Android and iOS: The best of two worlds is rapidly merging
Everybody’s familiar with the battle between the iOS and Android platforms. Although iOS has made an enormous impact on the mobile environment in the US, on a global scale it is still not the most dominant smartphone platform. Apple’s original intent was to be the pioneer of a platform which was not merely a cell phone but could also play music, shoot photos and video, and download thousands of multipurpose apps—all on the same device. This top secret project—first known as “Project Purple” began in 2004 with 1,000 employees and three years hence resulted in the very first iPhone. Such was the visionary thinking of Steve Jobs and his team.
Meanwhile, in 2007 Google also unveiled their competitive attempt—the first Android phone. Since then, the Android platform has been progressing from bad to better. This is Google’s way; they like to experiment. While it’s true that this Android OS is a nightmare for mobile developers, since Android is open source, it supports literally hundreds of devices, each with its own hardware characteristics (some of which include an evident lack of memory). Google also suffers from the disadvantage that comes with having to support multiple versions of Android. But they are well aware of all this requires, the proof being that premium phones like the Samsung Galaxy S5, Google’s Nexus 5, Sony Xperia Z2 and other devices are beginning to standardize, and are finally posing a very real challenge to Apple devices, some of them with better hardware and software features.
That said, when it comes to UX and UI design, there is no clear winner. The reason is both platforms are rapidly merging into one single style of user interface and interaction. Remember back when Android was already using flat design and iOS wasn’t? Remember when Android provided easy-to-access panels for notifications and settings and iOS didn’t? Well, I do. In late 2012 I had a Nexus 4 running Android 4.1—Jelly Bean: elegant, flat design, better performance, and a renewed UI style following Android 2.3 (Gingerbread).
The progressions of Android UI look and feel
(Left: Android 1.5 Cupcake, Middle: Android 2.3 Gingerbread, Right: Android 4.4 Kitkat)
Following Apple’s launch of iOS7 at the 2013 WWDC, I had read a lot of blogs and articles comparing Android 4.0 with this very latest iOS innovation, including unfavorable reviews from those unfamiliar with Android, but this was only because at the time iPhone users were forced to make a big, jarring leap from skeuomorphism to flat design. Today, iOS designers are all wondering why the change hadn’t happened sooner, since it enables them to more quickly produce designs that are quite faster and at the same time more elegant. Well, we all have Google’s inefficiencies to thank for this evolution; the fact of the matter is Android devices were not good at handling processor memory back then so their ingenious designers opted instead to simplify the UI.
Now that both are interfaces are incorporating flat design, Apple, Google and even other OSs like Windows and BlackBerry are now competing with similar UX gestures and UI styles. Not surprisingly, designers don’t like having to pump out customized design for every single device in the world, yet we want our apps to have a global impact. Likewise app developers ideally want to be able to produce a single source code that will work for all devices. This is why tools like Titanium Studio, PhoneGap, Xmarin and others have come into existence. Now that the cross-platform mess has been all but solved, the time has come to begin innovating the latest hardware features. Features like the fingerprint reader of iPhone 5S, the Xperia Z’s water resistance, the ridiculously high resolution and amazing photo capture features of the Galaxy S5, etc. Companies should also begin innovating those particular UX/UI components that reside within the apps themselves, but don’t necessarily affect navigation or interactions, e.g. date and time pickers, app icons, popups, etc. These seeming details will soon be the differentiating factors that allow certain platforms to gain an edge in the marketplace.
Native UX/UI components can make the difference across platforms,
simple things like the way you set your alarm.
(Left: iOS 7 screen on iPhone 5, Right: Android 4.4 screen on Nexus 4)
Users, developers, and designers have forced OS providers to standardize UX/UI design across platforms. In the end everybody wins.
We must abandon the notion that iOS devices offer greater intuitiveness and a shallower learning curve. My own mother bought an Android device 3 years ago yet she still can’t use an iPhone because she simply doesn’t like to learn something new once she has grown comfortable with the thing she already owns. Now that both operating systems are equally competitive, the more significant deciding factors are price, quality of hardware components, and the connectivity users want to achieve with other users or devices.
Personally I’m fond of both platforms, primarily because I find them to be complementary. Since iOS and Android share the majority of smartphone users, both are copying each other’s very best features to improve their own UX and provide the very best experience possible. As a designer, it simply wouldn’t be fair to focus on one platform, so I seek inspiration for my designs from any place I can.