One of the most eye-popping aspects of the Google I/O keynote was the radical design changes coming to the stock Android user interface in the L release, what we likely will know as Android 5.0 Lollipop. Everything Google has been working on comes down to a key concept: Material Design, and a key element: cards. Just as Google Now is penetrating more and more into Android, Google Now-style cards are becoming the default interface element as well.
What is Material Design?
''Material Design'' is the overarching concept that ties the whole interface makeover together. The Holo standard has begun to look a little tired (yes, you can abuse me for that in the comments!) and Google obviously knew it was time for a refresh to coincide with the biggest Android update yet. Material Design harks back to ''primitive'' man, where we understood objects and planes through simple elements like shadows and touch feedback. This is where the new stock Android interface has drawn its inspiration but it will also find its way into Google's web properties and ChromeOS.
How does it work?
Well, there's super flat design, as we have already seen with the new Google+ app and Gmail leaks, with different ''layers'' distinguished by shadows in the same way as you'd see between leaves of a book. Developers can set ''elevation values'' for different UI elements and have shadows rendered by Android in real time. There's also bold, bright colors and adaptive ''palettes,'' where apps can draw their color from the content they are displaying. So your gallery banner may soak up color from the images you're displaying or your music player from the album art.
Touch response is another core feature of the L release, with animations to accompany every key press. System-wide transitions between apps, pages, menus and more are fully animated, so the entire experience of Android will become more fluid and consistent. There's new navigation buttons that look a lot like PlayStation controls, with a triangle for back, circle for home and square for recent apps. It's actually quite clever (and easily replaceable if you simply hate it). Everything is clear, bold, easily readable (even the system font Roboto got an update for readability) and everything is much more intentional-looking. Google really wants to tidy up Android across the board, and Material Design is a great first step in achieving that goal.
What does it look like?
Beyond the Material Design guidelines, which developers can start making use of already and which will debut in Google's apps in the months to come, there's also the Material theme for apps. As you've probably guessed already, it revolves around a few key ideas: touch response animations, 3D views with real-time shadows and activity transitions. Pop up mini-menus will replace the current action of launching an entirely new window and nested scrolling allows you to decide which elements scroll together. As we've already seen with the new Google+ app, menu actions take a turn to floating buttons rather than living in system bars.
Likewise scrollable and expandable notifications, which will now be accessible direct from the lock screen, effectively combining the lock screen with the notifications shade. You can set privacy options so no personal messages will be displayed without first fully unlocking the screen or you can everything set to broadcast publicly, meaning you can read and respond to notifications from your lock screen. ''Personal unlocking'' also means you can set specific locations like your home or other conditions (like proximity to your Bluetooth smartwatch) as ''safe'' so your security is automatically turned off when those conditions are met. No more endless PIN entry every time you pick up your phone!
Floating pop ups, called ''heads up'' notifications can also appear above any other content you're currently involved with, kind of how some SMS apps and instant messenger apps currently do things. Again, you can respond immediately without needing to launch the full app, or you can swipe to dismiss the notification and continue what you were doing. There's also new system icons (shown below) and the system bar will either be fully clear or adapt to the color of the app that is currently running. The stock Android keyboard also gets a refresh with the borders around each letter vanishing. When the final version is ready we'll be pulling it all apart for you, but in the meantime stay tuned for our L release preview video!
What do you think of the new design previewed in the L release? Is it better or worse than Holo?