Android has a Cohesiveness Problem and Widgets are to Blame.
EDIT: Changed the title from "To Widget or to Live Tile. That is the question" to "Android has a Cohesiveness Problem and Widgets are to Blame." due to some user confusion.
EDIT2: New and improved conclusion edited from a long conversation with user "Dreka"
TLDR: Skip to conclusion or follow bold text
I recently downloaded Launcher 8 (effectively WP8 homescreen)) on my Nexus 5 and it has made me to realize many things about Android and how we use our device. Before Launcher 8 I was rocking Apex Launcher and prior to that I used the stock Google Experience Launcher. Launcher 8 is radically different.
LAUNCHER 8 > STOCK ANDROID LAUNCHER?
I say yes, for two reasons. The latter is what has made me question the concept of widgets.
- Alphabetical labels in app drawer: Just like it is easier to find an word in a dictionary with the alphabetical labels, it is easier to find an app. The effect on speed it tremendous. I would say it is even faster that searching (using the Google phone search) - it is also more visual as using the alphabetical labels don't take you into the "abstract space" that any search feature is. This is just an example of the intelligent design choices of WP8. (click thumbnails to view)
- Clear distinction between home screen and app drawer: This is done by the difference between the tiles of the home screen and the alphabetical list of apps in the app drawer. In android, the app drawer is effectively the same as the home screen (icons on a regular homogeneous grid).... with the exception of one thing: Widgets....
ARE WIDGETS THE CORRECT SOLUTION?
Out of iOS and Windows Phone, Android is the only operating system which has a nearly identical app drawer and homescreen. This is confusing, specially when you can't uninstall an app from the homescreen and you can have multiple icons for a single application (in the homescreen). It seems that the android home screen is only there to support widgets and have quick shortcuts to your favourite apps - but is the android home screen (i.e. the combination of widgets and apps) the best solution? or it are live tiles better? It really comes down to the following question...
WIDGETS FOR CONTENT VIEWING OR CONTENT INTERACTION?
Live titles give you content/information to view, not to interact with while widgets can give you content to interact with. If people do not use the interactive feature widgets are not a good design solution. There are a few observations showing people use widgets to view information:
- Rarely do I see regular people use widgets on their phone except for the widgets that come pre-installed by the manufacturer.... maybe because widgets are not the most intuitive and accessible feature in android? (...live tiles are accessible and intuitive). Do people really want widgets?
- The market is a good indication of what consumers want. Samsung dominates the android market and they cover their phones with content viewing widgets. Is this the reason they sell so many phones? No. But that is not relevant. Take a look at the stock android widgets - they are also mostly content viewing. Most widgets, whether it be from Samsung, Google, etc, are for content viewing.
- Samsung's leaked future Touchwiz shows large widgets that occupy the whole screen - like live tiles and unlike traditional android widgets. The general reaction to this leak is positive.
Summary: People don't use widgets for content interaction. Do people really use widgets at all? Would they notice if the widgets where not there? (they don't with iPhones). Finally, if people do use widgets, are their benefits strong enough to justify the existence of a uncohesive android homescreen and app drawer?
- While using Launcher 8, the ability to move through the home screen and app drawer fluently and find an app quickly has outweighed the need for a interactive widget. Is a widget the proper solution to the design problem of having to perform a task quickly on your device? I say no - the solution is a better launcher which is cohesive (a clear distinction between app drawer and homescreen), hierarchical (e.g. the varying tile sizes in WP8 gives hierarchical importance to certain apps) and fast (not laggy). Windows phone is a good example, it makes smart design choices like the alphabetical labels in the app drawer, however, it is not the ideal solution.
- Eliminating home screen widgets makes it possible to improve the uncohesive user experience as the only design difference between an android home screen and app drawer is widgets.
- Technology is at a state that apps open very fast. The widget is no longer a "shortcut" to a specific app function. Time saving is not a justification for widgets.
- So are widgets just customizable visual eye candy (?): Pretty analogue clock faces and fancy battery indicators? Maybe so...but honestly, is this a justification for their existence. Widgets are not essential for pretty home screens, and often the combination of different widgets can lead to ugly and uncohesive layouts, there must be a better solution. Live tiles are cohesive and can be pretty, so are live tiles the ideal final solution? No. But android should follow example, release itself from widgets and look at better alternatives.
What I have done is to look at the "launcher landscape" (which can be considered evidence) and I have identified the two launchers that are cohesive – WP8/Launcher8 and the iOS homescreen. Then I have compared them to the other launchers (which are not cohesive) and I have identified the difference between the two: Widgets. You could see my argument as deductive because I am saying "widget break cohesion. This launcher uses widgets therefore it is uncohesive", but I am not actually reasoning it, I have actually not seen a launcher that uses widgets and that is cohesive. My argument is purely based on "evidence".
The argument could be reasoned out however. Widgets come in different sizes a mix of styles that are not cohesive. Theoretically, a solution could be implemented to make widgets have similar styles and sizes…but isnt this what a Live Tile is? (mind you, a improved live tile with interactive controls, etc)
I think google realizes this problem, there are signals that indicate this, for example the stock andorid widgets have not been updated in a long time. Google clearly has the intention of changing this but their direction of action is still not clear. In my opinion, this is something that should have been adressed from the begining, and small UI tweaks (that third party launchers like Action Launcher) are not enough, it has to be something radical like WP8 or Google Now cards (However, I am hesitant to use google Now as an example because it is far from being a complete homescreen and even further from being a complete launcher).
How do you use widgets? Do you have a genuine use that justifies their existence? let me know, I'm interested in knowing. I used widgets often, using Launcher 8 has changed that for the better. Now I only use widgets in my lock screen - the only place they actually make sense. Give it a try yourself!