material design (2)

If there’s one thing you can point to in Android L that’s guaranteed to divide opinion it’s Material Design. Some people see an elegant continuation of Google’s minimalist style, others feel that it’s flat, there’s too much white space, and the colors are garish. There’s no escaping the usual fatuous claims about copying Microsoft’s Windows Phone or Apple’s iOS, but there’s another important issue to discuss here.

Material Design is more than a skin to sit atop the platform and it goes beyond Android. This is a new set of fundamental design principles that bring depth and uniformity, clear feedback for users, and slick animations showing how the UI fits together. It could usher in a brave new cohesive dawn that gives Android a clear visual identity whatever you happen to be using it on.

But OEMs will continue to deliver their own Android UIs. What is going to motivate developers to adopt Google’s design language in their apps? Is the incentive there for them to jump onboard now considering the fragmentation issue?

The fragmentation issue

If we look at Google’s data on fragmentation from this month we find that just 17.9% of Android users have KitKat 4.4, the latest version of the platform to be released. Glancing further back, 56.5% are using one of the three Jelly Bean versions.


The first, most obvious argument against developers adopting the Material Design principles outlined by Google is that it will be a year or more before Android L represents a decent percentage of Android users.

Developers could put a lot of effort into designing a sexy new app that chimes with Google’s vision and only a small percentage of their customers are going to be able to take full advantage. Backwards compatibility could be a real issue. How gracefully does Material Design degrade for older versions of Android? How much work are developers going to have to do to make their apps look good on all versions?

We’ve been here beforeholo

It’s more than two years since Holo Everywhere, a new system theme that offered standardized design elements for apps. Google made it a requirement for devices running Android 4.0 and up to include the Holo theme, but there was no rule that they had to use it. Google was slow to deliver design guidelines and developers were slow to adopt them, but it represented the beginning of something.

We can safely assume that Google learned plenty over the last couple of years. The Material Design preview comes well ahead of the next Android version and there’s a beta for developers to get to grips with. If they’re interested they can get started on something now. Material Design is also a lot more visually impressive than Holo.

A big fat carrot

Google apps are amongst the most used in the world. Millions of people will learn Google’s shorthand and that familiarity in UI navigation is well worth taking advantage of. Developers won’t be waiting around for further direction either. There’s a detailed design guide, lots of templates and content to use, and advice that will help many developers deliver a better experience for end users.

Google’s responsive design ethos ensures that your website or app will appear the same in terms of content, images, and structure regardless of the device used. Material Design is offering a solution that’s relatively easy to implement, built for the future, and optimized for smooth performance. Any developer starting from scratch and trying to create their own elegant solution has a lot of work to do.

That’s a big fat carrot to incentivize developers and encourage adoption. It won’t persuade everyone, but a lot of developers are going to be excited about the possibilities and keen to reap the potential benefits of being an early adopter.

Android Silver

It would be difficult, if not impossible, for Google to dictate that OEMs must stop skinning Android, but it can offer more incentives. The Android Silver program looks exactly like that. In return for promotion and support the OEMs agree to release devices without custom overlays and bloatware.

The need for OEMs to create custom overlays is growing increasingly debatable. Now that Google is moving beyond the stark and functional toward something that should appeal to a wider audience it’s tough to see the benefit for anyone other than the OEMs.

Is there a stick?

You have to wonder what discussions have taken place between Google and the big Android OEMs, most importantly Samsung because of its commanding market share. There was a sense with the Google Now Launcher that Google was moving into a new area. Is Material Design basically Google skinning Android and showing the OEMs how to do it properly?

Google Nexus 5 black vs white aa 12

We know that Google wants the OEMs to tone down the UIs and individual tweaks. Ideally, this will pave the way for an Android experience that’s much more uniform and recognizable, but without throwing away the customizability that makes the platform so attractive for many. We’ve seen the stock Android skeleton start to grow, with features being sucked in from popular third-party apps, OEMs, and custom ROMs.

In an earnings call last October Larry Page said, “We are closing in on our goal of a beautiful, simple, and intuitive experience regardless of your device.”

Material Design is another step towards that, but it’s also a step toward to greater control over the platform for Google, because, ultimately, if Android isn’t driving people into Google’s ecosystem, it isn’t doing its job.

It’s possible for Google to say OEM skins are off-limits for Android Wear, TV, and Auto because they’re rolling out fresh from a position of market dominance in mobile. With Android smartphones and tablets Google is stuck trying to stuff the genie back into the bottle, and it’s trying not to use the stick.

Simon Hill
Simon is an experienced tech writer with a background in game development. He writes for various websites and magazines about the world of tech and entertainment. He uses Android every day and is currently permanently attached to his Galaxy Note 5.
  • MasterMuffin

    #holoyolo4life ;D

    • Crutchcorn

      But…. I like material elements

      • MasterMuffin

        I like them too, but #holoyolo will always have a special place in my heart :D

        • Crutchcorn

          Fair enough my friend. Fair enough.

