Android's Issue: Physical Instantiation (or lack thereof)

After watching the interview by Nilay with the guys over at Vizio, one phrase used stuck out to me:

Physical instantiation.

That is, the physical appearance a product should be a real world manifestation/reflection of the software underneath. As soon as he mentioned this, i thought of all the Android tablets I have picked up and, before even turning them on, sighed in disappointment.

Think of the iPad. When you use the iPad, the physical hardware is related in some way to the software underneath. The brushed, matte-finished aluminum and reflective glass are similar to the UI elements in the software, the corners on the home button has the same radius as those of the icons, and is similar to the corners of the device itself. They are all inter-related, feeding off of one another and reflecting each other such that you cannot interact with the device in a way taht does not somehow involve a design element present in both the hardware and software. Maybe this is what people mean when they say that the iPad has a sense of soul that Android tablets lack.

Most Android tablets lack this interplay between the software and hardware. The contained UI finds no real world presence via the device it resides inside. Think of the Acer tablets... I mean, they have decent hardware specs, appealing prices and near-stock Android builds. But the hardware design is.. uninspired:

Acer-android-tablet_medium

via www.geeky-gadgets.com

There's no relation to the UI, no feedback loop of impressions that mirror aspects between Android and the slab of glass and plastic it's running on. The outside is plastic and brushed aluminum, neither of which are textures found in the UI, even as altered by Acer. Similarly, it's a device of slightly rounded corners and faded angles. Also lacking in the ICS UI, which is a sea of sharp angles, high contrast and representative (as opposed to literal) icons and menus.

And this is where Android's lack of stringent UI guidelines/standards comes into play. In iOS, all icons are exactly the same in terms of silhouette. They are all the exact same dimension, with rounded corners of identical radius. They also all incorporate the same slightly-glossy faux-glass sheen. As such, no matter what apps a user has installed, the sea of icons does not clash with the Physical Instantiation of the OS in the hardware.

While I LOVE my Droid 2, despite it's age and impending replacement, in large part because of the widgets, the icons and widgets I have installed create a cacophonous mess of shapes, shades, silhouettes and colors. there is no uniformity besides the absolute space icons can take up. This is particularly true when you consider tablets and their tendency to make a larger use of widgets. Look at the image above, for example. The clock and news/bookmark widgets shown are nice, but even as stock UI elements, clash with the hardware. And lets not even talk about the direction that third party widgets can take AWAY from the OS UI, let alone the hardware.

So, as someone who loves their Android phone, and who will likely get another come August (unless my work MAKES me get an iPhone), what do I think the solution is? Somewhat along the lines of a recent post here on The VergeForums: Tighter guidelines by Google in terms of Icons. Hardware makers need UI consistency to design around. Without that, they are free to go in any direction they choose, good or bad, inspired or bland, because they cannot depend on what the UI/UX will look/feel like.

m2c