The Android sloppy interface: When guidelines are not enough

The Android sloppy interface: When guidelines are not enough

Summary: The lack of enforced interface design prevents Android from providing a good user experience.

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No place is the need for consistent user interface design more important than on mobile devices that are used by touch. Intuitive operation plays a tremendous role in how a user interprets the user experience, with controls located where they make the most sense. Most importantly, the consistent location and function of interface controls is vital to allow trouble-free operation of apps and interfaces.

Platforms that enforce developers to follow concise rules for interface design, Windows, OS X and iOS among them, go a long way to avoid user frustration by preventing free-form app controls. Google's recently published "guidelines" to interface development on Ice Cream Sandwich won't do any good for the end-user as the premises behind them are not mandatory.

I use different platforms on a nearly daily basis, and of all the systems I use Android is the most jarring when jumping from one app to another. A common scenario while using Android tablets is starting to do a simple function in an app, only to discover that the control is not located where similar controls are found in most other apps. The workflow is interrupted while time is spent looking around the interface to find where the developer placed the function and how it was implemented. It can be a steady stream of start and stops using Android just to get things done.

Other platforms have developers follow simple guidelines, putting controls in consistent locations, working in expected ways. Using these platforms is intuitive and the user experience is natural and flows smoothly. You know where things will be, even when using an app for the first time. That is the cornerstone of good interface design, something totally lacking on Android.

Google understands that, as the release of Ice Cream Sandwich developer guidelines is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, by refusing to enforce the design principles, Google is allowing the wild west atmosphere to continue, with developers continuing to do what they will in their apps. The focus remains on letting developers do what they prefer, rather than protecting the end user with a consistent implementation of simple controls.

It should be clear by now that without enforcement participants will just do what they want, to the detriment of the platform. We've seen Google attempt to get folks in line with the OS update alliance last year, but failing to enforce that has done no good. The same will probably be the result of the design guidelines. Use them if you want, ignore them if you prefer. The end user will adapt.

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Topics: Google, Apps, Software Development

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33 comments
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  • RE: The Android sloppy interface: When guidelines are not enough

    It seems that the solution would be.... something like.... Metro........
    yoroto
    • RE: The Android sloppy interface: When guidelines are not enough

      @yoroto

      In Windows 8, Metro is just the top layer. The major portion of the OS is Windows 7, and all of the current Windows applications that you use on your desktop or notebook PCs. These are NOT designed or scaled for use on multi-touch tablets, with small 7" to 10" displays.

      If the entire Windows 8 OS and all of the Windows 8 applications used the Metro-style, multi-touch designed interface, it would be comparable to Android and iOS (which are fully optimized for small, multi-touch interaction)... but unfortunately it's not!
      Harvey Lubin
  • Message has been deleted.

    "I use different platforms on a nearly daily basis, and of all the systems I use Android is the most jarring..."

    Stupid problem with a stupid fix: Don't Use Android
    Simple fix: Get an Apple product.<br><br>Stupid article.
    Return_of_the_jedi
    • RE: The Android sloppy interface: When guidelines are not enough

      @Return_of_the_jedi
      Better yet, switch to BlackBerry and be efficient and productive.
      John Hanks
  • RE: The Android sloppy interface: When guidelines are not enough

    You get screenshots of the app before you install it. If you don't look at them, they're non-existent or you don't want to look at them, too bad for ya.

    Stop whining like an infant.
    tallbruva
    • Agreed

      @tallbruva Exactly what I said (although I went a bit further). My comment doesn't seem to have appeared.

      Strange, that.
      richstokoe
    • RE: The Android sloppy interface: When guidelines are not enough

      @tallbruva You sound more like your whining than he does. I have not idea but do the screen shots show all the different windows within the app? Do they show every setting and where it is located? If not, what the point of your post?
      non-biased
    • RE: The Android sloppy interface: When guidelines are not enough

      @tallbruva you are the one who is not being reasonable here. The shopper can tell very, VERY little from the minimum required screenshots. Nowhere near enough to evaluate the UI.

      No, rather, though Kendrick is obviously showing a strong bias for the Apple attitude, he is quite right about the excellent effect Apple's rules have had for the high quality UI not just on iPhone, but also in versions of the Mac OS going at least as far back as System 7.
      mejohnsn
  • RE: The Android sloppy interface: When guidelines are not enough

    Hmmmm. I can't say I've ever been frustrated by an Android app. A few iPad apps have left me aggravated however due to the lack of a back button. I actually got stuck once in the National Geographic app and couldn't figure out how to get to a previous page. Android fixes this by having a consistent back button that you can always count on.
    brother451
    • RE: The Android sloppy interface: When guidelines are not enough

      @brother451 Yup. Back and Menu buttons are a dealbreaker for me.
      Aerowind
    • RE: The Android sloppy interface: When guidelines are not enough

      @brother451 back button working consistently? uh huh.
      God of Biscuits
    • RE: The Android sloppy interface: When guidelines are not enough

      @brother451 I couldn't agree more. I agree with Kendrix that it would be nice to have a consistent feel on all apps. But then guess what, you shut the door for that really cool app that revolutionized everything (iTunes looked like no Windows app at the time). Over time, developers will gravitate towards the design guildelines and market forces will eventually promote well designed apps.

