My friend and co-worker Tom has a thesis about Apple’s biggest problem: Google is getting better at design faster than Apple is getting better at web services.
I’m not overly concerned with Apple’s struggle with developing quality web services, those things can be purchased when you have $100 billion in the bank, but I have been interested in Google’s slow march into great design. Google updated both the Android and the iOS versions of their gmail apps this week and, despite some functional complaints about the iOS version, the reviews have been outstanding. The number one reason for all of the fuss? They’re beautiful, and that’s not very Google-y.
It’s strange, really, that Google was given a pass on design for so long. If we go all of the way back to their roots they’ve been staunchly minimalist - the google.com homepage has sported the same centered text box on a white back for a decade and a half. But when Google threw itself into the mobile space with the acquisition of Android, and for years afterward, minimalist design was nowhere to be seen. Colors and sizing and layouts were all over the board. For years we heard Android enthusiasts dismiss criticism of design elements with arguments for pure functionality, as if these two things were opposing forces incapable of working in the presence of the other.
With the launch of Ice Cream Sandwich and the hiring of Matias Duarte Google showed its first conscious effort to create a cohesive design language for the platform. Sure, many of their own apps still lacked the ‘Holo’ design principles they evangelized, but the idea was there. Design was important. Now we’re seeing the company run with that idea on a consistent basis. The calendar application, Gmail, even maps feel like they were designed by the same hands.
If you’re using a non-nexus device you might disagree with the sentiment that the applications are beginning to share the same designs. That’s because your HTC or Samsung or LG calendar application - your notes, and e-mail, and messaging applications - are not the same as what’s being pumped directly from google. And that’s a damn shame. It’s a nagging imperfection for many of us that follow the progress of android and other mobile operating systems. Android stands alone in its difficulty to provide similar experiences for all of its users, many of them are multiple software updates behind.
I’ve argued in the past that google should try to change that forcefully. I’ve argued that they clearly have the strong hand in any negotiation situation and that they should use it. I’m not so sure anymore, but only because I think google is already planning to kill them softly. Where I chose a hatchet, Google is choosing a suffocating pillow and they’re coming in the night. Google’s pillow is its new found ability to create great design.
HTC and Samsung and Lg have never had great design principles. Have they been better than Google’s in the past. Hell yeah, they have. But that used to be like winning a shit painting contest with a chimp. The goal of manufacturer created custom launchers has always been differentiation. There are thousands of android devices out there, Samsung wants you to know you’re using a samsung the moment you pick one up. HTC wants you to recognize their flipping clock widget the next time you buy a phone. LG…well LG might just want you to think you’re holding a Samsung device, too. The point is, if Google keeps improving on their design at the rate they have been, there’s going to be a point where consumers will see the difference in quality. They’ll know a true google created android device the same way they know an iphone from a chinese knockoff.
My girlfriend got her first smartphone last week and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve been pestering her about getting one for the last three years.
“You’d be able to get directions yourself if you had a smartphone”
“You could cross-check that price on Amazon”
“You could tweet. Seriously, tweet. Please”
She bought a Motorola Electrify M from U.S. Cellular. It’s a really great choice for a first smartphone, especially for someone who’s concerned about the increasing size of modern smartphones. Motorola has also done a great job of keeping modifications to stock Android minimal. The changes they’ve made are actually very beneficial to new smartphone users - features like a default ‘quick menu’ page and a built in tutorial application. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for her, though, and the problems she’s run into highlight the issues I have with Android.
My girlfriend visited me a week ago and I threw a few questions at her to see how fast she was picking it up. She was doing just fine, but she did have a question about her NFC possibly being broken. NFC isn’t something I (or anyone on earth) use on a regular basis, but how hard could it be? Her Electrify M wasn’t “beaming” or receiving photos over NFC. Her brother and sister bought the same phone and hadn’t had any issues with it. I dug into the ‘settings’ menu, went to NFC and Android Beam - they were both set to ON. Alright, we’re looking good. I turn my NFC on and get ready to beam over some awesome pictures of dogs. No dice. The phones did their little vibe action, made a cute little beeping noise, then sent me to a non-existent Play Store app. Huh.
We’ve all seen Samsung’s now infamous sex video sending family commercial. I think it’s great. Largely because I’m attracted to the Samsung wife, but it’s also a damn good commercial. In the commercial, and a few more Samsung commercials, we see large media files like photos and sexy videos beamed from phone to phone in mere seconds. Well, I couldn’t get a picture of a dog on a bed to send over the course of five minutes. I would never, ever receive that Samsung wife’s video.
I launched into problem solving mode. Was her phone really broken? Was I doing something wrong? Do I smush them together harder? Smush. SMUSH. Nope. I didn’t know what the hell Android Beam was. You might not either. Here’s a crash course.
NFC stands for ‘Near Field Communication’. It builds off of old RFID technology that worked passively - meaning the RFID wasn’t powered - it needed to be close to a reader to activate. The reader sends out a magnetic field that induces electricity within the RFID. The reader reads the magnetic field sent back to it. NFC is powered and allows for communication between two devices. Really, NFC turns your phone into the reader in the RFID example. So if you’re walking down the street and you see a poster for a concert that says, “put your phone here”, your phone creates a magnetic field, activates the passive NFC tag in the poster, then your phone reads the returning radio signal and probably sends you to the ticket purchasing site.
Android Beam is NFC software found on most high-end smartphones, today. It allows for the transferring of contact data, directions, web pages, youtube links. Small stuff. What Android Beam can’t do is send large files. In fact, the largest data feature Android Beam can send are contacts. This is because NFC itself is incapable of sending that large of files on its own.
So, how is sexy Samsung mom sending videos to her ungrateful husband? Did she post them to youtube? Sadly, no. What we see happening in the Samsung commercial is Samsung’s own “S-Beam”. It uses NFC, just like Android Beam, but it uses NFC to activate a wifi direct connection. Yes, that’s terribly confusing for the average consumer.
The average consumer isn’t going to do the research I did. When they watch the Galaxy S3 commercial, I don’t think they’re going to come away from it with the impression that only Samsung phones with NFC have that capability. I sure didn’t. I thought, ‘hey, they’re really playing up the uses of NFC. Probably because the iPhone doesn’t have it’. But that’s not the case. S-Beam is a Samsung only technology, and we’re sure to see similar technologies come flying out from the always one step behind LG (L-BEAM) and other android manufacturers.
While most of the tech world has been clamoring for stock android on as many devices as possible, every manufacturer has been silently giving every nerd the finger. I imagine everyone at HTC goes to bed every night imagining all of the wonderful things in the world they could ruin with Sense.
“You know what that puppy could use? SENSE”
“Barista, could I get a little Sense in my frap?”
