Time for Android to radically change the UI

Time for Android to radically change the UI

Summary: The patent infringement verdict against Samsung is a firm shot across the bow of Android. Google risks a continual stream of litigation from Apple unless it changes the look and feel of the Android UI.

Chameleon (300x225)

No matter how we feel about the total victory handed to Apple against Samsung in the landmark patent infringement case recently concluded, it is what it is. The court ruled that many functions of Android are too similar to those of iOS protected by patents. It also found that the look and feel of Samsung's device interfaces, and Android's by association, also infringe on Apple's patents. 

Right or wrong the jury's finding points out that in many ways Android is similar in design to iOS. I like both Android and iOS but if I'm honest I must admit that using my Android phone is similar to using my iPhone. The same is true of my Nexus 7 tablet, using it is similar to using my iPad.

That is the basic problem confronting Google with Android. It is similar in looks and function to iOS, a look that now has legal precedent to belong to Apple. That similarity is real to anyone who is honest enough to admit it.

My colleague Jason Perlow has a good look at the trade dress issues at play, and is worth a read. Perlow details the technical issues facing Google with Android, and calls for a change to avoid future trouble.

I agree with him that Android needs a face lift, but not just because of the legal issues. Android needs a UI change to get out of the shadow of iOS. It is time for a radical change to the interface of Android to give users the unique experience they deserve.

Android is highly customizable, one of its strengths. Users can make the home screens look as they prefer with widgets and layouts of their choice. That's a good thing, but it shouldn't be up to each user to make the Android interface look different from existing platforms. What Android needs is new interface that pushes the edge of originality.

That's not that hard, there are third party add-on UIs that are quite good. One of the most unique is Chameleon, now available in beta form to those who supported the Kickstarter project. It's to be publicly available soon, and if Google was smart it should buy the company and the interface and incorporate it into the very core of Android.

Chameleon is written for tablets, and I can't wait to get it on my Nexus 7. But Google could adapt it for phones too with its vast resources. No one can deny the uniqueness of this interface. Not even Apple.

Making a radical change to the look of Android is risky but it needs to be done. It's time to make a distinct impression with consumers while distancing Android from the interface that is iOS.

Related Stories:

Topics: Android, Apple, Google, iOS, Patents

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  • No It Isn’t

    Bear in mind all the Samsung products found infringing were older ones. Notably the Galaxy S III was untouched, as I believe was the Galaxy Tab 10.1--the very same one that Apple got an injunction against in Germany. Which shows you what a total crapshoot this lawsuit business is.

    The verdict will be appealed, and given the cavalier attitude the jurors showed to the very specific instructions the judge gave them, it seems likely much or all of it will be set aside.
    • author = misinformed

      i actually spent 3 minutes to reset my password just so i could get on here to say the same thing

      "The verdict will be appealed, and given the cavalier attitude the jurors showed to the very specific instructions the judge gave them, it seems likely much or all of it will be set aside."

      But to add to this, i think considering the cavalier attitude of the jurors combined with their obvious lack of knowledge in intellectual property and software in general, the appelas court might be more open to reducing the penalty. So $1b yesterday could be $750m or even less tomorrow
      • Other than the length of time in deliberation...

        What supports the perception of a "cavalier attitude" by the jurors?
        • Jury instructions

          One if not several of the jurors said they never read they jury instructions. And the evidence if that fact is that they wanted the fine to not be a "slap on the wrist" despite the fact that the jury instructions state that the fine is a compensation of what the licensing fees Samsung should have paid and not a punishment.

          They also said that Apple didn't infringe on any FRAND patents, which is impossible when you need them as part of the standard(what they actually needed to say was Apple wasn't liable for that infringement because Intel already paid the license to Samsung and double dipping isn't allowed).

          Plus, deliberations only lasted 21 hrs for 30 pages of over 700 questions total. And the instructions, again which they didn't read, were 109 pages alone. Just shady all around.
          Jeff Kibuule
          • About those instructions

            Don't put too much stock in the idea that the jury did not read the instructions. The poor jurors had to sit through a two-hour reading of them in open court. They actually got four breaks during which they were allowed to stand up. Anybody who thinks that a lawyer is just going to tell an appeals court, "There? See that? They never read the instructions" and have the whole thing thrown out is hanging by a pretty thin thread. The trial transcript will show the instructions being read word for word by the judge.
            Robert Hahn
          • That is correct.

