Google had so much on a table to take care of in order to bring Android to the device manufacturers, they might have just neglected a thing or two on the first pass. :-) That’s fine, Han Solo supposed to be a big green monster with gills in the beginning, but in the end we’ve got something else, right? Changes in the platform was so radical, we think maturing would be a very good word for it.

      We hope more ‘high-quality’ apps will be available on Android, so it’d be best of both worlds.

      If the rumours of upcoming iOS design changes are true (I tend to believe it is), so far this looks more like a restyling, rather than bringing something as radical to the entire experience of working with iOS, as 4.0 was for Android. I think, putting design decisions into Ive’s hands, will at least bring software closer to the hardware. Who knows, maybe our next article will be about maturing iOS.

      Thanks for your comment, I appreciate your honesty.

      4
      • 15

        You are still discussing quality of apps like it means anything. Apple fairy tales like this really need to stop. When iOS users get apps like Tasker, App Factory, Locale, UCCW, or even a decent set of maps we can start to discuss the quality and variety of apps available. And those are just for unrooted phones. Factor in the sharing ability of Android apps and it isn’t even a contest.

        You are right about one thing, it is all about perception. A developer that builds something with iOS in mind and either does or doesn’t eventually put out an Android version is certainly going to perceive that the lack of his app in the Play Store means that iOS has better apps. So, they say so. Others like them say so. Now we have a meme, and the meme may shift public perception as well. It did in this case for some time. Not so much anymore.

        Give Tasker a try sometime, then get back to me with anything even remotely like it for the iPhone.

        -9
  8. 16

    There is no doubt that Android is easily ahead in the number of units in use world-wide, but the majority of these phones are being used as ‘dumb-phones’ – for calls and messaging, maybe the odd photo. Not automatically web-surfing / using apps.

    The figures bear this out:
    Which platform gets used most on the Internet?
    Android: 25%
    iOS: 61%
    Others: 14%;
    Read more: http://techland.time.com/2013/04/16/ios-vs-android/

    Given that Android totally outguns iOS in terms of units in use, these figures are particularly telling…

    5
    • 17

      Those statistics should be taken with a pinch of salt. NetMarket Share (the company where those stats are taken from) use a method of weighting which does not equate to actual use. Check the StatCounter stats from the link you provided for a different view.

      I work on a few major sites here in Malaysia and our own GA stats show (on average) relatively even use between the 2 platforms across a variety of sites and brands.

      In short, don’t necessarily take global or country wide stats from 3rd parties as gospel. Try as much as possible to use your own analytics data…

      4
  9. 19

    An interesting article that can be a useful starting point for designers who wants to design for Android. But there are a few things I feel I need to point out:

    Having designed apps for both iOS and Android, one of the major differences when designing for these two platform is the design approach. With iOS you have a clear boundaries for your canvas, you know what the width and height is, and you know it will always be the same. So when you want to design for iOS, you’ll start with setting up the canvas first, and then design in it, which in a way is similar to designing for print.

    Android, on the other hand, is more similar to designing for website (especially responsive website), since you won’t be able to determine or control the size of the screen that users have. Since there’s no fixed width & height (in terms of pixels) for your canvas, what this means is that you can’t think or measure UI elements in terms of pixels (like when designing for iOS). Instead you use DP (density-independent-pixel) as unit of measurement and start out with a reference canvas (e.g. a device with width = 360DP).

    I feel it’s important to mention this fundamental difference in design approach, so that designers, especially those coming from iOS, know what to expect, and don’t get frustrated when they can’t figure out how to set up their canvas.

    The article did talk about using DP to define layout, but I feel the link you gave was meant more for developer rather than designers. Why not use this link instead (http://developer.android.com/design/style/metrics-grids.html), which is part of the design guideline.

    In the part where it talks about considering older version of Android at the end it says “If you intend for the app to run on older platforms, create a separate version of the app for those devices.”, which is actually quite against what the guideline suggests (see in this link http://developer.android.com/google/play/publishing/multiple-apks.html).

    With the official “Compatibility Package” from android, as well as third-party libraries (e.g Action Bar Sherlock), most of the time you can design apps that look up-to-date, that also works in older version, with just a single APK.

    And lastly, you didn’t mention “Android Design in Action”, which is a really valuable resource when learning how to design for Android.