Custom android launcher like Sense are annoying, yes, but in theory they shouldn’t create too much of a chasm between different manufacturers devices outside of aesthetics. I think that’s annoying and problematic enough, but manufacturers clearly see future profits in differentiating themselves in any way possible from the rest of the android hord. What Samsung’s S-Beam represents is something else entirely. S-Beam is a functional differentiation that’s not available on other devices, and that’s a pain in the ass.
Samsung has every right to improve their devices and protect whatever advances they make to do that, you might be thinking. And I would agree, but I would argue that it’s nigh time for Google to remind Android manufacturers how much they owe them. It’s a mutually beneficial system, but Samsung is undoubtedly more dependant on google than google is to….well, anybody. Google should use that leverage to “encourage” manufacturers to share technological advancements so that Android stays as consistent from device to device as possible.
Can you imagine that glorious world? A world where every Android phone had the same OS version because they were able to launch that OS on a single launch day to all devices (*all hardware capable devices, of course). A world where “G-Beam” allows for photo transfers to and from ANY Android phone.
This was a little ranty-er than I meant for it to be. The takeaway is that NFC is a really cool technology that has an amazing future. That future is being postponed because of stupid hissy fits between manufacturers and vendors. The consumer loses, mostly out of confusion.
Oh, and it turns out that my girlfriends’ siblings must have had wifi-direct turned on. Of course.
Marko Ahtisaari Loves the Lumia 920 More Than I’ve Ever Loved Anything
Head of product design at Nokia, Marko Ahtisaari, designed Nokia’s N9 and led the charge in bringing the same design to Nokia’s Lumia line. Here he is doing his best Jonny Ive impression while looking incredibly creepy. He really, really likes his 920. “MAYBE SUPERNATURAL”. Yeah, maybe, Marko. Maybe.
Tech Lust: A Justification Brought to You by Guilt
I was eight years-old, it was Christmas morning 1997, and a searing desire burned away at my insides. That desire was joined by anticipation, anxiety, and entirely too much hot chocolate. I was probably on the brink of overheating due to my prepubescent body’s inability to create sweat, but more important things were at hand. I’d been waiting for this morning for 364 days, as most eight year-olds do, and this morning (like all christmas mornings) had the potential to make all of my wildest dreams come true. I’d been lusting after the Nintendo 64 for the entire year. I was an avid Nintendo Power subscriber, so I knew all about the unbelievable graphics, the amazing games, and how this foray into 3D games was about to revolutionize my world. The Nintendo 64 was my muse. I longed after it. I obsessed over the curves of its body like an older boy might a woman’s hips. I even disparaged my love’s rivals - The playstation was garbage. Discs are a mistake, I thought. Sony doesn’t know games like Nintendo, I knew. How dare they even think to challenge my loyalty. That disc guzzling harlot won’t know my love, I promised. It was Christmas morning and I knew fate had ordained this day mine.
I opened every present held in a box smaller than the one I’d already sized up at Shopko with a dishonest smile, an empty thank you, and complete disinterest. I saw what was going on. Yes, make me wait for the best present. Let the anticipation build. And it did build. Higher and higher until it was overcome by anxiety, fear, and all my hot chocolate pushing for an exit. No more presents - no Nintendo 64 - no hope for a better life, greener pastures, or the most realistic blood splatter effects I’d ever see. I held strong, though. I was raised well enough to hide any obvious disappointment, though it was probably painfully obvious I’d just been stabbed with a Christmas betrayal I’d surely have to find therapy for later in life. But my mother went into her bedroom and retrieved one last present. Well, two more presents, but there was only one in my beaming, half bowl-cut covered, eyes. She walked into the living room carrying a game system sized box with a game-sized box stacked on top. Of course. Of course fate would make the culmination of my year of longing as dramatic as this system deserved. The best movies have a twist, and this love story that started with heartache was bound to end with me curled in front of our enormous console TV playing Madden 64 until eleven o’clock at night.
That’s not a unique story, even if it’s filled with fictitious sexual innuendo that would have horrified my eight year-old self. Ask a hundred people if they had a similar childhood experience and 90 of them will tell you they did - 10 of them don’t celebrate Christmas or are too embarrassed to admit they could ever want something inanimate so badly. But these childhood longings and temporary obsessions don’t go away when we outgrow being gifted things without any responsibility to reciprocate. We get our own dispensable income to throw at whatever gadget is making us tingle at the moment, and the way technology moves forward with reckless abandon insures we’ll get a new tingle every few months. All of the tech tingles I’m feeling right now drove me to write this, actually. Between the Lumia 920’s camera, the low-price Nexus 4, and the svelte HTC 8X, I’m like a 15 year-old boy at cheer camp. Winter is coming, and my boyhood desire is coming with it (you’re now on an FBI watchlist).
What is it about these tech toys that drive people to pay upwards of $1000 on a single device? What is it about iPads or iPhones that keeps smiles on peoples’ faces while they wait in lines overnight for the opportunity to buy one? That’s hard to answer. The easy answer is that it’s the same lusty feelings I had on that Christmas morning in 1997, but the toys we’re talking about are much different than my lovely N64, and we’re talking about adults. The mobile gadgets, the toys, we’re seeing released today represent a lot more than the opportunity to waste hour after hour on mindless fun (they do that too, of course). They’re tools. Very, very advanced tools. More advanced than the computer systems that sent men to the moon. All of that technology, the endless possibilities that come with that technology, is available in the palm of your hand.
It’s hard to overstate just how amazing today’s mobile devices have become, really. They’ve become so vehemently ingrained in so many of our everyday lives we forget to take a step back and see what they’ve become and what we’ve become as a result. They serve as extensions of ourselves - holding all of our personal information, saving conversations with our friends, providing us with the senses we lack organically (gps, barometers, accelerometers, and more), and tell us about our surroundings. In a sense, you’re already well on your way to becoming a strange, android cousin to yesterday’s homosapien. You provide your little computer with the legs it needs to collect information, and in exchange it gives you access to instant image capture, all of your long term memory (cloud storage), instant directions, and so much more.
So, why aren’t your neighbors launching their cats to the moon and back if they have these god-like extensions of themselves in their hands? Well, that’s because today’s mobile technology is flexible. It’s capable of just about anything, and the way people manage to use them account for just about all of those things. The technology accentuates the users own abilities. A shitty photographer won’t suddenly produce moving photos with a Lumia 920. Your grandmother won’t decrease her recipe blog’s bounce rate by downloading Google Analytics. But put the 920 in talented hands and you’ll see spectacular results. Give a cyclist any smartphone on the market and they’ll be able to track every ride they take, find popular routes in their area, and race everyone else that’s ridden that route. Give a bear an AK-47 and you’ll probably be disappointed. Give a bear a suit of armour and knives for claws and you’ll probably be running.
