Google’s core competency is engineering, not UX, and it showed through in its mastery of the implementation of features with iPhone always trying to catch up like with multi-tasking and copy/paste. However, Android UI looks plain vanilla compared to the polish of iPhone UI, Android “UI layers” like Motorola’s Motoblur and HTC’s Sense basically scream out that the standard Android UI isn’t good enough.
With the features mostly in place, Google has decided to take the bull by the horns and make the user experience a top priority. Matias Duarte’s appointment as user experience director for Android seems to be a move in the right direction. Martin was the guy responsible for the the elegance of Palm’s webOS.
According to TechCrunch, the Android team is “laser focused” on user experience for the next firmware upgrade.
Google is focusing the bulk of its efforts on the user experience for the upcoming Gingerbread release to counter this. And they want to get the Android experience closer to the iPhone.
It’s unlikely that third parties will ever completely resist the temptation to meddle to differentiate their products and to get more control over the user. But Google’s goal is to make those “skins” as pointless as possible.
Android fragmentation is an issue that has been nagging Google for a while. In the early days, Google encouraged handset makers to add their own customizations and the result was the UI layers like HTC’s Sense, Motorola’s Motoblur, and Samsung’s TouchWiz. Problem is these guys are going further and creating their own sub-platforms.
Wireless Watch points out the fragmentation that’ll follow and the devastating path it’ll lead towards
Some developers fear they will need to choose between being ‘Motoblur programmers’ or ‘Sense programmers’, rather than having their Android apps run entirely unchanged on all the versions. This would create a world more like traditional Symbian – with very different user interface layers such as Nokia Series 60, DoCoMo MOAP, and the now defunct Sony Ericsson/Motorola technology UIQ, all with their own programmer bases
Google wants to deter partners from taking this road by making the default experience superior in terms of handset performance and to homogenize the user experience and address criticisms of fragmentation.
After talking to “people whose words carry weight” at CTIA, Engadget has reason to believe that Google will be “decoupling many of Android’s standard applications and components from the platform’s core and making them downloadable and updatable through the Market” that leaves only base functionality in hands of handset makers and carriers.
This is a positive step towards consolidating and defining the Android operating system as a single, yet flexible, entity which is the only way to compete with Apple.
How will handset makers differentiate
Handset makers working on Android had made “UI layers” as the differentiator for their Android offerings, now with Google bent on making them as pointless as possible, the big question is how will they differentiate.
IntoMobile feels they can focus on “smaller things with a bigger impact like social networking or improved multimedia players”. I doubt if that’ll be enough to influence buying decisions of the user.
How do you think they can differentiate?