Feb 09 AT 12:34 PM Dustin Earley 61 Comments

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.

Sharp corners and the color blue.

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.

From left to right: Android 4.0's blue hologram, Chrome's tilt animation.

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.

Discarding an unwanted tab never looked so good.

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?

Portions of this page are reproduced from work created and shared by the Android Open Source Project and used according to terms described in the Creative Commons 2.5 Attribution License.

Dustin Earley: Tech enthusiast; avid gamer; all around jolly guy.

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  • ranwanimator

    It could be said that there’s too much green on this site.

    • Lekz

      Most relevant comment.

    • Angie Wimberly

      I didn’t write this article, haha.

    • jsweetser2

      I think Google responded to the lighter colors burning screens. I know it’s hard to do, but my Nexus One burned the battery and antennae icon in the top corner after a year with Android 2.0 before going to the darker look in the notification bar. It wasn’t noticeable until the screen went white during loads but it was still there. I like whites, grays and lighter colors by design, and i also like darker looks for their functionality. Android is morphing fast, as more and more people become involved and I think the ‘perfect’ blend of function and form is close at hand.

      • dcds


        Besides, although some elements of the Chrome design are just awesome (the animations and so on…), I prefer much much more the ICS look.

        If those things were applied to Android, it would be the best of both worlds.

        Tip: about the desktop, you gotta understand that the desktop is like an invisible layer over the ether (wallpaper scenario).

        • Gui Saba

          the tilting effect on the ICS update for the GSII looks a lot like the tabs tilting in Chrome. thereĀ“s no blue highlight, just the “invisible” panel with the icons tilting. looks really nice.

        • muii

          I agree, the Chrome might be well polished and quite a success, I’m definitly convinced by the Blue Holo theme. I think Google could go with a colored theme by version, they will evolve this way I think.
          Even if Chrome design is successul, I can’t help to think you’re wrong and it shows the past of interfaces. Holo goes toward the future, you’ll get use to it !

          • dcds

            Don’t get me wrong, I like it. What I’m saying is that I like the polish and the “sophistication” of Chrome UI (mainly the fluid, lifelike animations), and if those elements could be applied in the future to the Android system as a whole, ***while maintaining the Holo look***, then I’d be glad.

    • http://youtube.com/user/jawckamoe Marcus

      Dude, I died at your comment XD

    • http://www.focuszonedevelopment.com Homncruse

      Holy crap, over 100 +1s?

      Use your power wisely, my friend.

  • kk

    I honestly feel like you’re complaining.

    Really all 4.0 changed was adding blue and “tighter corners”.

  • skitchbeatz

    Personally, I like Android 4.0′s handling of items better than Chrome’s

    • eallan

      I agree.

      I think chrome is utilitarian and functional, but it’s sparse and not-exciting. Chrome has no personality or soul. At least ICS chose and stuck with a “feel.” I think futuristic and tron-like is an excellent choice for a geeky operating system on mobile devices.

      It’s fun and neat.

  • Wunako

    i agree with you as far as the blue color goes, its a little over done. Not saying i dont like ICS, hell i love it but i always liked the simplistic design they had not only on chrome but on the web apps as well, hopefully little by little they will gradually join the chrome and the current android into one fused UI, cause as much as the chrome beta is nice, ICS has a LOT of improvements its almost easier on the eyes then iOS

  • Drewsipher

    Chrome is the best mobile browser I have ever used even if it is still beta. And maybe move some of the animations and the cards and such over but where I disagree with you is the colors. The blue.colors, the sharp corners, all of them feel to me futuristic. Its like I’m in Blade Runner or some other cyber punk future. I always liked a more clean minimal approach to Ui which is why I chose android. To me the UI in ics feels very streamlined and I enjoy that. I think both the chrome mobile.team and the android UI/ux team can learn from each other.

  • Dan

    Maybe Chrome shows what’s going to come?
    I mean, it’s been a while since they made the theme and concepts of ICS, and maybe Chrome is just an updated version of Halo that’ll eventually arrive in further versions of Android..?
    My problem with Halo and ICS right now is not the blue.. But it’s all the black.. It’s all so dark and in some way depressing.. I wish they had choosen a more light grey or creamish/sandish white.. It could look so beautiful! But I guess that’s what we have themes from OEMs and the rooting community for..