The capabilities of technology go a long way in explaining the tingles, but it’s not enough to highlight what these devices can do. Especially when many of our gnawing desires come from devices that are relatively small iterations of previous devices. Hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of iPhone 4s owners are going to trade in their phones for a new iPhone 5. The iPhone 5 isn’t going offer anyone with a 4s any groundbreaking new capabilities. What it will do is change how the users want to use their devices. Really. By merely having a larger screen and faster processor, the iPhone 5 and the countless other new smartphones and tablets being released this holiday season present consumers with incentives to re-evaluate how they use the technology. Maybe they’ll do more reading. Maybe they’ll waste more time on games. Maybe they’ll start doodling more like they promised themselves they would. People get excited about these new phones because they’re shiny and pretty and status symbols, yes. They get excited because they’ve been fervent consumerists from the moment they lusted after their first game console. But people also get excited because in all of their excitement they allow themselves to imagine what they’d do with all of that new power in their pocket. The anticipation lets their minds wander to their dreams and how the new gadget might help them get there. What’s a better product to get excited about than one that proudly answers, “How will this make my life easier” with a list too long to read?
I spent a long time struggling with how to review a product like the new chromebook. With most reviews the product being reviewed fits an existing niche, has product peers to compare it to, or at the very least has a clear ambition to be something totally unique. The Series 3 Chromebook doesn’t quite fit any of those molds. It’s not quite a traditional ultrabook or netbook, there aren’t any products like it on the market (not even the other chromebooks), and google’s advertised ambitions for the chromebook are so broad that it’s impossible to judge whether or not it lives up to those ambitions. It’s the laptop “For Everyone”, but everyone is a hell of a lot of people.
What is the Chromebook? Exactly what you think it is. Remember when Dennis Green coached the Cardinals and had that huge blow up after losing a 23-3 4th quarter lead to the Bears?
Well, the chromebook is what you think it is. It’s a chrome browser in a light plastic housing. That’s really it. If you wanna crown their asses, crown them. I think I might.
The first impression out of the box was how incredibly light the Series 3 is. That shouldn’t come as a surprise with it’s full plastic body and 11.6” screen, but it’s still a little jarring even after a weeks’ use. It weighs in at just 2.4lbs, meaning you’re not likely to notice it in your bag or mind carrying by the spine like a book. I’ve already found myself carrying it places around the house that I never thought to carry my aging, soon to be retired, 15” Vaio.
The lightness comes with a sacrifice in general build quality, however. That’s not to say that the Series 3 isn’t an incredibly well-built machine for $250 - only that any computer at that price range has its limits in build materials. While the laptop feels solid throughout, there’s an inherent ‘flex’ just about everywhere. If you lift it up by a corner you’ll feel the rest of the machine bend under the pressure - if you push a thumb into the lid you’ll see it depress. What’s really interesting about all of this flexing is that it isn’t at all concerning. A small part of that comes from the base expectations of a $250 computer, but it’s mostly about how it’s doing that flexing. At no point does the computer feel like a sum of multiple parts as it bends. It’s hard to explain, but it’s the same feeling you’d get if you picked up a piece of rubber. You’d feel it bend a bit in your hand, but the feeling of the entire structure bending as one piece is a different experience than hearing the creaking of plastic on plastic. It provides great build experience for being so obviously cheap. But don’t expect Macbook Air quality, here. There isn’t a comparison and it one shouldn’t be expected.
The Chromebook Series 3 isn’t going to win any design awards, Alaskan beauty pageants, or Jon Ive’s approval. The outside of the machine is unassuming, the matte silver body being the least unique and most attractive feature. The Samsung and Chrome logos are slapped on the back in a positioning that drives me absolutely mad, but I refuse to make that a legitimate complaint. The notebook’s hinge is the most unique part of the design, and it’s unique for all the wrong reasons. It juts out from the lines of the body, making a little hump near the back of the lid. It’s ugly and a clear sacrifice that came with the price tag.
Flip the chromebook upside down and you’ll find a blank slate. There’s no fan, no battery seams, just a serial number sticker and some traction pads. Nothing of note.
Open the chromebook and you’ll see a familiar sight. The matte silver coating continues on the inside, and it’s joined by a simplistic black chiclet keyboard and oversized trackpad. It’s unmistakably…macbook-y. That’s not a bad thing at all, though. The simple design is gorgeous and fits the character of the simple machine. The 11.6” screen is framed by a bezel that is probably the largest (figuratively and literally) indicator of the device’s low price point. It’s easy to get used to, but it’s noticeably oversized in comparison to similarly sized (though not similarly priced) laptops.
This very well might be the most difficult factor to write a proper review of. I’ll break it into individual sections on the hardware side, but OS performance is difficult to describe without repeating the word ‘adequate’ ad nauseum. Can you watch video? Adequately. Will it handle the light picture editing you do? Adequately. Can it bear my usual 12 open tabs and music streaming? Adequately. To put it even more plainly - the chromebook series 3 will do everything your chrome browser can do right now, and it can do it at a speed that’s not going to be frustrating to most users. Here’s a list of tasks I’ve used it for so far and how it’s handled those tasks:
Browsing: Absolutely great. Pages load quickly, multiple tabs are open, slowdowns are rare. Imagine a tablet experience with a non-detachable keyboard. That’s about it, but faster.
Music Streaming: Good. Fair if you have other heavy activities going on. I use grooveshark and Pandora nearly every day, and the only hangups I’ve had are small skips in audio when the processing load gets high. The skips are rare, if a little discomforting.
Video: The Chromebook has no problems streaming 1080p video, but I wouldn’t buy this machine if you’re primary uses are at all video related. There’s not currently ARM Netflix support (Google says they’re close, but still a disappointing ‘out of the box’ experience) and Hulu has it’s fair share of hangups. I haven’t had any problems with youtube videos, so it’s capable, but I wouldn’t want to rely on the Series 3 if I was planning on watching full films on a regular basis.
Word Processing: This is the Chromebook’s true calling. If you’re invested in the Google Drive ecosystem there’s really no downside to the Series 3’s writing capabilities. I have yet to see any typing stalls - the letters immediately appear on screen with no delay. I suppose that’s to be expected on any computer no matter the price, but it’s still refreshing considering word processing is probably the computer’s best selling point (That’s not supposed to sound as damning as it does. See the keyboard section).