      But there are fundamental problems with iPhone For all it's consistency across apps, the lack of a back button that went back to the previous screen, the lack of genuine multi-tasking, the lack of file system acces and the lack of Intents makes usability cumbersome and awkward. The last two are particularly noticeable when I look at how KeePassDroid and Dropbox developed by separate developers works seamlessly and how poorly the respective apps work on the iPhone.

      I have never used a Windows 7 phone, so have no idea how usable it is. Too often we associate UI with looking good. It's important, but in my books, usability make a significantly greater impact on the user experience. I think over time, Android apps will have greater consistency, but because of the inherent attributes of the OS, will be notches ahead of other OSes.
      os2baba
      • RE: The Android sloppy interface: When guidelines are not enough

        @os2baba None of those items you mentioned have been an issue for me but to each their own. As far as Dropbox, works flawlessly on my iPhone and iPad.
        non-biased
    • RE: The Android sloppy interface: When guidelines are not enough

      @brother451 That was once my objection to iOS too. But since then, I have noticed that, for example, the TableView widgets used together with a NavigationController are even better than a back button: they provide something very much like a back button, always in a consistent location, but with a label bearing the name of the menu you will go back to.

      This is actually better than a back button, since the user need not remember where he is going to go when he presses 'back'. The problem is that the other UI widgets do NOT provide a comparable feature, so it is up to programmer discipline to provide some other rough equivalent.

      Of course, this does not always happen. But we have the same problem in the Android world, where many developers are silly enough to override the back button and do something silly instead.
      mejohnsn
  • Are you getting the picture, fandroids?

    "Open" is fun for developers and hobbyists. They get to be creative and invent and implement their own favorite way of doing stuff. Great! But the end users suffer because of the inconsistent nature of the UI.

    "Closed" (more commonly known as "controlling" or "draconian") is restrictive for developers, but provides a consistent and fun UI for end users. I know. If all users were as smart as you, they would instantly adapt to whatever the UI is with no problem at all, right? But in the real, mass-market world, which approach do you think will prevail?
    Userama
    • RE: The Android sloppy interface: When guidelines are not enough

      @Userama <br>+1. Consistent User Experience comes first then rest like security, performance, maintainability etc. whenever you attempt to architect an app, this goes good for large scale enterprise app or a micro app and it doesn't matter whether the underlying technology and platform are Open Source or Closed. If the User Experience is not properly defined, the app is destined for doom.
      Ram U
    • RE: The Android sloppy interface: When guidelines are not enough

      @Userama Ideally it should be a combo of both ideologies and that is what Google is now trying to do with ICS. I don't see Apple trying to do the same from the other side and being a little more open. I see the Android model as being better than iOS because it gives more weight to the ideas of the end-user and the developer community on what the best interface should be. I prefer to be part of the "editing" community to weed out what doesn't work over time than to be handed a set of protocols to tell me this is the way it's going to be because we've decided it's what's best for you.

      Yes, the Android model might be messier, but it's also more adaptive and responsive to the changing needs of the user/developer community.
      mrxxxman
  • RE: The Android sloppy interface: When guidelines are not enough

    I've done my own in-store testing and comparisons on each major release of the Android OS and OEMs phone. It has been 5 years since Apple set the usability and intuitive bar with the original iPhone, and I'm curious to know if there's a manufacturer out there who finally gets it! But none is as intuitive as iOS. You still see lot's of UI inconsistencies. Apps continue to a lack cohesive UI. Abrupt UI transitions compared to iOS (and WP7) smoothness. It's just not as elegant as iOS or WP7. Lag/stutter is still apparent. Things like Copy/Paste doesn't work consistently from one app the other. There's a back button but that's also inconsistent from app to app.
    dave95.
    • RE: The Android sloppy interface: When guidelines are not enough

      @dave95.
      +1
      Ram U
    • RE: The Android sloppy interface: When guidelines are not enough

      @dave95.
      Copy and paste is consistent between every app on a single device because it's handled by the system. Perhaps you're referring to how different manufacturers handle it (e.g. HTC vs Samsung vs Motorola, etc). Lag/stutter... perhaps you tested a Motorola Cliq 'cause my Galaxy S II is the epitome of smooth.
      tallbruva