Android Team Shifting Focus to User Experience with Gingerbread

One of the things that Android can’t brag about is the user experience on the platform.  It lacks a certain “slickness” and “smoothness” when compared to its iPhone competition.  Apparently, this has not escaped the Android team’s notice, as TechCrunch is reporting that the Android team is “laser focused” on the issue of the user interface and the experience of using Android on a mobile device for the next update, which is codenamed “Gingerbread.”  This is a departure for Google, as all of our updates have added functionality at a furious pace over the past 18 months, but not totally unexpected, giventheir recent hiring of Palm user experience guru Matias Duarte.  And with the announcement that Google is slowing down their updates to once a year, it is going to give the search giant time to really polish the front end of an already awesome mobile OS.

One of the great things about Google is that they seem to listen to their user base, collecting feedback and working to make the platform better for the crowd rather than their bottom line, and it seems this applies to the fact that we need a slicker UI than we have right now.

On a deeper level, it could be that Google is finally trying to do something about the fragmentation issue by creating a user interface (UI) that handset manufacturers will like enough to abandon creating skins like Motoblur (AG’s Scott Brown LOVES motoblur BTW, ask him about it) and Sense UI, which some maintain have contributed to fragmentation in Android.  If Google can come through with a killer UI, manufacturers will have less reason to create custom UIs, which in turn will help speed OS updates to users.  That would be good news for the Android Army as a whole.  But I don’t think that handset makers will completely resist the urge to slap a skin on top of Android, if only as a way to differentiate themselves.  Besides a killer UI from Google, the user base will have to let manufacturers know with their wallets that they do not want anything other than a Google experience.

So of course, we are all already looking towards the Gingerbread update almost impatiently. Let’s hope that Google comes up with an enormously successful UI for Android.

  • walker

    Manufacturers will still add all kinds of UI-Extensions, no matter how smoth the experience with stock Gingerbread will be. They think they have to do it to differ from other Android handset manufacturers. This way they can adevertise with an additional feature, the competitors don't have.

    • Would be very nice if manufacturers had to use only stock Android and only add applications (replacement launchers, dialers and so on) to the data partition. This way users could uninstall programs they don't use, when they prefer the stock Android alternatives or find a better one on the market. Would probably allow for quicker updates of the core OS and manufacturers could send out updates of individual extra programs when bugs are found. Oh well, one can dream.

      • Stock would be great. Give a more consistent UI to all, easier upgrade path to all, less expense to hardware manufacturers to develop software, etc. . . but will the hardware guys go for it? Lets hope so.

        Google has stated that they plan roll out yearly releases and release features into the App Market asap which will definitely reduce "fragmentation" or "legacy" issues while giving users the newest features asap.

        It's all good 🙂

  • Steve

    I'd be more then happy to buy my phone based on hardware quality instead. That's how I buy my PCs. I want a phone that can compete with iPhone 4 on hardware quality. I want glass and metal instead of a thin plastic shell.

    • Guest

      Then get a Moto Droid, which has always been glass and metal. Sure, the iPhone 4.0 is upping it's game (*finally*) and delivering glass and metal. But if having a glass and metal mobile device with rock solid build quality was *really* your criteria, you'd already have an android device, as it's been on sale for months and months. So… what's really holding you back?

  • David

    While I truly enjoy HTC’s Sense UI, it does slow down the update process. OS updates from Google have to have Sense integrated into it by HTC before the update can be distributed via OTA. This takes time and still doesn’t count the additional delays by the carrier.

    The thing about skins is that they should be user selectable and changeable. Is Sense or MotoBlur a skin? Many think so. But they are so tightly integrated into the OS that so far these skins behave more like patches to the UI than as true skins.

    OK. Enough of that. If Google can improve the UI so that Sense and MotoBlur are less necessary, perhaps HTC, Motorola and others can develop true skins that users can purchase or download and swap out to meet their current and ever changing mood.

    I appreciate the suppliers’ need to differentiate themselves. But the added delays in distributing OS updates has been a sore point with many Android handset owners. Any fix to this would be welcome. And I personally would like to avoid OS fragmentation. Down the road this will create even longer delays as updates will have to be ported to the various flavors of Android.

    • I think it goes a bit deeper than skins, with Sense UI replacing the stock gallery and music player amongst other things… quite frankly, I think the stock gallery in 2.1 is way better than the HTC offering. But yea, those are still all things that could be separate from the core.

  • Martin

    I'm sure there are plenty of people with Sense UI that are jealous of those with MOTOBLUR (the Droid X version is pretty sweet) or other custom [modded] interfaces. The Android team shouldn't get too hung up on creating the end all, be all of Android interfaces, just make skinning easier.

  • Bob

    If I was pushed to make a choice between the stock UI with fast updates versus a UI like SenseUI with slow updates then I'd rather stick with the stock UI. The stock UI isn't that bad and if Google are now looking to invest seriously to improve it then it makes this argument even stronger. Currently, manufacturers have their work really cut out to keep on top of the Android updates because of their custom UIs. HTC Hero has taken months to release Android 2.1 and even skipped over 1.6 because it was too much work. Some manufacturers have stated they will not be updating some phones just because there wasn't enough sales of the phones to justify it. This is very disappointing especially for those who made the purchase of those phones.

    I would much prefer if manufacturers left the UI alone and differentiated via producing their own applications. If Google can do something to make this easier in Gingerbread or allow manufacturers to skin the UI in a nicer more integrated way then that could be a really good solution that solves both problems.

    Think of it like Dell not allowing you to load a Service Pack on your Windows 7 machine because of the custom changes they put onto their machine. That just wouldn't wash and it shouldn't in the mobile environment either.

  • its integrated to the OS so the skins behave more like patches..

  • Scott Deagan

    People are missing the point. Google make an announcement that they’re “laser focused” on bring about a better user experience for Android. I don’t care what anyone says, this simply is not possible on the Android platform because Android does not use GPU acceleration for the UI and browser (see here: The result is a jerky/choppy UI that totally shatters the end-user’s experience of the platform. I believe that this is not going to change with Gingerbread (the Nexus S).

    Anyone who has ever used WebOS, MeeGo, iOS, WP7, or Symbian 3 will know what I’m talking about. Without GPU acceleration for the interface, the Android experience will always fail. This will be more so as these new smart-phones (which all use GPU acceleration) start saturating the market and people start noticing the difference. Already the comparison is painfully obvious when comparing an iPhone to an Android handset (even the old iPhone 3G is much smoother and results in a far superior user experience).

    It appears Google simply do not want to tackle the issue because it’s too difficult for them.