Keyboard and Trackpad
The Chromebook’s keyboard and trackpad are it’s most appealing physical features - and they’re damn good. For maybe the first time in this review, I don’t mean damn good ‘for a $250 laptop”. The keyboard and trackpad on this machine are good even compared to computers in the $800 range. This is the computer’s saving grace for people focused on the plastic build - when your wrists are rested on that plastic and you’re typing and two-finger scrolling your balls off the build quality is the last thing on your mind. The only build quality you’re experiencing is wonderfully responsive, clicky keys and an effortless trackpad (“effortless” is high praise for any laptop trackpad outside of a macbook). Not once has the keyboard felt cramped despite its smaller real estate. In fact, I’m a poor typer (recovering pecker) and I’ve found that the slightly shrunken layout has improved my wpm.
The top of the keyboard isn’t adorned with any familiar function keys, and instead holds extremely useful chrome-centric keys, like ‘switch tabs’, ‘maximize’, and ‘refresh’. There are also brightness and volume keys, along with a strange behaving power button (you get used to it, but holding short logs off, holding long turns off).
The best feature the chromebook’s screen offers is its matte finish. The rest of the measurables don’t stack up well to most other laptops, and the screen is underwhelming in just about every metric. Yet I’m hesitant to call it bad, because at no time in using it have I noticed anything particularly bad about it. Don’t expect to be impressed by the screen’s performance, but you won’t be let down if you’re primary uses don’t involve multiple viewing angles, accurate color representation, or photo editing. That’s to say - if this display got slapped on anything over $600 I’d be outraged. But at $250 it’s more than acceptable. HD-philes beware.
There’s not much to say about Chrome OS because, despite all of the desktop UI and dedicated app views, it REALLY is just Chrome. Don’t expect anything else. What is worth talking about is what the Chrome browser is capable of, because it’s probably more than you realize. The single greatest thing the chromebook’s done for me personally is force me to discover just how far browser applications have come. If it’s not processor heavy, name it, and I’m willing to bet there’s browser app that can get the job done.
For example, I needed to edit some basic html recently. Usually I’d just fire up the the Windows wordpress app, but you can’t do that on a chromebook (trust me, you find yourself having these realizations a lot for the first few days). So I went on a search to find a solution. That’s something else you’ll find yourself doing for at least the first week of chromebook ownership: Searching through the ‘chrome web store’ for web equivalents to software you never realized you used so often. Now, it’s possible that could be a very negative experience if you don’t come into chromebook ownership with a full understanding of what you’re getting into. For me, I knew what to expect, and the experience was great because I’ve yet to fail in finding an application to fill the desktop voids. Cloud9, the IDE, filled my html editing void. It also added to my still tentative trust in a cloud-based life.
‘The cloud’ has become such a cliche’d term the last few years that it’s easy to dismiss the idea of all of your information being entrusted to one of the countless services promising complete security and reliability. But it really can be done, cloud life, and google’s making it easier than ever. I’ve said it before, but it’s never been more true: The more you give to google, the more you’ll get in return. That sounds discomforting, I know, but ecosystems are evolving to a level that’s making it hard to not commit to just one. The same thing is happening in the Microsoft camp with SkyDrive and the Apple camp with iCloud. You can leave the ecosystems, but your roots are pretty deep these days. The point: If you’re invested in the google ecosystem, the chromebook is only going to deepen that commitment. That’s not a bad thing considering the quality of their cloud services, but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re still wary of the cloud life.
The Chromebook Series 3 is what we thought it was. It’s an amazing web browsing, word processing, casual laptop. But in no stretch of the imagination is this the laptop for “everyone”. It represents a completely new take on what makes a personal computer ‘personal’. The computer isn’t personal at all - your personal files aren’t even likely to be stored anywhere on the measly 16gb of storage on the chromebook. What’s personal is your information, your files, your online life that’s stored in the pixelated internet nether. The chromebook is just a portal to all of that information - a tool to manipulate the power of the web. It most probably also represents the future of casual computing, but you have to figure out if you’re able and willing to jump into a future that’s under construction.
Android’s endless potential for customization has enamored the fickle hearts of the tech community for years. It’s an operating system that opens itself to aesthetic change, to personal touches and custom layouts. But android is now powering upwards of 75% of all smartphones sold, and only a small fraction of those hundreds of millions of android owners are what you might consider…tech literate. And even as a largely subjective matter, an even smaller section of that enormous android-toting community is capable of creating beautiful homescreen layouts. Again, I’ll highlight the fact that aesthetics are subjective, but I don’t think I’m saying anything overly controversial when I say that the homescreen of the layman android user looks absolutely terrible compared to the competition. So, why is that? I think there are a few factors involved, and we’ll focus on the one that’s easiest to change. First, android has a steeper learning curve than any other popular mobile OS. By no means is it insurmountable, and I’d argue that just one week of committed practice is enough to learn the basics for even the extreme novice, but the design analogies android uses are confusing to a lot of people. That’s being tackled by later versions, but it’s a massive beast of an issue to flesh out. Second, people have terrible taste. I’ll say it one last time, aesthetics are subjective. With that in mind, this is, objectively, a pile of horse shit:
Jon Ive would commit seppuku the moment something like this graced an iphone
Finally, the third reason the majority of android homescreens are a complete mess is that android design guidelines are incredibly vague. It’s easy to understand why - Google makes a very earnest effort to make Android as open and unconstraining as possible for developers. They haven’t had a prototypical design aesthetic to point designers towards (that’s changing with the rise of side navigating apps and holo, but that’s slow-going at best). It’s an extension of that open, “bring what you want to the table” attitude that leads to such leniency in Android icon and widget design guidelines. If you’re not going to hold developers’ hands during the process of app development, why tell them how they have to design their widgets and icons? I’ll tell you why - Because the wrong combination of apps and widgets can leave a homescreen cluttered, ugly, and a unusable to anyone who’s bothered by this photo:
Much like a misplaced bathroom tile or a wallpaper border that’s not quite parallel with the ceiling, Android’s widgets and icons have the nasty habit of not quite aligning correctly. You’ll often find that two widgets that both have “4x2” dimensions are actually entirely different widths. Android icons, unrestrained by WindowsPhone’s tiles or iOS’s rounded squares, can be found in every shape and size - including rage-inducingly small and bloodboilingly enormous.
Let’s look at the guidelines as they are now. You’ll notice that Google knows that widget design is an issue, but you’ll also notice they’re not making any demands.
Standard Widget Anatomy
Typical Android app widgets have three main components: A bounding box, a frame, and the widget’s graphical controls and other elements. App widgets can contain a subset of the View widgets in Android; supported controls include text labels, buttons, and images. For a full list of available Views, see theCreating the App Widget Layout section in the Developer’s Guide. Well-designed widgets leave some margins between the edges of the bounding box and the frame, and padding between the inner edges of the frame and the widget’s controls.
