I have a love-hate relationship with Android 4.0 and the Holo theme used throughout the UI. It’s definitely a step in the right direction, but there’s still a few design choices I’ve never liked about Android that haven’t changed. They can be found in all of the Google developed apps for Android 4.0 except one. The new Chrome beta. Which is quite possibly the best looking piece of software Google has ever made.
After just a couple hours with Android 4.0, you can get a good idea of how any app Google could possibly release for Android will look and feel from this point forward. If you had to really dumb it down and describe Android 4.0 with two main characteristics, you could easily say ICS is all about sharp corners and the color blue. Gmail, Google Talk, Music and the People app are all great examples of this, but you don’t even need to look further than the notification bar.
The signal indicator is a sharp triangle, the battery icon is a sharp rectangle and both are permanently tinted blue. Sharp corners and the color blue. I can understand Google’s use of triangles and corners throughout Holo, it sets their UI apart from the competition. But I’ll never understand why they became so fixated on one color. Every highlight, toggle and animation some how involves one single color.
It’s not that this kind of consistency is bad for a platform. Android really needs consistency if Google ever wants it to be hailed as one of the top consumer friendly operating systems. But I can’t possibly be the only one who thinks there is too much blue in Android 4.0. Just like there was too much green and orange in Android before that. I was really expecting to see some major changes in Android 4. Not just a color switch and some tighter corners. Sure, a lot more than that has changed, but in everyday use, it doesn’t really feel like it.
If I had my way, Android would look and feel more like the new Chrome beta.
Matias Duarte has essentially taken over in the design department at Google. Before that, he worked on a number of other mobile platforms including the highly praised webOS. Still to this day, webOS remains one of the absolute best looking operating systems to ever grace the industry. The folks behind Chrome mobile have captured the soul of webOS, and stuffed it into what is already one of the best looking smartphone browsers the world has ever seen.
If Matias didn’t have a hand in the design behind Chrome for Android, I would be blown away. The icons and animations found throughout the app share a lot with webOS. Especially in the tab selection screen. The depth and smooth animations in the tab screen are so similar to webOS’ cards, you might think you were actually using HP’s late, great operating system.
When you first press the tabs button, there’s a very pleasant animation that bring you into the multiple tab screen. Instead of seeing a blue glow when you pull your stack of tabs (which just so happen to be represented by cards) up or down, the tabs lean with a 3D animation that creates depth. You can also tilt your device to get the same 3D effect. If you’re done with a tab, you can press the small etched “x” in the top right corner, or simply flick it to the right. Either way, the card, I mean tab, fades out of existence.
You can also transition between tabs by swiping left or right. By swiping in either direction from the edge of your display, your current tab shrinks into a smaller rounded card. You can keep swiping to push it out of the way, where the next tab (also represented by a card) will then grow to fill your screen.
On the Android 4.0 homescreen, swiping all the way in one direction prompts a blue glowing holographic rectangle to appear that tilts sideways to let you know you’ve reached the end. When swiping horizontally through tabs in Chrome, the last tab in either direction tilts in the same way. But since it’s the tab itself shifting, it actually makes sense.
After playing around for awhile in the Chrome beta, I couldn’t help but wonder why this isn’t what Android 4.0 looks like. There’s some small similarities here and there, but overall Chrome doesn’t look like every other app Google has released or updated recently. Or the core UI for that matter.
The multitasking screen in Android 4.0 looks nothing like the multiple tabs screen in Chrome, yet a similar swiping motion can be used in either for getting rid of unwanted items. Chrome’s multiple tab screen looks leagues better than the multitasking screen though.
Chrome for Android is incredibly polished. It features a totally new level of design that is new to Google software. It doesn’t just look different, it creates its own wonderful experience. With every little animation and gesture in Chrome, I kept finding myself surprised at how much I enjoyed browsing the web on my Nexus S. That was when it really dawned on me. This is what I wanted to feel in Android 4.0. Instead, I was left wanting more.
The question now is what happens next. Does Android 4 get updated to look and function more like Chrome, or does Chrome get updated to look and function more like Android 4.0? If Android was updated to look more like Chrome, one could hardly argue it wouldn’t be one of the best looking operating systems available. For now though, I’d say that’s seriously debatable.
Of course that’s just my opinion. And no opinion piece would be complete without some input from you. What do you think of the design in Chrome for Android? Should Android adapt to be more like Chrome, or should Chrome get the Holo treatment?