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Google director of user experience talks future of Android

The guys over at Engadget posted an interesting interview with Matias Duarte, the guy behind the Sidekick and Palms webOS, now in charge of Androids user experience. He had some interesting stuff to say about the Gingerbread development but even more about Honeycomb and the direction Android was headed. If you don't have a half hour to watch, read on past the break for a summary.

Personally, I wasn't too impressed with what Gingerbread brought to the table, since it wasn't really that much. It was definitely necessary to get all the polishing done and make it just a little snappier and nicer, but a few integrated functions like video chatting would've done it good. Duarte spoke about the limited time-frame of Gingerbread and the fact that it had to be coordinated with the Nexus S launch so it makes sense that they couldn't get that much done. In the Dive into Mobile video, Andy Rubin claimed that the way development works with Android is targeting third party partners, building some hardware and then building and testing on one piece of unified hardware. It seems Duartes reality, at least with Gingerbread, was a little different: he described Googles directly partnered hardware more of a show model to show off their core mobile product - Android. 

What is more interesting though, is him talking about Honeycomb. I gave you a full run-down of their demo and also talked about what the jump in version numbers and the fact that it's made for tablets means for the future of Android. Thankfully, I was wrong. Duarte confirmed that the changes we saw in Honeycomb are coming to phones too. I called the fact that GTalk video chat was coming sooner than later, but I wasn't expecting all the UI modifications to hit too. It seems that all the dynamic menus that change according to whatever you are trying to do - replacing hidden menus and menus inside menus - are hitting phones sometime in the future. 

He also described the design decisions based on the "different use paradigms" (Josh's words) such as getting rid of hardware buttons because of changing screen orientation and the Windows 7 like app state preview when switching between apps. Apparently, they'll leave the decision of integrating different features, such as the soft buttons, to individual manufacturers, at least on phones. While I think it's great that they're there on a tablet and it's easier to get around and use it, on a phone I would vote for hard buttons to get the extra screen real estate, but you'll have the choice to go for a screen-only phone in the future. There's a bunch more interesting stuff so if you're interested in Android only you can watch the last 10 minutes of so to see what Duarte's vision in building Honeycomb was.



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  • Alex T. Jan 12, 2011 Link to comment

    @Martin: the Android buttons we've come to love will still be consistent throughout the system (more so than now, considering each manufacturer throws buttons in whatever order they like on devices) - the home, back and app toggle buttons are in the bottom bar, the menu key in the top right. Whatever devs do outside of that stands just as free to them as it is now. And if manufacturers decide to go with physical buttons, I think the outcome is the same.

    @Douglas: Both Gizmodo and Engadget appeal to the general masses so their posts are fairly informal and, considering how little specific stuff we know about Honeycomb right now, it's hard to strike a balance between pure tech and entertainment in content. I did feel like they were both sort of talking around each others responses though.

  • I saw the video on Friday last week. The interview was informing in some ways. However, I felt that the Engadget guy was asking questions that were kinda stupid and it seemed like he was fawning over Duarte.

  • I like the 4 Buttons on my Nexus-One. They always look the same and they always behave the some.

    With Soft-Buttons developers will develop there own "cool", "cooler", "the coolest" ideas. Not understanding coolness in user interface design only impresses for a few minutes, while consistency last throughout the lifetime of the application.

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