Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The new Google Maps design - content first.

Google have updated their Google Maps app for Android. This update is a big change from the previous app version. The new app shows couple of very interesting new design choices.

Old app version on the left and new one on the right.

Probably the most noticeable change is that Google has done away with the action bar altogether. The new design leaves more space to the actual content. This feels like a good design choice for an app like this where the content is basically everything. The only UI components that overlay the map are search bar and few small buttons.

The new design replaces the action bar with a drawer on the left side of the screen. This implementation is not the navigation drawer pattern introduced just before Google IO this year and nor should it be. This drawer is for map options and not for navigation.

The age old problem in Android design has been having drawers with content that pans with drag. Google has solved this issue with a subtle but noticeable handle peaking from the left side of the screen.  The drawer handle design is great. The size does not obstruct the map view and the location in on the bottom of the screen clearly indicates that it is not a navigation drawer even though it uses a very similar icon.

Third noticeable design change is the way the app handles showing information of any selected place. The location information component is now integral part of the map UI. User can swipe the component up to see more information and down to dismiss it. The whole interaction is tweaked very carefully to make sure that user never loses the context and the context is the map. This component is such a pleasant thing to use!

I've never before been so delighted when using a new app. Every single interaction was instantly intuitive and pleasant to use. This app is a design masterpiece. If anyone had any doubt that sliding things around touch UI wasn't the best way to interact try this app and see for yourself.

This app is something every developer and designer should study. Then again, always remember that no design choice can be blindly copied. It's all about the app context. We should not start removing action bars from our apps because this app is great and it doesn't have one. It is still something that most apps need. This is a very good reminder to us all that patterns are solutions to problems. If you don't have the problem a pattern solves don't use the pattern. 

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