Notes on Androids new Honeycomb UI

It’s CES time, which means a plethora of new slightly improved gadgets to hold us over until the next time we get slightly improved gadgets. For fans of Android and fans of UI design, Google dropped a bundle of joy in this video introduction to Android 3.0 “Honeycomb”. Here are screencaps and anecdotal commantary.

android3_visuals

This must be Matias Duarte’s art style. Or perhaps the movie Tron Legacy designed the new Android?

tron_legacy_poster

No matter, I loved Tron Legacy (please go watch it so I can get a sequel!), I’ll learn to love this as well.

android3_lockscreen

Nice lock screen. It’s still “something you drag from A to B”, but it’s probably not something Apple’s patented this time. Also, there’s a good chance this won’t unlock in your pocket (if you could fit a 10 inch tablet in your pocket, that is). That font though… It’s very 1993. The wallpaper is very 2001 though, which is actually not bad, just very techno.

android3_homescreen

New homescreen still shows select app shortcuts and widgets. So that’s classic Android with a new coat of paint and a nice new ubiquitous app launcher button (so you can launch a new app without going to the homescreen first).

The three buttons in the bottom left reveal potential awesomeness. We’ve been told (at one point) that Android tablets won’t have any facing physical buttons — no permanent context buttons — which in itself is a step forward. But these buttons, to me, look like “back”, “home” and “switch between apps”. Which, if true, spells the not-soon-enough death of the infamous “menu” button. Why is this good? It means that lazy Android app authors can no longer hide settings and help links in a mystery-meat hidden context menu. If they want their apps to be tablet compatible, that is.

android3_chromebrowser

Hey, that almost looks like Google Chrome, doesn’t it? Does that mean improved speed, standards support, bookmark sync, tabs and extensions? Oh my. I can see myself wanting one of these tablets now.

Overall, this looks really nice. Some of it is a bit off, but the sharp diagonals and mostly flat colors aesthetic seems to land in a good place between the delicous but spartan Windows Phone 7 UI and the overly textured and glossy iOS UI. It’s got some growing to do, but this a good place to grow from. The best thing: this UI feels like a serious jab at skin vendors like HTC and Motorola. People are going to want this UI, not “Sense” or “Blur”.

Android MIUI Mini-Review

MIUI is a japanese chinese (apologies, ed.) homebrew version of Googles Android operating system. It is installable via strange super-user voodoo, a process which is not for the faint of heart. I’ve talked about it before, but in a fit of boredom, I installed it. Here’s a mini-review.

miui_home4

The first thing you’ll notice in MIUI is that it’s replaced the default Droid Sans font with Helvetica, system-wide. From then on, it’s clear that Apples iOS has been the main inspiration for this Android custom ROM. This not only goes for the font, but it goes for the settings design, the semi-transparent statusbar and even to concepts such as the lack of an app-drawer, forcing all apps onto the homescreens. This last concept makes a lot of sense, and in the MIUI implementation, you get the added abillity to sort freely where your icons are placed — not just their order. That, and widgets and other Android niceties, of course.

miui_apps miui_folders2 miui_settings

In many ways, MIUI is tasteful. The lockscreen, while suffering from the same “too easy to unlock” stupidity as the HTC Sense lockscreen, is very pretty, and the stack of default wallpapers (even this stack is inspired by iOS) is gorgeous.

miui_themes

I’ve previously argued that building an entire Android distribution, just to be redesign the skin a little bit, is a bad idea. That said, MIUI does utilize the extra responsibility to do some neat tricks, such as the widget organizer as well as the statusbar tray power control.

miui_tray miui_widgets

In the end, however, MIUI does suffer from fragmentation-itis, and so you can expect instability to be inherent. Which once again illustrates the really basic concept: building an entire operating system is hard and difficult work. Forking a path in the road simply to be able to change the skin and add a few features, I find, is a waste of time; time better spent building the individual features and themes into Android Market apps.

miui_crash

Gmail Creator Paul Buchheit: Chrome OS Will Perish Or “Merge” With Android

Gmail Creator Paul Buchheit:

Prediction: ChromeOS will be killed next year (or “merged” with Android)

People don’t get it — I didn’t at first. Chrome OS is there to replace Windows XP for hospitals, municipalities, large corporations, clothing shops for inventory management, gyms, etc. Anywhere browser-based apps only are used, Chrome OS is going to be huge.

Sure, we’ll see Chrome on Android, but it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that Chrome OS is to Chrome what XBMC Live is to XBMC. It’s Chrome plus a wafer thin client, for the markets that need just that. Which is a lot of markets.