          • MasterMuffin


          • Jayfeather787

            and Germany won. wow. 1-7. Geez

          • MasterMuffin

            Slaughter :)

          • MasterMuffin

            It’s 5-0 in 30 mins o.O And I’m talking about football :)

      • ichuck7

        I don’t disagree with you, you why do you like material design better than Holo?

        • Crutchcorn

          I like the animations and feel like they make the user experience seem more… Natural? I’m not sure. But I feel like it’s simpler yet more complex. I’m not saying Holo was bad at all – I love me some Holo, but it seemed…. Unalive almost

    • CleanlinessisnexttoFordliness

      Material design feels feminine but futuristic at the same time. It feels like Spike Joneze movie HER inspired apple and google.

      • jack

        Future is being homosexual

        • CleanlinessisnexttoFordliness

          More like femininity is our modern approach to futurism. Why else has everyone started to speak like a valley girl, coupled with The Burning Man Festival being this generations Woodstock? We have become a softer race of people, a politically correct generation, an instagram selfie obsessed populous. Don’t you realize we are trying to define a decade and we have utterly failed? Everything is borrowed from the past, all mashed up into some geek chick, trendy, sub hippy culture.. It’s so damn cheesy.

  • iANDROID8.1

    I’d really love to see the material version of MIUI and Color OS :D

    • Luka Mlinar

      Una, is that you? O.o

      • MasterMuffin

        No it’s Patrick

        • Crutchcorn

          DAMMIT Muffin! You make me choke on Dr.Pepper!!!

        • Luka Mlinar

          BTW Una is the OnePlus dog. They got a Shiba Inu not long after they opened their office.

          • MasterMuffin


          • Luka Mlinar
          • MasterMuffin

            In my time they didn’t and there was no Vegeta or sayians ;P

    • Allanitomwesh

      KitKat came with the removal of the homescreens in ColorOS,to match MIUI. Huawei’s Emotion,IUNI’s ROM,LeWa ROM,pretty much all ROM’s in China are trying to match MIUI,which in turn tries to match IOS. Unless MIUI adapts material,none of the Chinese ROM’s will.

  • John Hamernick-Ramseier

    I would prefer if OEM keep their skins, its the diversity that makes Android unique.
    My proposal is this, OEMs and Google should make their version of Android into launchers. Then people can use the default one that comes with their phone or use the one they like, similar to desktop environments in Linux.

    • monkey god

      Id like to see that. Give consumers the option to choose what kind of interface and features they want. Might be tricky though without root to switch between the two. Android L would have to made to be more flexible to be able to do these kinds things w/o needing root access.

    • thartist

      Right on the spot, add a few distinctive features and make your style into an optional launcher, but EVEN THEN, don’t stray away too far from stock and keep up with it with newer releases (I’m talking to you Samsung!)

  • Shark Bait

    I hope so, at first I didn’t like it, but after using it you see its really quite nice to use

  • thartist

    My guess? No, maybe taking as much as Holo to spread. It’s design guidelines are kinda complicated in some areas, and even major apps have just been cleaned up from the mess they were and “holofied”.

  • xoj_21

    i hope samsung adopts it.. i dont want half assed android L with their gingerbread touch wiz on it

    • droid123maverick

      free android apps and games:

    • thartist

      Just un-adopt TW plz, ‘k bye!

  • ichuck7

    I’m curious why you think Material Design is more visually impressive than Holo? I don’t disagree or agree, I just want to know what others think about it.

  • Max Vierlböck

    Jack Underwood has already postet a screenshot of his app Today Calendar with material design. According to him it is going to be released soon (Y)

  • Blowntoaster

    It should be used as a guideline, so as to keep the custom launchers and layers more simplistic and efficient. It should not be the ” be all for all” design. There should still be different launchers with different features, otherwise android might just as well forget the whole open source thing.
    Holo still my favourite design though.

  • abazigal

    I believe it is inevitable that OEMs will continue skinning Android. They need a way of differentiating their product, and a custom user interface (however bad) is one way of delivering it. Which brings us to the next issue – what use is a redesign of Android if nobody uses it?

    • xoj_21

      lets just hope, they actually matchh android L fluid animations and apis this time, in timely manner.
      and all the core apps

  • jack

    Looks childish and lame

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  • harrold

    didn’t google make 3 versions of JB to make it look like they reduced fragmentation?

  • toboev

    Light grey text on a white background. Which genius thought up that one?

  • Lilith_Black

    Well, there are some things google could learn from Touchwiz etc:
    1. The toggles ribbons in the notification bar menu is seriously more user-friendly
    2. The email app offered by samsung is much better (I really like the mail grouping and how I can just batch delete by the groups)
    3. Opinions on best UI differ person to person: I might appreciate some of the features and aesthetics of a UI which others don’t: having an array of roms/UI is what makes Android more preferable over iOS for me