Josh Constine reports:
For Google to win, it needs to attract the best designers to its team and get beautiful third-party apps built for its platforms. Yet right now it’s Google’s rival Apple and the iOS ecosystem that are known for their style. So this year, Google’s Jon Wiley tells me it’s “doing a really big push around design” at its 2014 I/O developer conference by adding sessions on Android UX, wearable app design, speech interfaces, and more.
This is a nice idea and it’ll make for a few nice headlines, but it’s not really going to accomplish much.
First, the idea that Google needs to attract designers to “win” against iOS is misguided at best. But that’s a discussion for another day.
A software platform’s UI and design ethos can’t be changed on a whim by conference sessions and a marketing push. It’s deeply ingrained, built over the platform’s entire lifespan, and very slow to change. Android’s best apps usually aren’t as good as iOS’ best apps because people who value and demand the best apps — both customers and developers — overwhelmingly choose iOS.
The platform sets the standard for the apps. Developers and designers take cues from the platform, striving to fit in even when pushing the limits. iOS’ design is clear, high-quality, strongly opinionated, and consistent. It inherently expects quality. There are tons of shitty apps, too, but developers who care about good design are given a strong foundation to build upon and strong environmental norms for inspiration.
Android’s design is always “getting better”, but never great. It’s less opinionated, less consistent, and less clear. There are still a lot of rough edges and tiny annoyances that add up. The culture capable of shipping that is always going to be a culture in which design is a checkbox that can be added later, not a core principle considered with every decision at every level.
By boosting the design side of I/O’s program, Wiley hopes Google can inspire more developers to treat their users as humans, rather than just growth metrics.
Android developers will follow Google’s lead on that.