Monday, 12 December 2011

Elsewhere in the Web - Google App Consistency

Just a few days ago Google released their next big app for Android. Currents. The app isn't available in Europe for some incomprehensible reason but it can be installed by downloading the APK.

Although the app has interesting interaction models and some neat UI tricks it doesn't follow any of Google's already established UI patterns. Simply everything in the app is different.

Google breaking their own UI conventions isn't a new problem. Min Ming Lo has collected a large number of Google's Android app in his blog and compared their UIs. Some of his points don't really make sense. I don't think having same UI to the pixel in differently branded apps is that important. Different separators and slightly different tabs really isn't a problem. But when the whole UI model is reinvented too often it will cause problems to the platform consistency.

[Update 2011-12-13]
Nick Butcher commented about the Min Ming Lo's post at G+.

I would like to weigh in on dividers between items in the Action Bar (mentioned in +Min Ming Lo's original post). By default the system will place dividers between:
- Overflow button and others
- Text action item and another item where it would disambiguate which item the text belongs to.
- No divider between App title section and Actions

The system has no visibility of what's in an custom ActionView so doesn't attempt to do anything there. Leave it up to the system on Honeycomb+ and follow these rules if creating your own backward compatible AB and lets all have nice consistent UIs :)

Also the 'bottom action bar' is referred to as the 'Split Action bar' - consider it a single control.


  1. I am much too used to Android to use an app that has on screen back buttons. Especially when they are millimeters away from the system back button.

  2. I totally agree with Min Ming Lo. I'm not a designer but a front web designer, i'm a huge fan of Google on many points, but the UI situation is driving me nuts.
    Maybe ICS will help with consistency (some UI widgets like the Actionbar and tabs seems more polished), but i'm not sure about the UX.
    The new menu button for exemple : it's freaking everywhere! :D Top right, bottom right or on the Navbar (if not implemented in the app).
    Sometimes there is an icon with up navigation in the Actionbar, sometimes directly tabs, or those ones are below.
    Anyway, i'm still getting a Nexus Galaxy soon, and i hope things are going to be better on the UI/UX plan, with guys like Mathias Duarte in the team.

  3. I'd love to see stricter quality control on Android apps that are released under Google's name. They should be the shining example of app design which whey are in many cases. Then on other cases they just destroy the hard work that has gone into the other apps.

  4. At least they are trying to get consistent with their web apps now. With Android it seems that with Honeycomb for the first time a designer was in charge of the design and not an engineer. Maybe it will be put on the agenda even if it is not at the moment, obviously. They will have a hard time streamlining. I don't understand how this problem didn't occur to them beforehand. Sure, it has to work and the programming model / API has to be great. But design and marketing are equally important for a product.

    I always stumble over the icons in the new market app's menu. Different style than in other apps (and the style guide). At least not in color. Yet.

    If the devices, apps and capabilities are nearly the same across platforms details are becoming diffentiators. Like: Do I need to look at the corporation logo when I use the product to not forget who produced it? - No. I want exactly nothing in my view that is basically just an ad. I don't know if there is a single Android device where the manufacturer's name is not always in my view when using it. While it is only a detail (another one) this will be on my list the next time I buy a device.

  5. I think that this particular app is an exception : it has apparently been developmental separately from the Android team at Google. I imagine that if this app is here too stay (I think it is, it is not just an experimentation like Google Gesture, which gave birth to android 4 search widget) at some point in the future, they will enforce ICS design.