updated 01:25 am EDT, Wed October 19, 2011
Duarte says iOS and WP7 UIs are too fake
Google's key Android interface designer Matias Duarte in an interview chastised both Apple and Microsoft for their UI. Pointing to Android 4.0's attempt at balancing design with flexibility, he saw Apple as clinging too closely to real-world metaphors. Its skeuomorphic (real-world emulation) interfaces, he told This is my next, were not just cartoonish but were too reminiscent of crude early web design.
"Right now if you look at all of these applications that are designed in this real-objecty, faux wood paneling, faux brushed metal, faux jelly button kind of thing," Duarted said. "If you step back and you really look at them, they look kind of juvenile. They're not photorealistic, they're illustrations. If you look back at the web, people did the same thing. All these cartoony things hanging off a page. If you tried that today, people would be laughing, unless you were doing it in a kitsch, poking-fun-at-yourself, retro art way."
He also criticized the opposite direction, in Windows Phone 7's Metro UI. The tiled and hyper-stylized interface, based off of the look of urban signage, was designed too far in the opposite direction and left little room for flexibility. "The problem with going too starkly systematic, forcing everything into this completely constrained, modernist palette, for both of them, you're not leaving any room for the content to express itself," he said."
Android 4.0 was closer to the web, where there was a large amount of freedom to customize the interface and make it special, but certain common elements were standardized. Its apps often have an action bar at the bottom and swipable sections at the top, but these aren't mandatory. The design is a backtrack from Android 3.0, where the "holographic" interface was pervasive. Google had turned down the "geeky nerd quotient," Duarte said.
The manager provided a handful of revelations about policy changes. Google was moving back towards actual freedom in software and was making it a point that every app could be uninstalled, even default apps and carrier apps. Google has previously let carriers block uninstalling apps, even when they weren't exclusives. Apple and Microsoft don't allow deleting default apps but have either banned carrier apps or let users freely remove them.
Duarte also acknowledged that much of Android 3's experience and lack of open-sourcing came from a rush to produce a tablet-native version of Android at all costs to counter the iPad. Google wanted a 10-inch tablet interface and to stop companies from stretching Android 2 to fit screens it wasn't intended for.
"Honeycomb was like: we need to get tablet support out there," he said. "We need to build not just the product, but even more than the product, the building blocks so that people stop doing silly things like taking a phone UI and stretching it out to a 10-inch tablet. So that was the mission, and it was a time-boxed mission. Any corner we could cut to get that thing out the door, we had to."