    • BruceCLin

      I love the black aesthetically and the power saving on amoled screens.

  • Daniel

    I like both.

  • Max.Steel

    That’s why it’s not good to place too much hype on a product until you’ve tried it out. Visiting this site pre-Galaxy Nexus release, you would think this phone was going to be the end of the world…


    I love ics to much to complain about anything right now . Chrome however is sexy


    I like the primary color icons of Google’s various app icons. I would like if they could tastefully add those mix of colors to the OS.

  • spazby

    Great review. Google, please make it available for at least gingerbread…

  • md

    Chrome for Android looks like that, because it looks like Chrome on Desktop.

    As for Chrome on older versions, it ain’t possible because of lack of HW acceleration from 3.x and up. Get over it.

  • shailesh goyal

    i completely agree with you.. used crome and it was an awesome experience.. android must adopt chrome like theme..

    • BruceCLin

      I vote no. Keep the black.

  • Gone

    I agree the design in Chrome Beta is amazing, I really enjoy browsing on my Nexus S now!

    And Martias had nothing to do with the design, this was all Roma Shah!

    Video: Behind The Design Of Chrome Beta

  • AsakuraZero

    its true, but if i remember correctly on the presentation of ICS, they said that android 4 was just a beggining of the new android era, so yeah its too soon to say anything else

  • PhineasJW

    I’m wondering how other Nexus S users are finding Chrome’s performance?

    On my Nexus S, I’m almost completely unable to scroll a webpage while it’s loading, as if the loading process is taking an absolute 100% of the CPU/GPU.

    And by still loading, I mean it’s showing ~75% loaded on the bar.

    Any other Nexus S users seeing similar performance issues?

    • Gone

      It is a bit flakey at times on my T-Mobile Nexus S stock 4.0.3, but it renders much quicker than the stock browser, and again the design is just amazing so I can deal with it as y default until they iron out all the bugs…it is still in beta after all!

  • http://droidsamurai.blogspot.com DroidSamurai

    I like the ICS 4.0 look & feel more than the Chrome’s. The Holo theme’s darker palette is easier on my eyes. I also like the sharp corner a lot more than the rounded corner (such as the tabs of Chrome.)

  • iHateiPhone

    this has to be a joke…..ICS is effin beautiful…..and the blue is what makes it that way! SAMOLED HD plus blue and black equals SEXYYYY

  • thekaz

    to each his own. I think that’s one of the good things about Android… wouldn’t be surprised if someone came out with a Chrome theme or Chrome-looking ROM. At least then you could have most or all of your experience mimic Chrome’s look and feel.

    with iOS, it is much more difficult to change.

  • MitchRapp81

    Too much white on this site.

  • jasonlee

    I’ve been putting dark themes on my phones since the g1. I love how ics looks. In fact I am still using a dark theme on my gnex. In my opinion, the white theme of chrome beta is bland. I also don’t care for it’s set up. Stock browser all day

  • Black Kristos

    Completely disagree. I think Chrome looks like a minimalist KDE skin from 1998. It’s too bright and empty for me. I think ICS is great and the best looking UI on the market.

  • Robin

    I prefer the black and blue theme on ICS, much easier on the eyes especially in the dark

  • Ps3y3Ops

    Google always tries new and different and when something really clicks, they look for ways to include design in other products without overkill. That’s INNOVATION! ( take THAT scrapple! )

  • https://plus.google.com/105652260730187717963/posts erik knudsen

    I prefer darker colors in the Android UI and in as many apps as possible. I say this because I do a lot of late night gaming and reading. Darker colors are much better for that. Plus…think of the energy that could be saved. I mean…blackle.com changed the world didn’t it?

  • msgnyc

    Your not alone Dustin. You are not alone….

  • greeny42

    I like blue!