Figure 2. Widgets generally have margins between the bounding box and frame, and padding between the frame and widget controls. Note: As of Android 4.0, app widgets are automatically given margins between the widget frame and the app widget’s bounding box to provide better alignment with other widgets and icons on the user’s home screen. To take advantage of this strongly recommended behavior, set your application’stargetSdkVersion to 14 or greater. Widgets designed to fit visually with other widgets on the Home screen take cues from the other elements on the Home screen for alignment; they also use standard shading effects. All of these details are described in this document.
Determining a size for your widget
Each widget must define a minWidth and minHeight, indicating the minimum amount of space it should consume by default. When users add a widget to their Home screen, it will generally occupy more than the minimum width and height you specify. Android Home screens offer users a grid of available spaces into which they can place widgets and icons. This grid can vary by device; for example, many handsets offer a 4x4 grid, and tablets can offer a larger, 8x7 grid. When your widget is added, it will be stretched to occupy the minimum number of cells, horizontally and vertically, required to satisfy its minWidth and minHeight constraints. As we discuss inDesigning Widget Layouts and Background Graphics below, using nine-patch backgrounds and flexible layouts for app widgets will allow your widget to gracefully adapt to the device’s Home screen grid and remain usable and aesthetically awesome.
While the width and height of a cell—as well as the amount of automatic margins applied to widgets—may vary across devices, you can use the table below to roughly estimate your widget’s minimum dimensions, given the desired number of occupied grid cells
So Android 4.0 and up tries its darndest to make all of your widgets equi width, but developers have to place the correct padding permissions in their widgets. While Google “strongly recommend(s)” that developers adhere to these guidelines, a trip to your widget drawer will prove that few developers are onboard. This is the suggestion for a change in the guidelines: Review the applications that want widget support and make sure they fit your guidelines before allowing them in the marketplace. I know that sounds like everything that Android stands against - App filtering, apple-like control over the ecosystem, and COMMUNISM - but I think it’s a small, necessary sacrifice in freedom.
Android’s icon problem is a little tricker and I’m not sure how you’d approach it outside of mandating exact heights, widths, and shapes. I don’t see that happening anytime soon considering Google’s own applications don’t even follow the same size guidelines.
Androids competition, iOS and WindowsPhone, make sacrifices to remain beautiful. They limit the amount of customization the end user is able to make for the sake of a consistently clean aesthetic. And it absolutely works for 95% of users. Put an iPhone in your great aunt’s hands and see if she laments the fact that she can’t add a brightness toggle or an rss widget to her homescreen. It’s not going to happen. Apple and Microsoft made the conscious decision to forgo the customization available in a desktop environment to simplify the mobile experience. Android remains the wild, unrestrained beast is was years ago. But what was once a feral cat that sprayed the furniture and scratched the kids too much to be considered loveable has grown into quite the acceptable house cat. We’re starting to see it grow up even more with design-minded Matias Duerta at the helm. Android’s stripes are starting to show as the once disjointed OS starts to get a grip on a consistent personality. Maybe with the right guidance we’ll see it grow into a majestic tiger, someday. That analogy went to shit really fast, but you get the idea. Android’s good, it’s getting better, and it could be great.
WindowsPhone8 is on the horizon, due out next month, and it will be harboring the same metro styling that’s been coming out of Redmond for the last couple of years. Whether you love it or hate it, clean and simple is here to stay in the Windows-verse. Metro OS design replaces the traditional desktop-style icon with large, square tiles more appropriate for fat fingers. With that simplicity comes a seemingly limited amount of customization options available for icon (tile) designs. Microsoft’s in-house produced apps use ultra-simplistic white icons, but surely that can’t be the template for 3rd part developers’ icons, can it?
Of course not. If every 3rd party messaging app tile used a white icon and a transparent background, there’d be absolutely no differentiation. So, what are the guidelines and what do they mean for users?
I visited the WindowsPhone Dev center to collect their specific guidelines for Start Screen tiles. They’re not as strict as you might imagine for an operating system so centered around a specific aesthetic appeal, but their language makes it clear that simplicity is expected.
Be sparing with graphics. Remember to use content and typography to derive visual appeal, and never use visual elements that are purely decorative in nature. For more about typography, see Part 2.
Keep in mind that on mobile platforms, simplicity is the most appreciable source of attractiveness. Where art is appropriate, use high-quality, original graphic art, branding, or photography. Ensure that art meets or exceeds the required dimensions in your application, and looks crisp and intelligible.
If you use multiple Tile images, they should be visually consistent with each other and have a recognizable theme or style. Developers cannot change the color, font, font color, or the size of the counter display.
Applications that do not incorporate a Tile image or title will display a generic, system-defined icon and the name of your project. If you are developing an app with a tight design budget, there are many websites where you can buy icons for a reasonable fee. Whether you are designing the Tile yourself, commissioning it, or buying it, keep it simple. Icons should have simple geometry and limit the amount of very fine detail. If possible, they should leverage metaphors that are already familiar to people.
These guidelines mean Microsoft doesn’t want developers to deviate too far from the ‘white icon on theme colored tile’ formula, but it looks like they know the limitations in that formula. Brands and apps want to differentiate themselves. White icons on theme colored tiles might make a user’s phone look and feel like a cohesive experience, but the last thing an app developer wants is for the representation of their brand to blend in. Microsoft includes a section on choosing your own background images and icons, but is extra careful to emphasize the importance of aesthetics.
Choose a background color that represents your brand and makes your foreground icon easy to see or read. The following figure shows three examples that follow the guidelines.
A few of the samples they give below. I’ll spare you the section on not having black or white tile backgrounds. That’s a big no-no considering both are available as default OS backgrounds
So developers get to differentiate their tiles, but I mentioned the problem with allowing even this much customization of tiles, earlier. When you first boot up your new WindowsPhone device you’ll see rows of same-colored tiles (we’ll say they’re Nokia Blue) with stark white, simplistic icons. “Damn, that looks nice”, you might say. Then you download the above fictional ‘The Phone Company’ app. Suddenly your little family of blue tiles has been bastardized by an ugly hunter orange tile. It might sound petty, but that’s a problem for a lot of people. Just look at this:
I’m really glad Skype, a close Microsoft partner, gets to show off its signature baby blue colors, but that blue doesn’t match any of the system shades of blue (all two of them) and it sure as hell doesn’t look good with red. Then there’s the ‘WhatsApp’ tile. I don’t know what they were thinking on this one, but I’m not sure you’re going to find a default tile color that’s going to look respectable with that green phone icon. I don’t think we have to talk about how shitty that ‘Number Counter’ tile looks.
