Mar 05 AT 7:00 AM Brian Stringfellow 46 Comments

Cleaner, unified Android interface is key to reaching the masses

Android is doing well gaining market share, but to be more appealing to the masses (not the techno nerds) it needs a simpler interface. Ah, the iPhone. The iPhone geeks jailbreak their devices to get their nerd boner, but most people aren’t willing or don’t know how to do that.

The one-button device with a colorized Palm Pilot OS, often the source of ridicule, has turned out to be quite popular. Children and the elderly are able to use it with very little direction and AOL users from middle America feel right at home with it.

Android users are different, apparently, and have resisted the iPhone for various reasons. This writing is not intended to debate which is better, rather it is a discussion of how Android will gain more ground in the future.

Device manufacturers are aware of this shortcoming and have developed user interfaces (UI) to gain more appeal. HTC, Motorola, Samsung and Sony Ericsson have each created their own version of how an Android phone should look and feel to the user. The problem here is that it creates separation where there should be unity. As Open Handset Alliance (OHA) members, a collaborative effort to develop a unified interface would go a long way toward promoting Android and leveraging their collective contributions.

Of course, it’s not that simple. There are egos at stake. Everyone wants to be the Steve Jobs, but that isn’t what Android needs. Even if these companies come together and create a simplified Android UI, some other vendor will come along and try to steal the show with its own. What is important is that the key players are on the same page and keep the door open to the small players.

This is about shoring up the inevitable fragmentation borne into Android’s design. Android was conceived to promote multiple form factors, price points, resolutions and processors. What was not predicted was the multiple UIs laid on top of Android that change the user experience. To the average user, this removes all sense of familiarity and we are people that like Starbucks and McDonald’s. In short, Sense UI is good for HTC, but bad for Android and is therefore, short sighted.

This is not to say that the default Android UI (1.5 – 2.1) is complex by any means, it simply doesn’t cater to the least common denominator as well as the iPhone (e.g. having the Settings under the Menu button seems to throw people off). It’s safe to assume one of the goals for Android 3.0 will be to address UI simplicity. Not that it should mimic the iPhone necessarily, just that the primary interface should be dumbed down to the same degree. It might help the platform immensely if every Android device shipped with the same ‘Android for dummies’ interface as the default with options to overlay UIs like Sense, Blur, etc.

Brian has an unhealthy fascination with high tech gadgets working in the information assurance business in San Diego. Outside of work, he is often found staring into the back side of a big camera at his kids' sporting events or perched at a keyboard researching the latest developments in information technology/security and consumer electronics, but has been known to beat on drums and ride a snowboard.

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