  • Qrkchrm

    I love the ICS theme, particularly how dark it is with faint blue halos to signify UI aides. On the similar Honeycomb theme it looked pretty awful because no tablet had an AMOLED screen. On the Xoom in particular, the theme just made the already mediocre screen look awful, as the screen just couldn’t produce the deep blacks to make the hints of holographic color look good. They ended up just looking washed out. I think the Xoom would have sold a lot better if google had given it a lighter theme so the screen problems wouldn’t be as noticeable. On my Galaxy Nexus, however, I love the theme dearly. The deep blacks on the Galaxy Nexus’ screen makes those “holographic” hints of blue that Google uses as UI clues really pop. I love the simplicity of the theme, though I suppose I wouldn’t be opposed to a few more colors. I use a black background, so my phone looks like a Nokia N9 … another gorgeous device. I love Chrome on Android, but I wouldn’t mind if they went a little darker on the theme to fit ICS rather than the other way around.

  • David

    I think you nailed it. Chrome is gorgeous and the transitions are beautiful. The simplistic look is outstanding. Android 4.0 is much better looking than the previous versions, but the sharp angles and vibrant blues make it almost to edgy and “hard” compared to chromes suddle but polished look

  • h0ruza

    Chrome looks ace but lets not get out of hand. I’m fine with the path Android is taking and if I was to jump up every time Google changed the look of one of its apps I would lose my mind and run through the streets naked.

    Seen as it’s winter in the UK that would be life endangering :)

  • Slith

    Got my Nexus yesterday and Chrome was the first app I installed. Even the ding dong at Verizon was excited about it.

  • Craig

    I actually like Holo a lot and though I’m a huge Chrome fan, I think the default browser actually looks a lot better.

    I like how the URL at the top is larger. I like how the URL bar disappears. I think the tab previews are actually easier to see and more functional in the standard browser. It has “save for offline” and “request desktop site.” It doesn’t re-adjust text sizes to try to make things easier to read. It also just looks like it fits much better with the OS because of its black theme. I like the black transparent background of suggested URLs more than the white in Chrome.

    Overall, IMO, the standard browser is still just better.

    • Craig

      Come on people, this isn’t a dumb comment, I’m a huge Android and Chrome fan and this is a sincere opinion with valid points. Why downvote without even replying and providing a reason why you disagree?

  • Adam Curtis

    Chrome is awesome atm, and I do really enjoy all the aspects of it. I don’t know how much they would pull from Chrome to ICS, but I do really like the tabs window. However, I wish they had the option to make the tabs have a darker theme, as with the AMOLED screen I really like dark themes. (For example, a black swype theme for my keyboard I really enjoy)

  • nsnsmj

    I’m sorry Mr. Earley, but you don’t make a compelling argument.

  • http://keridel.blogspot.com keridel

    i have to agree with most of the comments here. ICS is beautiful.


    the chrome app is what i think all other Gapps should be judged by. the G+ app is shocking and although the calender and gmail have had a makeover they would look a damn sight better if they took on some of chrome’s best bits.

  • teudster

    I was already frustrated that I couldn’t try the Chrome beta on my evo4G. This article just accentuated the problem…geee thanks !

  • jamal adam

    Chrome looks great but ICS looks delicious.

  • ZackC456

    I kinda like the Holo theme more. Wouldn’t mind seeing some of the interactions in Chrome beta in ICS though – granted, I’m still waiting for my upgrade.

  • narunetto

    I don’t know about this. I really love the way ICS has dark styling and non rounded edges. The rounded edges make it feel a lot more like iOS. I actually love how all of the notification boxes on ICS are not rounded anymore, it’s a better feeling.

  • mcopeman23

    I like that Android is developing its own identity. I love IOS but i think it’s funny that hey copied that from android…maybe Chrome is the tester for their next major update?

  • http://None Javier Bastardo

    I love how ICS looks. I love how Chrome looks. To each their own, I’m happy seeing both looks together instead of just having one, I hope they keep it like this.

  • MoSDeeb

    I was hoping to see all the Google products unified to look the same across all platforms.

    Chrome OS, Android, Google Web Pages, etc.

  • Angie Wimberly

    For what it’s worth, I just wanted to elaborate more on why heavy use of one color is considered helpful design. Using a lot of different colors can work, and it’s nice to have variation, but then it can be less immediate for a user to recognize what is UI and what is content. So, I think it makes sense to choose one color, and try to use it as smartly as possible to direct the user.

  • RedmondHell

    But wouldn’t it just look like iOS if make it like you said!!