[Op-Ed] What does Jelly Bean mean for Android app design?

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Google showed Jelly Bean at the I/O last week, we all know that, we all saw that and pretty much everyone loves the update to the OS.

But from my point of view, JB has another meaning, a message that Google is trying to transmit to app developers, and the message is very simple: Give your app its own identity within Android.

What do I mean by that? let’s recap a little.

When Google launched ICS, it came with the Holo theme for the entire OS, they also created guidelines and gave developers every tool to create buttons, texts and everything else so the app feels integrated to the OS and to have a better experience for the user in terms of usability and navigation. But I think after that, Google realized something, developers didn’t understand the message, they went to both extremes, the apps where either nothing to do with Holo (and even worse, an unchanged port from iOS) or went full Holo and the apps just like a settings menu. I’ve been searching for Holo apps ever since I got CM9 on my Defy, I love when the apps blend in with the OS, but after a while it got boring, every app looked the same.

Now, let’s take a look at some of Google latest apps: Drive, Wallet, Currents and Google Plus

All of those apps work within Google’s Android design guidelines but their all different from each other, they all have their own style, identity and visual aesthetics.

Google Drive is the one that keeps itself closest to the Holo theme, but being a pure productivity app, that’s a good thing, and yet it’s not using the dark background like the settings menu, it doesn’t even have a hint of the light blue that Google used in ICS.

On the other hand, Google Wallet has its own background, with big images for the cards using shadows behind them (something not very seen in Google apps) and some info below it with big blue buttons which are completely different from the buttons from Holo.

Third, there’s Google Currents, which uses icons as buttons, a big picture on top and no blue at all.

And last but not least, Google Plus which got completely overhauled last week and could possibly be now the most beautiful app in Android.

They all feel different but yet you also feel like they are all part of the same experience, and that’s what the guidelines are for, for developers to take some things from it, like navigation styles, button placement and some icons like search, share and some others, but not to live only inside the Holo theme. For me, the best example is Pocket (formerly Read It Later), it’s a beautiful app which works exactly like every other Holo app but it has its own design, colors and functionality.

So, to my title question, what does JellyBean mean for Android? We saw google steering away from the ICS blue a bit, The notification panel no longer has blue in it, the clock is now white, and the navigation soft-buttons no longer shine blue when you touch them, it’s now white. So why is Google leaving the ICS blue for white? every other Android release had its own color, like green in Gingerbread or blue in Honeycomb which got a bit modified later on for ICS.

I think that Google is now trying to make its OS a bit more neutral, more undefined in the color department, and on the other hand, they’re putting more and more color into their apps. For me, that’s telling developers, don’t use the OS colors, use your own, make your app shine by itself and not by blending in.

Hopefully, people will get the message and we’ll start seeing better app design, where every app is its own aesthetic but they all blend in into Android from a UX point of view and not because they all have the same UI.

About the Author

Leonardo Benveniste
I've been an Android fan for a long long time, even before owning one. My first and current phone is a Motorola Defy which is currently rooted, rom'd and running a beautiful ICS thanks to CyanogenMod. My goal is to share both news and love for this awesome platform that we all have and, hopefully, make it better between us all.

  • jeff donuts

    a defy? come on bro time to get a new phone

    • Leonardo Benveniste

      I already moved to a galaxy nexus,don’t worry :)

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