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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Android – not so Alien among mobile platforms

Android_keypad Today Google announced their SDK for Android and revealed their OS architecture.  We get a first glimpse how they decided to solve the user experience.

The first impression was positive, the user experience was a Yahoo Go 2.0 meets the Blackberry Pearl UI. Nicer notifications than iPhone, cleaner core navigation than iPhone. No softkeys, more fluid application switching. Clearly less alien, than I had hoped.

What I did not see was two things I have been hoping that would be innovated:

1. A new menu system, essentially removing the concept of applications. Toward task centricity and content centricity. See my post on the Transformer OS.
2. Powerful uber search as a navigation paradigm (think super QIX, just to point you in the right direction).

The keypad was very predictable, 5-way, back, Options, Home. (There is a funny cross on the image, don't know what it does.) They could have done with a more stylish keypad by integrated back and home, now they will not get balanced keypad designs.

That said, they are like any other mobile UI, just marginally better, but still same paradigm, one of menus.

Where they had innovated was in backstepping, notifications, and device2device / network2device communication.

They have a fluid backstepping model that allows the user to backstep accross applications. This means it is true backstepping rather than application silo backstepping we have been used to in phones. It is a good improvement as the goal is to create seamless web and native apps. I wonder does the system go to the network in the backstepping, for example if the backstepping involves a map app with GPS, if the device location has changed does it try to update and redraw the new tiles it downloaded from the network or not, or backstep directly. I assume there is some timer. This is a critical things to be wary of as most networks will charge at the attempt to make a connection. I have personally spent 120 Euro on 2.667 due to these kind of little data packets, was some error. This places in experience I call seams and in mobile experiences it is crucial to get the seams designed right.

The notification framework is interesting and its transparency is nice. Rich notification is crucial in the recommendation culture we are living in with services like Twitter. Again how to prioritize them, toggle them. Who decides the order, last served is not always right?

What sounded very interesting was the device2device communication through their XMPP Service which allows any applications to send device to device data messages to other android users. This is very potential enabling interesting P2P experiences.

What I was waiting for was some word on security and extensibility of the user experience.

Listening to the videos on YouTube (about 30min), the word security was not mentioned a single time. I guess that is good. I am not too fond of app signing as I see that being a control point rather than insurance for the user I hope developers will not go after this openness, just because it is Google that did this platform.

What still makes me most skeptical about Android is the user experience control model. I am worried if Google controls it and I am worried if they let the operators control it. Both are suboptimal, the latter is terrible.

We have to remember that it is one of the biggest if not the only neutralizer in addition to brand the handset vendors and Msoft have to fight against total control of the carriers is the UI. The battle for the UI in the handsets has been one of the more serious technology battles in the past 10 years and due to intense competition we (consumers) are better off, only thing we have had to do is to learn a bit, which is not bad for the brain (I know some mobile UI's are worse than others, but that is just what competition is all about.). If Google plays their cards right things are good, if they play it wrong, an even stronger hand lands in the hands of the operators, and then, what can I say, the system won...the androids helped the system win.

If I look at the mobile business from Google's point of view, I really think android is a good bet. Creating GMail and Maps apps alone is not going to make them relevant in mobile. Search is still up for grabs, but one really needs to re-engineer the back-end for mobile the web results have little relevance in my mind, but even when that is done, I am not sure search alone would make much of a dent in the mobile universe.

So Googlers, next you have to change the game in wireless access! Bid, don't bend. This is in my opinion your social responsibility as the elected representatives and bureaucrats converged towards greed. Remember those 3G auctions.

12:31 AM in Technology | Permalink


Building a super QIX like application will be possible however and it can replace the entire UI, that is powerful.

Posted by: Stefan Constantinescu at Nov 13, 2007 9:56:56 AM

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Posted by: Jackson at Apr 10, 2008 10:25:27 AM