    5
  10. 20

    On alignment and grid: I really miss the Photoshop ruler and guide lines in Eclipse on the Graphical Layout. It would make my life much easier.

    0
  11. 21

    Hi there to all, because I am actually keen of reading this web site’s post to be updated regularly. It consists of fastidious material.

    -7
  12. 22

    Here in Sweden 70% are still using iOS and iOS is growing.

    Android users in sweden are still not using apps. The don´t surf the net in any high grade.
    I have been in some projects where we made apps for all the major plattforms. iOS users downloaded our apps and used it. For Android some downloaded the app but only a few used it. So i think it´s a dead end plattform nowdays in sweden.

    All new startups in Sweden are nowdays onlye devolping for iOS. And i think it´s the rigt decision for Sweden as a market.

    0
    • 23

      Actually, Apple and iOS is on the decline in Sweden and not at 70% as above mentioned, and the latest statistics for a global perspective puts the sales for Android vs. iOS for Q1 2013 at 74.4% for Android and 18.2% for iOS devices, and Sweden is usually following that curve.

      Why does then Apple users download and use apps and not the Android users as above stated. I think your own perspective is to blame here, well not only that. I assume you focus alot on iOS and not so much on Android, and have less experience with Android. So, it’s a logical conclusion that the app for iOS was/is better than the one for Android, resulting in minimal usage. Also, Android user do not like it when an Android app looks like an iOS-app, this is a common turn-off.

      Also, apps are not the future and not the determining factor of a platform. That is 2010-thinking. From my experience Android user have higher expectation on functionality and regard apps plainly “ported” from iOS as mainly useless since it lacks certain elements, such as widgets for example. Another thing to consider is that many apps are simply a (usually) worse substitute for a web-app/site and thus not usable.

      So encouraging developers to narrow their scope and just to focus on one single (and in sales, now dwindling) platform is probably not a good business decision. Instead, focus on providing actual useful content for both platform with equal functionality instead with designs following the different platform guidelines.

      In the end, have you considered that iOS app users just use ALL the apps out there and the Android users have actual demands on functionality?

      1
    • 24

      just replied to your comment below

      0
  13. 25

    The term “Maturity” is a bit over estimated.
    Android has always been open for experimentation. It is powerful yet can be playful.Depends upon the developers skills and courage to explore.
    Of course standardization on UX is a bit lagging…
    Android is global catering to multiple devices, so design is bit chellenging than IOS which is strictly based on Apple Hardware.
    Android market share is ever increasing as more and more hardware manufactures are adapting it.
    No doubt that android will be the future!!!!

    3
  14. 26

    An interesting article for sure. Whilst I can’t quite agree with Joe Power’s comments on Android as a whole, I do share his frustration that developers don’t take Android more seriously. Whilst things are improving, there are still some very poor apps out there (e.g. Match.com – crashes when scrolling lists…sigh) and standards like that just aren’t acceptable. The flipside of things is that Android offers far more to users and developers because it treats the hardware as a computer, not just an app platform.

    I’ve owned iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices, and for me… nothing beats the little green robot for features and hardware.

    2
    • 27

      > I do share his frustration that developers don’t take Android more seriously.

      Exactly the reason why we wrote this article — devs might take Android seriously, but in order for them to be able to create great user experiences for their products, they need good UX/UI designers as well.

      If you are a designer, we hope that after reading this you will be a little bit more excited when someone offers you to participate in an Android project =)

      3
      • 28

        As a designer, and someone who frequently meddles with Android phones (despite not being able to code or develop at all) I’d love to be involved with designing an Android app. I think the more designers that start taking Android seriously the better… Apple gets too much love.

        3
  15. 29

    sharron scriven

    May 13, 2013 7:54 pm

    Hello
    Alex Komarov and Nikita Yermolayev,
    The great news for Android users.
    I miss this photo editing software,Where I found it?Please tell me.Thanks for good share.

    -3
  16. 30

    Having read this I believed it was extremely enlightening. I appreciate you finding the time and effort to put this article together. I once again find myself spending way too much time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!

    1
  17. 31

    Great article.

    0
  18. 32

    Aw, this was an exceptionally nice post. Finding the time and actual effort to generate a top notch article… but what can I say… I put things off a whole lot and never seem to get nearly anything done.

