For most manufacturers, the home screen is the most important part of the Android interface. Why? Because, on the home screen, they can easily apply their own branding and style, and, in theory, differentiate their devices from the sea of competing Android products. The need for differentiation is understandable, but unfortunately, for end users, overlays like TouchWiz, Sense, or Motoblur are just sources of slow updates, bloatware, and poor performance.
However, it’s not like the home screen of vanilla Android is a major step forward when compared to the manufacturers’ overlays. All you get in the stock version are apps and notifications, plus the clock widget. For many, that’s enough, but others, like the Canadian UX design shop Teknision, think that your tablet’s home screen can be much more than a space for shortcuts. Say hello to Chameleon.
In case Teknision does not sound familiar, you should know that it’s the company that designed the user interface of RIM’s ill-fated Playbook tablet. That sleek UI was one of the few aspects of the Playbook that reviewers and customers actually appreciated. Let’s see how they did with Chameleon.
At the most basic level, Chameleon is a UX overlay based on Android 4.0 that lets you interact with your tablet in a completely novel way. Instead of relying on grids of apps and notification areas, Chameleon makes use of the entire screen, adding smart widgets for things like email, apps, weather, RSS feeds, etc. It’s a bit similar to how the Metro interface works on Windows 8 PCs and tablets. But Teknision’s creation is much more than a simple overlay, aiming to provide personalization and contextualization to the typically static home screen.
Here’s a video of the beautiful Chameleon in action:
Just like the reptile it gets its name from, Chameleon adapts to the environment and to the user. The app integrates facial recognition technology to determine who is using the tablet at any given moment, associating the user with a specific profile. This makes it simple to rearrange the home screen (and the entire Android interface) on the fly, depending on the user that is holding the tablet. It also allows the seamless allocation of security permissions, without the need for passwords.
For instance, you can set up a profile for yourself, with full permissions, and one for your kid, which only shows a few kid-friendly apps, and limits the access to the Play Store or to the browser. Whenever you pass the slate to your child, Chameleon will instantly enter kid mode. Simple and elegant.
Chameleon taps into the tablet’s GPS sensor to determine where you are, so it can adapt accordingly. When you are home, you will be shown a dashboard that contains your favorite apps, your RSS reads, or a TV guide. When Chameleon thinks you are at work, you’ll see your productivity apps, like Gmail, calendars, or to do lists. It even has a travel mode, for the time you’re not at home nor at work.
Along with the widgets and apps, Chameleon can also manage things like setting profiles, statuses on social networks, or email auto-responders. But Teknision is even more ambitious. They are pioneering the use of smart agents instead of simple notifications.
The example they provide to illustrate smart agents is a businessman whose flight is cancelled. Instead of showing a simple notification, Chameleon will attempt to guess the consequences of the lost flight, such as the lost reservations or the meetings that have to be rescheduled, and make intelligent suggestions based on them. The concept is very exciting, but again, very ambitious, so we’ll have to wait for a hands-on before we can pronounce ourselves on its feasibility.
Teknision told BriefMobile that they are “in talks” with several Android manufacturers that are interested in integrating Chameleon into their products. So, there’s hope that the rare combination of smarts and looks that is Chameleon will come to an Android tablet sometimes in the future.
And, if the talks don’t materialize, Teknision can always put Chameleon on the Play Store as a standalone app. We bet it’ll sell like hotcakes. We hope, nevertheless, that big Android names like Samsung or HTC will learn from Chameleon that tablets UI are more than blown up smartphones interfaces, and that they’ll bring some of Chameleon’s intelligence into the future versions of Sense and TouchWiz.