Android 3.0 Honeycomb tidbits shown on Moto tablet [Update]

The trickle has become a steady flow of juicy Google stuff. Now Andy Rubin shows off Android 3.0 “Honeycomb” on a prototype Motorola tablet. Nice. Bullet-list thoughts:

  • New minimalist lock screen. Nice.
  • Having used the iPad, I’m not in the market for an LCD tablet. I want a Pixel Qi (“color e-ink”) tablet.
  • The buttons in the bottom left of this image, vaguely resemble “back”, “home”, and “something” buttons. Could that be software button replacements for the notorious Android hardware buttons? If so, cheers all around!
  • … if they are indeed software button replacements, what a brilliant place to put them. One problem with the iPad browser is that the back button is the desktop-logical upper-left corner, far away from your fingers.
  • What a clean main UI. Through the blur, it looks like the notification tray holds a google search field, voice input field, apps drawer and “configure” dropdown. The main screen looks configurable like Android is as usual — widgets, apps where you want them. The bottommost dock is nowhere to be found, which makes sense for a tablet since that’s not something you have in your pocket, hence not in the need of super duper real estate for the dialer and the browser.
  • The fact that the app drawer is intact, hints that the Android “configurable homescreen” paradigm is intact. This is in contrast to the iOS approach, which puts every app you install on your homescreen, and uninstalls every app you remove from your homescreen. The latter makes a lot of sense, but it looks like Google is running and iterating with the former approach.

Next on the Google menu: Google Chrome OS and Chrome Web Apps.

[Update]: The tablet does indeed have software-only system buttons. That’s awesome. Here’s the video.

Why the Nexus S doesn’t have an SD card slot (and why that’s a good thing)

Googles just-announced Nexus S smartphone does not have an SD card expansion slot, like most other Android phones have. Which is a good thing.

Like I wrote just a few weeks ago, Android has a serious issue with app data storage, which can currently only be stored on internal storage. App data storage means your email, your calendar appointments, thumbnails from your gallery app, cached tweets, browser cache. That adds up. The problem presents itself when the internal storage has been filled up, and you can no longer receive email until you “resolve the situation”. This is especially a problem when you only have 512 mb internal storage, of which half is eaten by the system. Incidentally, that means the Nexus One and my HTC Desire.

By removing the SD Card option and making the internal storage on the Nexus S 16 gb, Google pretty much solves the problem the way Apple has done it: everything is stored on the same space, and there’s no confusion. Sure, they could’ve gone the Galaxy S way and had 16 gb internal storage plus an optional SD card, but as a flag-ship device whose purpose is to raise the bar for other vendors, this sends a clear signal.

Besides, if Google gets their act together and launch Google Music, you’ll probably be wifi syncing & caching your music with no need for more space.

Google Nexus S — a few quick thoughts

In other news, Google is continuing the Nexus brand and come December 16th, US people can buy an unlocked “Google-experience” phone with “pure” Android — that is, Android without third party vendor skins like HTC Sense. Which means it’s most likely going to be the best Android phone on the market, and certainly the one you should be comparing to the iPhone. It’s all in this motion-pamphlet:

Some thoughts.

Nexus S

  • Check out the Galaxy S like “S” in the Nexus S logo.
  • I love that the Nexus brand survived.
  • “You’re always going to be getting the latest upgrades, and the latest software”. Sounds like Google is trying to compete with the other Android vendors, which is both good and bad. Good in that the Nexus series is alive for purists like me, bad because it probably means Google won’t be enforcing stricter rules on competing Android distributions.

Skin

home-lg

  • So everyone expected this to be the groundbreaking tablet-ready UI. Considering it’s clearly not, I do think there’s a fairly remarkable amount of change going on.
  • Black means “elegant”, and it’s elegant for the topmost menubar, especially in its flat form. I’m thinking the previous white one looked like it did, bevel and all, to indicate its drag-down-ability. I think perhaps Google realized that the notification tray is something you simply have to learn, and once you have, you know what to do.
  • Another reason black makes a lot of sense, is that on a phone featuring an AMOLED display, black brings better battery life.
  • Green makes a lot of sense as an accent color, considering Googles Android logo is green.
  • The UI certainly looks a lot more polished when watching this video.
  • I may be reading too much into this, but it looks as though the shading on the various notification icons is similar to the one on Chrome Web Store icons.

Features

  • “The fastest version of Android yet”, is something any OS developer can tout. They’d better mean it — not that Froyo wasn’t fast, but it had still better be noticable.
  • “Tools for game development”, that’s nice! Android has needed its own “DirectX” for a while.
  • Lots of under the hood improvements. That’s fine. Still no Chrome browser though.
  • Ooh! New keyboard! I hope it gets a Danish dictionary.

Gingerbread was rumoured to be the watershed moment for Android. Looks like that’s been postponed to “Honeycomb”, the rumoured next release. Still, it looks like a solid upgrade. I only hope that they’ve actually fixed the problem with data being stored on the ridiculously small amount of internal storage. That, and that the Nexus S. comes to Denmark.