It’s always been a shame that Google wasn’t focusing on Android’s design as much as they should’ve in the early versions. It should’ve been one of their main priorities from day one. Design is very important. It’s not just for “fashion” oriented people – good design can make something not only beautiful and a joy to watch, but also a joy to use, and it can increase your productivity, too, but being as simple to use as possible, rather than getting in your way, and making you forget what exactly everything does inside the OS.
Fortunately, Google has started realizing how important design is for consumer oriented products, and once webOS was getting ready to be sold to HP, they managed to convince Matias Duarte, the main designer of webOS, to join them. Matias’ reason for joining Android was the following:
I came here because they’re winning, but also because I could not stand the thought of there being another decade of being trapped in one paradigm, of being trapped in the past just because somebody manages to grab maximum marketshare, and then that’s the thing everybody uses with incremental evolution.
What he means by that is that he doesn’t want to work on a niche OS, like he has done before, but he’d rather shape the one dominating now in his own vision. This way he would have a much greater impact on the world, and the world would benefit from a well designed OS, rather than get stuck for a decade or two with another dominating platform that has been poorly designed (my guess is he was talking about Windows here).
The Roboto font is a small, yet important part of the new Android 4.0. It encompasses Matias Duarte’s attention to detail, and shows how he’s trying to make every little corner of Android look as good as possible and “enchant” you, so you can actually get to love Android because of its beautiful design and how well it works for you.
Android 4.0 is the first true rebirth of Android, but I have a feeling the design improvements will continue to be major in the following versions (5.0, 6.0, etc). For example, Matias has already said that he likes gestures more than buttons, and he has already incorporated some in Android 4.0, but I think he will continue doing that in future versions.
I think the virtual buttons at the bottom will be in transition in version 4.xx, so it remains pretty compatible with current phones that have physical buttons, once you upgrade them to Android 4.0. But in future versions, he’ll probably try to replace them completely with gestures, for an even more intuitive interface.