I want to start by saying that I love my iPhone. I’m a straight up fanboy (duh, I’m a designer), but as I’ve been designing for Belly’s Android app I’ve started battling myself over the idea of making the leap to Android. When iOS 7 came out, it nearly pushed me over the edge. BUT IT’S OK GUYS! I still haven’t made the switch… at least not quite yet.
Android is on the right path with Android 4.4, but there are still a few key hurdles to overcome. Apple needs to seriously step their game up with the next iOS release to regain the attention of their users.
Android is straight up killing iOS when it comes to innovation. No joke. Android made A TON of progress towards creating a standardized user experience by empowering developers with new design patterns in the last few releases of Android, and it’s finally paying off.
They did something right when they introduced the Holo design style. It was unique, it wasn’t trendy, it was tasteful, it was Google! If you ignore the Windows Metro UI (like we all do anyways), it was really one of the big pushers of the flat design trend. And yea, sure, it isn’t completely flat, but it does a wonderful job of organizing and structuring content cleanly and correctly. Not to mention it implicitly suggested the removal of skeuomorphism in Android apps.
Integrating Google Now/Search right into the homescreen in 4.4 was brilliant. Google Now in general is a brilliant idea. Real time info relevant to me and my location, and quick access to the entire Google ecosystem right at my fingertips. Apple tried to do the same thing with the Today tab inside Notification Center, but failed to add meaningful, real-time content that Google Now is able to display. They don’t have the kind of meta data about you that Google has.
I could go on and on listing off a slew of small but brilliant innovative ideas happening in Android, but I’d rather get to the real point here…
Apple made absolutely NO INNOVATION with the release of iOS 7. Like seriously guys, NONE! When I say innovation, I am talking about products that change our behaviour as users for the better. Innovation solves issues we are used to dealing with. Instead, they played catch up with innovations and features introduced by Google and others, then slapped some flat lipstick on a rotting pig carcass. No, changing the UI is not innovation. That was following a trend to please users because they had nothing better to introduce, but I’ll dig into the design bit here in a minute.
They have at least 6 years of data and research, around their operating system. Why didn’t they spend more time translating this data and research into innovative products? What was the underlying issue that led them to put so much time and effort in completely overhauling the UI? Users are dumb, we think we know what we want, but we don’t really know. We all said we wanted a new UI for iOS, but Apple took that a little too literal. A simple cleanup of the UI was all that was needed. Get rid of skeuomorphism here, flatten some gradients there, zap some shadows over there… BOOM, much better. Now take that time you saved not completely rebuilding the UI and give us some amazing features we had no idea we wanted, or better yet, needed! We are happy because we got a facelift like we wanted, but we are also ecstatic because we got some amazing innovative products that have now simplified our lives. That’s what should have happened. Instead we got Jony Ive Redesigns Things.
Holo Design vs iOS 7 Design
A ton of us designers have our panties up in a twist over iOS 7 because of trivial things like the odd proportions of the icons, the nauseating parallax, and UI inconsistencies to boot. All that stuff doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the fact that they went completely overboard with the concept of flattening.
I’m convinced their entire design team got drunk and decide to troll all of us. What the hell did they do to buttons? Is that a header bar or a section divide? Why isn’t there a consistent input box style? Wait, how do I even know that’s an input box?
The worst part is that there is no way to clearly cluster related content. Containers span the entire window, then are separated by a very confusing thick grey line. Sure, I’ll figure it out, just like I will with the buttons, but you sure as hell could have found a more intuitive way to do it. No margins? WHAT?
Look at Android, they found an intuitive way to cluster and organize content. All hail Android’s “cards” paradigm! Cards are brilliant. It’s a super clear way to display content in a grouped yet easy to follow way. You know when the content area ends because it’s clearly contained in its own section. Headers are properly attached to the container (card) rather than awkwardly sitting in that lame excuse of a content divider.
#YOLOHOLO. So watch out Apple. Google has some serious design forces behind them now. Don’t let Google out-design you. Hell, who am I kidding? They already are. Steal your thunder back!
Why Android Still Can’t Win (yet)
Between the massive amount of innovation and the new found design consistency, they are definitely on the right track. But there are still a handful of issues surrounding Android that they must overcome before they can fulfil their plan of world domination.
1) Android is still considered the cheap option. Thanks to the massive innovation in the last few versions of Android, as well as some solid hardware options like the Nexus 5 and HTC One, this is slowly starting to shift. However with the free-on-contract cheap plastic phones running four year old versions of the OS being sold today, the average consumer experience just leaves a bad taste. The luxury status of buying an iPhone (even all the way back to the iPhone 4s) still stands alone. It might take a decade for the next generation to come in with no preconceived knowledge of what Android once was for this to change.
2) Developing for Android isn’t as glamorous as for iPhone. The extremely fragmented versions of Android, the insane number of screen resolutions and sizes, as well as limitations with animations all add up to a pretty lackluster developer experience. Not to mention the developer tools aren’t nearly as polished as Apple’s. As a result, fewer quality (or impatient…) engineers are going to be interested in building an Android app over an iPhone app. In return, less quality and innovative apps are being developed on Android. Again, I think this is solved with time. As the old devices phase out, and new versions of the SDK get released, this should eventually work itself out. We recently limited updates of our Android app to Android 4.0+ devices only in order to give our members the best experience possible on modern devices. Hopefully this is something other companies will do as well. Here’s a great article on reasons why you should.
And now the big issue for Android…
3) Companies prioritize iPhone. All of the points above tie into this in some way. Android’s app downloads are higher than iPhone, but iPhone apps generate more direct revenue. From a business perspective and the pure numbers alone, it usually makes more sense to start with an iPhone app. Companies are building Android apps sooner than they used to, but the majority of startups still launch with iPhone apps first.
This is the main reason why I won’t make the jump. I need the latest and greatest apps, and they go with iPhone first. Solving this issue is tough for sure, but if market share grows, and they are able to fix the points mentioned above, they should see a lot more traction by companies from the get go.
The Final Word
I’m close to switching, but Google still has a steep hill to climb before it can win over Apple’s die hard fanboys like myself. It’s in the foreseeable future though, as long as they keep their head down and plow through with more amazing innovation. And if Apple keeps polishing turds rather than pushing real innovation, then that will make things that much easier for Google. I for one can’t wait to see how this war unfolds.