I’ve talked briefly about how laudable the Android user interface design actually is, but I wasn’t terribly specific on why beyond, “It’s not a mess like its competitors.” Well, that’s not a good enough reason to jump on the Android bandwagon, for those interested in using mobile devices. In order to fully appreciate what’s good about the Android user interface design, as well as what flaws it does have, we must understand first what a mobile phone or tablet of today really is.
Since computers first caught on as user devices in the mid-eighties, the dream of a handheld computer has been unspoken, but very sought after by most. It reflects in our science fiction and in our designs. Advanced calculators were the first inklings of this, followed by organizers, PDAs and now smartphones and tablets. These devices, in the vaunted 21st century, have big shoes to fill, but they are limited in power due to size and price. In order for a mobile device to do all we expected our futuristic pocket computers to do, there are a lot of sacrifices and compromises that have to take place. All of these devices, regardless of model, brand or OS, must make these sacrifices in some balance, to achieve functionality. What differentiates them is how they execute it, and how successfully they do it.
The two primary competitors are iOS for Apple products and Windows Phone for other devices. Windows relies on familiarity to sell it, where Apple appeals to a specific demographic to move their bulk of product. What’s interesting is that Windows, for PCs, has never overly stressed style over substance, with mostly low key and practical design, where Apple, in recent decades, has been the exact opposite. Oddly, in their migrations to mobile, they assumed opposite roles, neither of which is ideal for mobile. Apple’s iOS is somewhat stylistic, but has a very bare bones anatomy in app design and interface. Windows Mobile, on the other hand, is kind of eye catching, but is horribly over-engineered and its layout is a mess.
Android walks a happy medium, like Windows does on PCs. It’s simple, basic but not unattractive, focusing on being easy to understand, laid out in a familiar way, and flexible in complexity depending on what the user asks of it. While it is based on Linux, a famously “complicated” operating system, you don’t see the Linux through its very Windows-like veneer. Installing applications is easy, and it lacks the lockouts of iOS, or the convolution of Windows Phone. While its lack of an actual window interface, sacrificed for real estate and operability, can be a bit off-putting to multi-taskers, anyone with familiarity using a PC built within the last fifteen years will find it very easy to adapt to and excel in using very quickly.
I’m not an avid fan of touch technology, but Android makes it fairly painless. Of the systems out there for phones, there is no perfect solution, and probably never will be. However, the android user interface design is the most adept and pleasant of the bunch for certain. I’d recommend it above all others.