    -2
  19. 33

    It is interesting that you mentioned that, Nils.
    I don’t know many swedish people, but the ones I do know all have a great sense of aesthetic and functional elegance. As simple and feature-rich as Android may be, I can easily see why the iPhone becomes a platform of choice for such people.

    Having said that, I believe that the situation can change sooner then we might expect.
    Mobile world is not even close to being balanced. Cellphones are not like potatoes or corn, things change really, really fast in the world of mobile. All it takes is for one platform to screw up, or miss a turn, and for another to step up. This gap can form dramatically fast. After all, look at RIM a few years ago, dominating the mobile market, and look at it now, desperately trying to win it back. (And I really hope they succeed btw, cause they are doing a terrific job.)

    Chances are that that’s exactly what we might see in the near future between iPhone and Android. I am not saying it will happen, but I can certainly entertain the idea that it could. iPhone was a revolution at the time, but nowadays it’s just one of the phones available (A damn good one, I have to say, but hardly a revolution anymore). Android was able to compete with iPhone even in the early days, when the platform was very messy. So picture what can happen now, when Android is much more robust and polished.

    Now back to your point about Android being virtually dead in Sweden — I think the choice of platform largely boils down to the software available on that platform (as the hardware is usually on par between the same price categories, with some wiggle room). You can even argue that whoever has a better app ecosystem, gets a significant favor in winning the battle for consumer’s heart.

    I might be terribly wrong, but I will guess that iPhone’s success in Sweden has something to do with iPhone apps that swedish people enjoy using.
    Now let’s picture how these apps ended up on their iPhones in the first place: imagine a designer, or an entrepreneur, thinking about creating a new mobile product a few years ago. (If a certain app/software is available right now, that means someone should’ve conceived it back then.)
    Android was in a much, much worse shape back then (the point of this article). And by the same token, iPhone felt somewhat more magical at that time.
    So if you had to make a decision which platform to target, usually you would gravitate towards the iPhone. Now imagine thousands of designers, developers and entrepreneurs making this decision every time they started a new project. You can easily see why we ended up with lots of great apps on the iPhone, and not so many yet on Android.
    Me and Nikita believe that over the past few years lots of things converged and Android has matured. What this means is that if the same designer or an entrepreneur faces the same question Today, there is a better chance that he decides to build something for Android compared to a few years ago.

    Consequently, this means that a couple years from now, we will start seeing much more great Android apps then Today.

    Who knows, you might even find yourself walking down the streets of Stockholm in 2016, noticing that many people around you are holding Android devices in their hands.

    3
  20. 34

    Interesting developments:

    On HTC w/ Facebook Home:
    After initial negative reactions, Facebook promised to improve the UI overlay, having found out too late that it runs counter to the normal way Android users interact with their phones in many ways. Widgets, docks, and folders are very important to the Android experience, but Facebook failed to take note, according to TechCrunch, because there are too few employees “‘droidfooding” Facebook products.

    http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2013/05/facebook-home-flagship-phone-htc-first-may-be-discontinued/?utm_content=buffer1db9a&utm_source=buffer&utm_medium=linkedin&utm_campaign=Buffer

    3
  21. 35

    Some numbers just became available, that prove the point in my previous comment:

    “Customers not as happy with iPhone as they were last year”
    http://news.cnet.com/8301-1035_3-57585293-94/customers-not-as-happy-with-iphone-as-they-were-last-year/

    2
  22. 36

    Hello,
    In the official android documentation, it’s mentioned that : Action bar icons for phones should be 32×32 dp.
    (refer docs : http://developer.android.com/design/style/iconography.html#action-bar)

    And you specified in your post that the recommended size for Action Bar buttons should be 48x48dp.

    (text copied from your post )=============================================
    The recommended size for buttons in the action bar is 48 DP, which will result in different pixel sizes on different screens, but you don’t have to worry about that.
    ====================================================================
    You should correct this error , because the 48x48dp is recommended for the Launcher icon app , and the height of the action bar.

    Am i wrong ?

    NB : your blog is awesome , if you have some time , take a look at my blog and add any remark to advise me : http://www.android-ios-tutorials.com , Thanks in advance

    0

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