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.


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.


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?