Android 4.0 and the Arrival of Holo UI

The most important UI change came to Android in version 4.0, what key aspects changed can be boiled down to these 3 points:

  1. Unified design language in phone and tablet.

  2. All-touch navigation.

  3. Flat and modern design language.

But before we dive into these key changes, I’d like to explain a few things; what is UI? And what was the reasoning behind the changes?

UI stands for User Interface, it is the interface you are met by when you use your phone, or tablet, or even your computer. Anything you can interact with, basically has an interface. The radiator even has that knob that controls the heat. UI is how it looks, and how it works for you. It is a key player, in terms of  user’s experience. Now let’s move on.

Android was growing rapidly in the phone market, it had already surpassed the iPhone and iOS by the time Android 4.0 came out, but iOS was still considered the leader of smartphones, namely because the design of the UI and the still larger numbers of quality apps.

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Google set out to change that with Android 3.0+ Honeycomb, which they carried over to Android 4.0. Android 3.0 was an experiment to Google, it was primarily used for tablets then, and it was never released as an AOSP, it was a closed experiment for Google to use, and only a few devices shipped with that version of Android.
Google used this experiment to build the blocks of a modern Android, which is Android 4.0. With Android 4.0 Google set out a design guideline for anyone developing for Android devices. They called it the Holo UI.

Hardware buttons was no more, the UI changed to a dark, clean, and robotic look, which translated well with bright colors as well. Google set out to make Android pretty, it was well aware of Apple’s dominance and superiority in design, and addressed them accordingly. What it meant was Android became more streamlined; the home button, the back button, the menu and settings, everything was going to be found at the same place, and even look much the same. Apps would work more like each other, and users would more easily find themselves at home with any app.

The process has been a rather long journey. It has taken a year or two to become the norm with almost any app, especially among the new and serious apps. Over the past 2 years, Google have only updated the Holo UI slightly, and at the latest with Android 4.4 KitKat, made Android a flat, clean and bright design powerhouse. Savvy users of smartphones now (in large numbers) prefer the all touch navigation due to it’s flexibility and others (like me) simply enjoy to use it because it feels very modern and just right, to navigate everything by light touches.

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All this came from Android 4.0, and furthermore, Android 4.0 applied to both phones and tablets. The design language enables phone apps to more easily transform into tablet apps, optimizing your Android experience for larger devices, be it a small 3,5” phone to the huge 5,9” phablet (a crossover of phone and tablet, phablet), as well as into the small 7” tablets and larger 10” sizes too. All Holo UI apps that are true to that nature will find itself nicely in almost any Android device. That isn’t to say a phone app will translate well into a 10” tablet, but the app will be optimized more easily by the developer, and the user will find it easier to use the app too.
This is a huge deal for Android. It shows how much the system has matured as an OS over the last 8 years, because to this day, the Holo UI is still among the best looks to find on phones.

What this means for you is, that by using an Android phone for a week or two, you should be able to find your way around Android with no problems. It’s true that Android has a bit of a learning curve to it, compared to the iPhone and the iPad, but once you get into that, it’s very likely you’ll feel comfortable and empowered by the possibilities.

Lately there’s been some rumours, that Google is working on a major update to the UI of their own apps, perhaps giving new guidelines. From what we’ve seen, this is true, and the design seems to be aiming at more vibrant and vivid colors, and an even simpler look. It’s hard to judge these changes, but I’ll be sure to form an opinion and it’s implication once it is official and there’s been enough time to actually use this. Be sure to come back soon!

You can tell me what you think of the Holo UI in the comments below, and how you experience Android. Have you noticed the design of your apps? And have you been an Android user before Android 4.0, how have you experienced the change?

 

A brief look into what Android is

My first Blog entry will focus on the the basic blocks of Android. It will be short, but I will bring some technical terms along the way. This is solely on a nice-to-know basis, so you have an idea of what Android, at least on the surface, represents and enables.

Android is an operating system based on the Linux kernel and is an open-source project. What this means is that the Android OS is openly available to anyone who wants to utilize the OS. The OS can be used on virtually any electrical device, but is most commonly seen on phones and tablets. What this means, is that anyone wanting to build any device can get the Android OS, and incorporate it into their own device, completely free.

There is an important distinction I would like to make though; The Android Open Source Project (or AOSP) isn’t equal to the Android you probably know from your phone. Manufacturers like Samsung, Sony, HTC, and LG (among many, many more) have an agreement with Google (the owner of Android), which gives them access to a bunch of Google services, named Google Play Services. This is a way of branding Android phones with Google software; things like Google Search, Google Maps, and Gmail. This essentially means that the Android OS can freely be downloaded and used as pleased, but without Google’s approval, it won’t have access to the services provided by Google.

Google Android

As you can tell, Google actually has a certain amount of control of Android. It gives Google an edge to promote their own services, and with it, a golden standard of apps and services. These services are however completely avoidable and replaceable, and furthermore, on Android it is possible to make certain apps and services a standard operation, which means your Android experience isn’t connected to Google’s services. As a user, this means if you prefer the Firefox Browser, you can download Firefox for Android, and set that browser as a default, which means that any time you open a link in any app, Firefox will open the link. This procedure can also be done on the Play Store (where you get apps), if you don’t want to get involved with Google, you can get apps from a lot of alternatives, from the web itself, from Amazon, from Samsung, or from any 3rd party essentially.

I will dive into customization later on, with blogs and videos, to demonstrate how Android is a extremely flexible OS. For now, just know that Google owns Android, and does what it can to deliver certain services.

Android is a special mobile OS. What makes it special is the way it works; Android supports true multitasking, like you know from Windows or Mac. Apps can work in the background and even side by side. What it enables is to work more effectively; apps can work silently in the background monitoring your device, and be aware of any known changes, apps can also run invisibly all the time (as an example, you can drag your finger from the edge of the screen to pull out a task switcher), apps can pop-up on the screen too if anything happens, while you don’t leave what you’re currently doing. It’s true multitasking, and you see tons of optimized apps only for Android.

One of my absolute favorite apps is called Tasker. Tasker is quite complicated, but what it does is work in the background and monitors everything my phones does, and by doing so, I can make my phone to things, completely automatically. A great example is to recognize I’m at a cinema, and it will automatically turn completely silent, and as soon as I leave, turn on the sound again.

I couldn’t possibly write everything about Android, but I believe I’ve mentioned the basics into understanding what is possible on Android. What I will strive to do from this day, is to make you understand more of the OS, and make it a truly personal phone. A phone that will work for you, and a phone you can take advantage of.

Every time I see a person with a smartphone, and that person only uses it to the most basic tasks, like facebook and texting, I think a phone is being wasted. I encourage you to be aware of what is possible, it can ultimately make your life a little easier and more fun!

So I hope you’ll join me in doing this, I love helping people out, and I think I can do this in a simple and effective way. Feel free to comment down below, or contact me on Google+. Maybe you just got an Android smartphone, or maybe you’ve had one for a while, but feel like you could learn more. I will cover the basics and I will move onto intermediate stuff, having everything you need in one place; my blog, my YouTube channel, and you catch me on Google+!