So, where does that leave us? In leeway, really. WindowsPhone is sitting right in between two very different design ideologies, though the two seem similar because they’re both relatively simplistic in comparison to other mobile OS’s.The first ideology is the one I think they started with before realizing it’s natural limitations - the one you see the first time you boot up a new WindowPhone device. It’s as simple as a smartphone can get, really, and it’s gorgeous. But again, it’s limited when you consider the sheer number apps the app store already has. You can’t fit that many brands in that small of a box. The second ideology is the one we’re starting to see with the launch of Windows 8 on the desktop. Tile colors and backgrounds are all over the place. Honestly, sometimes you can’t even guess what the themed tile color is, and that’s great. As soon as there’s a clear default tile color, everything else just seems disruptive. When the tiles have an almost randomized variety it allows users to enjoy the simplicity of the tile idea instead of getting caught up on tile color.
What’s it going to take for WindowsPhone to make that jump? Will Microsoft have to change their default tile styling? The truth is, now that Microsoft has outwardly embraced the kind of variety in tile design that you see above, it’s only a matter of time. It’s slow going, but developers are making apps for WindowsPhone. It’s a maturation process, and perhaps more than any other mobileOS, WindowsPhone is going to go through some massive visual and functional changes as it gains popularity. Simplicity was a great foundation to start with, though, even if there are a few growing pains along the way.
The initial reviews for Microsoft’s heavily anticipated Surface RT are in, and they’re as polarizing as the device itself. A lot of device launches are important, but Surface represents a pivotal crossroads for a company that has quite suddenly found its back against the wall in the mobile space. This device represents a lot more than a challenge to Apple’s enormously successful iPad, though Microsoft would be thrilled with as much as the position of ‘ipad alternative’, these days. The Surface is the company’s first true foray into the ‘post-pc’ future, a future they spent far too long begrudgingly denying as the rest of the world migrated to more mobile optimized solutions. They’re certainly acknowledging that future now, embracing it even, with the looming release of Windows 8.
The Surface is packing the first taste of Windows 8’s iconic styling in what they’re calling ‘Windows RT’. It’s a tablet optimized OS, similar in concept to the iPad’s iOS, and won’t support any legacy Window’s applications. It’s a mobile operating system like any other, really. It has its own ‘Microsoft store’ for app purchases, and everything. In itself that’s not much of an issue. It’s exactly the type of ‘walled garden’ that Apple’s been successfully building for the last 5 years. The problems for Microsoft come in introducing Windows RT to the average customer. To a legacy Windows user, Windows 8 is already a visual and functional shock to the system - Add to that the chance of surprise in finding themselves ‘walled’ into the ecosystem and you have a recipe for anger, confusion, and backlash (most probably in the form of dismal sales).
If we’re going to run with the ‘walled garden’ analogy, we’ll have to talk about what Microsoft’s actually offering in that garden. At the moment, it’s a beautifully laid out space. There are gorgeous and well thought out paths, holes dug for koi ponds, stepping stones piled in the corner, and bags of fertilizer spread over everything (fertilizer that looks suspiciously like piles of money). The flowers are few and far between, though, foliage is sparse, and there’s not a full grown tree in sight. Microsoft’s laid a really great foundation for a mobile ecosystem, but even after two full years of WindowsPhone, they’ve failed to make a significant foothold in the market or in the hearts of prospective app developers. Sure, there are exceptions. Skype has already released what can be considered their most visually impressive application on any platform. Microsoft’s does offer that, at least - a design language with incredible potential for developers that want to make attractive applications. They’ll need more than that, though. They’ll need to convince developers that people are actually going to visit their garden, not just look at it from Google’s satellite images, scoff, and go back to watching Game of Thrones on their HBOGo app (one of many apps still not available on Windows mobile devices).
It’s not all doom and gloom for Redmond, though. This new take on Windows is truly beautiful. It’s innovative in all of the ways Microsoft has failed to be for the greater part of the last decade. It’s forward thinking with it’s wide range of gestures, multitasking tricks, and full embrace of an all-touch environment. The design language even out-simplifies Apple’s own - a fact that would have been unthinkable just three years ago. All of that innovation at once will probably prove difficult for the average user to adjust to, but I think that’s a cost Microsoft was not only willing to pay, but knew it absolutely needed to pay. The attitude of a slow-to-change software giant, and the matching image of a slow-to-change software giant needed to be shed. The learning curve for RT and Windows 8 devices is going to be steep and Microsoft has resigned to that. They have to shift their focus to convincing people that the peak is worth the climb.
Software won’t be the focus of this ‘review review’, though. Nor was it the definite focus of any of the reviews we’ll look at. The real star of the Surface show is Microsoft’s in-house built hardware. While it’s a rare sight, Microsoft building its own hardware isn’t a new phenomenon. There’s the enormously popular (and questionably built) Xbox 360, a handful of zune devices, countless webcams, and more mice and keyboards than I care to look up. Not exactly a draw dropping lineup, but a there’s at least one design characteristic that carried over from one of these pieces of hardware to the Surface, and it’s not going to sound like the most flattering commonality to those worried about sales numbers. Microsoft’s later Zune projects, the Zune HD in particular, were graced with a truly unique industrial styling that’s more than a little visible in the manufacturing of the Surface.
The Surface’s hardware design is fresh, it’s original, and most notably it’s competitive with the styling of the notorious iPad. This is where we’ll jump into the reviews, because I can talk about the clean lines, the quality materials, the carefully placed speakers, and all of the other great features until the wee hours of the night, but I haven’t touched one. Hell, I couldn’t even tell you if I’ve touched anything made of magnesium.
Type Cover is a good solution for high volume text entry
Clear, bright screen with good viewing angles
First-rate Wi-Fi reliability
Touch Cover and Type Cover alike have poor touchpads
No NFC, no GPS, no 3G or 4G
There’s no escaping that 1366×768 is a low resolution
$499 unit lacks the all-important Touch Cover
For $599, the Asus VivoTab RT gives you a package that’s more versatile and better connected
Windows RT is a gamble at this point in time
“If you are a home user who really needs Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or OneNote, and don’t intend to use any of those programs in any capacity that could be regarded as “commercial,” then Windows RT is worth considering. But if you’re not confident that the Windows Store ecosystem will flourish, or if you think it will be several years before it does, then Windows RT is not for you. You should be looking at the iPad and iPad Mini, with its large selection of tablet software, or Windows 8, with its compatibility with a huge body of desktop software.”