            The jurors also said that they didn't discuss whether Apple's patents were valid or not. They didn't want to get into that. Now that Apple is using these patents to justify their claim, judges going forward will have to examine those very patents to see if they were awarded incorrectly. How can you award a patent on a grid of icons with rounded corners? That trade dress existed on devices prior to the iPhone.

            So would a grid of icon with square corners be OK? How about icons that are in a grid, but have unique icons which is the case for many Android apps. Many of them have icons based on the apps logo for example.

            Vanilla Android is fine. Google won't have to do anything because vanilla Android doesn't come in a grid pattern of icons. The end user decides how to arrange them or resize them.
        • Re: Other than the length of time in deliberation...

          They were specifically told not to award punitive damages. Yet they did.
    • Apple invented nothing

      Photographic proof: http://themetapicture.com/what-did-apple-really-invent/
    • Bzzzt - wrong.

      Galaxy S III was not part of the suit as it did not exist when the suit was filed. Apple may or may not open a new suit against the newer products. Galaxy Tab 10.1 was in a suit and lost - hence the 10.1 N in Europe.
      • The 10.1 was cleared in THIS trial

        The 10.1 n is only in germany. In the uk all samsung products were cleared of infringement so bzzzt wrong.
  • james

    How much of a moron are you? Serious question though! Really, the many functions of Android are too similar to IOS? really?
    • As I replied to Jason ......

      So lets see, after an opening salvo in a long drawn out process that is centered primarily around issues an OEM specifically added to an OS and devices, not saying they were wrong in doing this, mostly, and we have many many more clashed to go, the developing company owning the OS, should take this and TOTALLY FREAKING CHANGE THINGS for the single most popular mobile OS on the planet.

      Methinks the author borrowed the Apple legal team's smoking device.

      Changing drastically at this stage is so NOT risk adverse.

      After this I need two beers..... and some soup.
      • Do and don't agree

        I agree that the trade dress issue is sort of ridiculous, just like the square icons with rounded corners in a grid, or the slab of glass across the front with rounded corners.

        But actually, I think Android does need to strike out on its own. It needs to provide a new vision, like Windows Phone 7 did. Whether you like it or not, you have to admit that Windows Phone 7 does not look like Android or iOS.

        Android is iOS for non-Apple OEMs, with features added. I think that it IS different enough to make claims of copying iOS ridiculous, but I still think that the UI for Android is playing off the same design philosophy that iOS created. I think it is time for Android to strike out in a new direction.

        Personally, I would suggest small steps rather than big ones, but I still suggest they choose their own direction and move that way.
  • Android UI is -

    - nothing like apple in my opinion. Trying too hard to change will make it more unusable, like what microsoft is doing with windows 8 where every design element is just to avoid copying apple and the result is a mess.
    • Yeah

      Open Handset Alliancea (OHA) what Google is leading, and what develops Android, shouldn't change Android vanilla launcher. The idea what Google has been protecting, is that user has control and choice how their device works and behaves. It is customers interest that they can go and install software what fits to their needs.

      Third party apps are not limited just to twitter client, games or same fancy apps.
      But users are free to change _everything_. They can have apps what change how their phone works. How their SMS works, how email works, how launcher (home screen) works, how music player works, how their WWW browser works, how their notification center works, how their keyboard works, how their voice dictation etc works.

      With Android, users can modify _everything_ as they want or need.
      • Good point

        This is a really good point, and I would not want Android to change that. Versatility is Android's strong suit, but I still think Google needs to find a new way of looking at the basic UI. Most users never get around to changing the UI.

        The funny part is that if Google changed the UI, someone would probably write an iOS UI app to make it look more than iOS, which would be easier to defend, well at least for Google.
  • fans, think first.

    Android is a product that is assembled using open source software, ripped-off Java,pirated software and patents and shameless copy of design from competiting platforms. It is a very functional platform, but the truth cannot be hidden.
    • Who's the fan again?

      I am sorry. I thought I heard someone fan hatred against an open source mobile operating system. Maybe it was a troll, maybe a bot, maybe not...
    • Yep

      They shamelessly copied those... what was it?

      9 lines out of the entire OS?
      Michael Alan Goff
    • Apple shamelessly copied Xerox Parc GUI

      And Xerox sued them for it. We all know the history, but the point is that Apple copied what had been developed at Xerox. The issue of whether it was legal or not is more complicated, but the court sided with Apple back then too. Though, I believe it was more due to a technical issue of when Xerox could file the lawsuit. I think too much time had passed. It wasn't because Xerox's suit didn't have legal standing or merit. I might be wrong, though.