“The promise of the Surface was that it could deliver a best-in-class tablet experience, but then transform into the PC you needed when heavier lifting was required. Instead of putting down my tablet and picking up my laptop, I would just snap on my keyboard and get my work done. But that’s not what the Surface offers, at least not in my experience. It does the job of a tablet and the job of a laptop half as well as other devices on the market, and it often makes that job harder, not easier. Instead of being a no-compromise device, it often feels like a more-compromise one.
There may be a time in the future when all the bugs have been fixed, the third-party app support has arrived, and some very smart engineers in Redmond have ironed out the physical kinks in this type of product which prevent it from being all that it can be. But that time isn’t right now — and unfortunately for Microsoft, the clock is ticking.”
“It’s not an easy feat to make a tablet that looks or feels different from those hundreds of slabs that have come before, yet this Surface is indeed quite distinctive on both fronts. It’s genuinely hard to differentiate our visual impressions from our tactile ones.”
“The Microsoft Surface with Windows RT’s $499 starting MSRP means those thinking about making the investment here will be carefully cross-shopping against same-priced offerings from Apple, ASUS and others. Where does this one rate? Very well — but very differently. While those devices are primarily targeted at content-hungry consumers, the Surface is a slate upon which you can get some serious work done, and do so comfortably. You can’t always say that of the competition.
It’s in the other half of the equation, that of the content consumption and entertainment, where the Surface is currently lacking. It needs a bigger pile of apps and games to make up for that and, while we’re sure they’re coming, we don’t know when. If those apps arrive soon, then early adopters will feel vindicated. If, however, the Windows RT market is slow to mature, not truly getting hot for another six months or so, holding off will prove to have been the smarter option.”
“In the end, it all comes down to ecosystem. If you’re already invested in Microsoft then it’s a good solution: if you’re a Windows Phone user, or an Xbox 360 gamer, or simply have a background with Windows 7, then Surface will likely fit into your world more smoothly than an iPad or Android tablet might. If you’ve considered subscribing to Xbox Music, Microsoft’s streaming audio service, then Surface makes sense there, too, considering cross-platform apps for that haven’t been released yet.
“Personal reactions of ClearType HD aside, it’s hard to be too critical of Microsoft’s hardware. The Surface team has cribbed some of Apple’s notorious attention to detail and applied it with its own spin, and the result is a well-constructed slate with legitimately useful design elements like the kickstand. You could argue that the focus on the Touch Cover and Type Cover are Microsoft proving reluctant to let go of physical keyboards, but using Surface without them is undoubtedly practical and their convenience (and the fact that Office is preloaded, albeit in preview form) means you get the best of both worlds”
“Windows RT will undoubtedly prove the sticking point. That it comes late to the tablet game and thus with fewer apps than competing platforms is a given. That there are some for whom Windows itself is anathema is no surprise. However, the poorly-explained – and not easy to ascertain at first glance – differences in abilities between RT and Windows 8 will need time to bed down before Surface finds its niche. That will happen, but with headaches along the way, and it may not be until Surface Pro arrives with its higher-resolution screen and digital pen that Microsoft’s tablet gets the respect it deserves”
This video held the cutest content of all Surface RT reviews
“But it’s Windows on Surface RT that’s the greatest letdown of all, the lethal letdown, because it’s not Windows 8, but Windows RT. You can’t tell the difference by looking at them, but you certainly will once you use it. Windows RT is underpowered (everything opens and syncs slightly too slowly), under-functional (you cannot install a single app that’s not available through the Windows RT app store, which offers a paltry selection), and under-planned (the built-in apps can’t feel like Lite versions of something better). You’d be right to note that many of those limitations apply to the iPad as well, but no one could mistake iOS for OS X the way RT apes Windows 8. And even if it’s a plight common to tablets, Microsoft—for better or worse—has hyped Surface RT as being so much more.”
“I pity Microsoft’s retail staff.”
“Should you buy it? No. The Surface, with an obligatory Touch Cover, is $600. That’s a lot of money. Especially given that it’s no laptop replacement, no matter how it looks or what Microsoft says. It’s a tablet-plus, priced right alongside the iPad and in most ways inferior.”
“That could change. Maybe there will be a new Touch Cover that retains the original’s terrific physical qualities while actually allowing good typing. Maybe the quasi-vaporware Surface Pro, which eschews Windows RT in favor of the real-deal Win 8, will make all the difference, opening itself up to the open seas of PC software (for several hundred dollars more). Maybe the app store will look different in a month, or a year, and have anything to offer. Maybe. But remember that Windows Phone—which has swelled from mere hundreds, to tens of thousands, to over a hundred thousand app offerings over the past two years—is still a wasteland compared to iOS and Android. Poor precedent. Maybe Windows RT will be different. Maybe. But those maybes aren’t worth putting money on. As much as it looked (and even felt) like it for a bit, the future isn’t here quite yet.”
“The build quality throughout Surface RT is sturdy and confident, and exudes the same kind of austere precision we find in German performance cars. VaporMg is silky to the touch, yet inflexible when torqued. And at 0.37 inch thick and 1.5 pounds, Surface RT is essentially identical to the iPad in thickness and weight—this despite the fact that it supports a slightly larger, 10.6-inch, widescreen display.”
“Playing with Surface RT for a week is like eating Spanish tapas for the first time after a lifetime consuming only American food (iOS gear) or east-Asian fare (Android gear). Surface RT—and the Windows RT system it taps into—is zesty, zippy, playful, and different. But it also takes some getting used to, especially if you’re not adventuresome.”
“When you’re typing in Word, or using any of the other Office apps, you’re exiled to Windows RT’s spooky, barren version of the traditional Windows desktop. Nothing is happening here. You can use the desktop to shuttle files hither and yon, and it’s also the locus of various system settings and tools. But because you can’t install (let alone use) any legacy Windows programs, you’re constantly reminded that Surface RT’s productivity story begins and ends with Office, plus the scant selection of low-ambition-level productivity apps available in the Windows Store”
Those lucky enough to have Android 4.1 grace their android device through a legitimate update or a custom ROM have undoubtedly enjoyed Google’s new take on mobile search and assistance, Google Now. Across the top of Google Now there’s an illustration behind the search bar that features landscapes in a cartoon art style that’s becoming more consistent throughout Google’s in-house android apps. The banner changes based on your location. I’m sure this comes as no surprise to anyone in a major U.S. city, but most Google Now users (like myself) have had the default mountainous landscape behind our search bars. Here’s a look at all of the different Google Now backgrounds from across the country (and a few from around the world).
Default: I have not seen this part of Wisconsin.
Great Plains: Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo
Seattle: My personal favorite
Reno: Missing a few strip clubs
The few international backgrounds I was able to track down inexplicably didn’t follow the same art direction as the U.S. cities. I would imagine that will change sooner than later. I would also assume more cities and areas will be added in time. It’s also worth noting that the background also change depending on the time of day. The sun sets and rises, dusk and dawn take hold, etc. Neat stuff.
Samsung’s Galaxy Note II is about to hit U.S. shores and HTC just announced the 5 inch “J Butterfly” for Japan (which will undoubtedly land on Verizon with nonsensical ’Droid’ branding before the end of the year). Phones have been getting bigger for awhile, but until recently Samsung’s Note series was considered a niche device - not a new standard for mobile size. Even LG is getting in on the monster phone game with it’s hilariously unattractive and impractically wide ‘Intuition’.
Check out that extra wide dock. Definitely worth not being able to reach the ‘phone’ icon
So, are hands getting larger? Is the market following consumer demand? Or are there more complex forces at work (evil, evil forces)? We’ll consider a few possibilities one by one.
If we look at recent Android and Windows phone sales, this most certainly looks to be true. But we also have to consider the selection available to consumers. Sales of larger phones are solidly increasing, but so are the phone sizes. On the surface it looks like a bit of a chicken or the egg scenario, but it’s not that straight forward. Sure, selection is available, but not at the top-tier level. Manufacturers are now making their flag-ship devices with 4.5” and greater screens. In the end, consumers buy quality devices. That’s why the iPhone has such an amazing sales record. So when Joe Average walks into his local ATT retail store and asks about android phones, you can bet the salesman’s going to show him the devices with the most impressive spec sheets first - the devices that all have at least 4.5” screens.
Are there people who truly prefer the extra size? Of course. In fact, there’s a shitload of them. They’re power users who do a ton of web surfing, gaming, and media consuming. But in no stretch of the imagination are these people the majority. What manufacturers are setting up for the average consumer is the decision between an inconvenient form factor and an inferior device.
“Hold on a second, Jim. I’ve gotta show these ladies how small my hands look wrapped around this sexy beast of a phone”
BATTERY TECH IS STAGNANT, ANDROID ISN’T ENERGY EFFICIENT, AND THOSE BIG BATTERIES HAVE TO GO SOMEWHERE
Short battery life has been a knock against Google’s mobile OS since its birth. Its battery efficiency has definitely improved, but android devices still consistently fall behind in talk-time in comparison to the iPhone and comparable WindowsPhone devices. Bigger phone chassis mean more room to pack in bigger battery sizes. Just look at the Note II’s enormous 3,100mAh battery.
This one’s a bit trickier than it looks, though, too. Batteries could be getting bigger because those shiny new 1080p screens need all of the juice they can get. After all, the battery lives aren’t getting any longer as a result of these larger batteries - they’re just staying at a stagnant, consumer acceptable level (Even if it’s not quite acceptable to a lot of us).
TOUCH SCREEN UX WORKS BETTER ON LARGER SCREENS
This isn’t a very debatable point. If we throw the ergonomics of using the physical device, the host of whatever software parasite you’re using, out the window, a larger canvas definitely helps users interact with applications. The crux of this argument is that a larger canvas means larger elements on that canvas and that larger elements are easier to interact with. Fingers aren’t the most precise instruments and are prone to misses and large contact zones. That’s why mobile operating systems had to be built in the first place. As the B-man and Microsoft learned with the ‘Slate’, small desktop elements don’t even work well with a stylus, and work even worse with clumsy fingers.
All of that being considered, what these large screens are being used for doesn’t support this argument very well, at least on the Android side of the fence. In Android app UX we primarily see developers focused on making the consumed content larger. Unlike WindowsPhone, it’s a novelty to find applications that embrace large target areas and gestures. I would imagine Matias Duarte (former head of WebOS design) heading the design side of things will eventually move things in that direction.
IN THE SPEC SHEET WAR, ANDROID DOESN’T HAVE A “RETINA” BOMB
Apple’s way of designating a screen with an extraordinarily high ppi (pixels per inch) is to call it a “retina display”, suggesting that the screens surpass the human eye’s ability to detect individual pixels. The name is a way of branding a resolution and it’s outrageously successful. If Apple launched an ad campaign featuring the iPhone 5’s “incredible 326 ppi screen” tomorrow, it wouldn’t have quite the same effect, would it? Well, knowing Apple’s track record, you’d probably still run into at least a few people overly willing to tell you all about how many “pee pees” their iPhone has.
Android manufacturers don’t have the luxury of the enormous mind-share that Apple reigns over. Samsung is getting there, but that’s a recent development and largely based on positioning themselves as theApple alternative. The Galaxy S3 has a very impressive 306 ppi, and their screen technology is called the not-so-memorable ‘Super AMOLED PLUS’. Doesn’t exactly leave an impression, does it? HTC has what are widely considered the most beautiful screens in the industry on their ‘OneX’, and now ‘J Butterfly’, devices. The OneX packs 312 ppi and “Super IPS LCD 2” technology, while the J Butterfly has a (reportedly) draw droppingly gorgeous 440 ppi and ‘Super IPS LCD 3’ display. You either have a tech boner right now or that sounds like R2D2 seducing a calculator.
I think we can agree that any marketing attempts sporting “SUPER IPS LCD 3” wouldn’t be very successful. That’s where the big screens come in. HTC probably has no plans of marketing the ‘J Butterfly’ using the technical terms for the screen technology. Why would they when they can use terms consumers are already uber-familiar with, like “1080p” and “true HD”? That’s right, HTC is bringing 1080p phones to the masses. Manufacturing of 720p and 1080p display panels under 4.5” just isn’t possible yet. As a result, phones are being built around these larger (and totally sexy) screens.
The “Butterfly J” - Seemingly well built, beautiful, covered in sticky Sense, and fucking enormous
PEOPLE ARE LOOKING FOR A PHONE/TABLET COMBINATION
This is a very believable argument until you look at iPad sales. Tablets sales are great and steadily rising, even if “tablet sales” is still nearly synonymous with “iPad sales”. There are plenty of people out there with a 4.7” phone in their pocket and an iPad stuffed in their bag. In these cases, the great consumption features of a large phone screen are negated because you’ll use the iPad for those activities every time. Are there people out there without tablets that buy large smartphones because they want to kill two birds with one stone? Of course. But a ‘phablet’ doesn’t fulfill all of the capabilities of a tablet or provide the portability of a cell phone. So it’s a little more like missing two birds with one stone and hitting an edible plant.
You know what they say about guys with phones smaller than their torso
I don’t think big phones are going anywhere anytime soon. Well, anywhere other than into millions of consumers’ giant pockets. What I think, and hope, and pray, is that if the screen sizes must stay the same size that the rest of the device shrinks around them. A 4.7” screen with minimal side bezel is only about as wide as an iPhone 5. And that’s not too shabby.