I made some comments on Twitter a little while back, and a couple people who clearly thought I was crazy, asked for a little clarification. For the record, my comment was a supportive retweet of someone else’s comment, and while it wasn’t my words, I still agree with it. So what was the comment? Well, it’s pretty simple – The latest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS for short), isn’t very intuitive.
Expanding on that statement isn’t particularly easy on Twitter. After all, not everything can be said in 140 characters, so I thought I should write it up here. Now, I realize that some of these issues might seem like nit-picking. But usability is very important and can often be overlooked. Further to that, usability for power users is different than it is for general users that just want a to make calls and browse the occasional web page. I’m looking at ICS as a average consumer and not someone that’s been using smartphones for almost a decade. Remember to take a step back, and think of how your mother or father would react to this design. Enough with the small talk, let’s go over some of the reasons why Ice Cream Sandwich isn’t very intuitive.
1) Getting lost in the Camera. Camera’s have almost become a staple in todays smartphones. Being able to quickly snap a picture and share is key for many consumers. The camera on the Galaxy Nexus is very good, and you can easily take some great pictures. But what happens when you’ve snapped that picture and just want to get out of the camera app.
The above screen shot of me taking a picture with the Galaxy Nexus clearly shows the default Home, Back, and Tasks buttons are hidden from view while you’re in the camera app. It’s not until you touch the area where a button should be, that you get a glimpse of what button is in that location. On more than a few occasions, I’ve handed my phone off to someone to have them snap a picture, only to see them get confused trying to close the camera app after taking the picture. I really don’t understand why the Android team felt that hiding the navigation buttons was a smart idea. It’s not like hiding these buttons magically gained them more screen space for the camera. After all, you can still see the black bar down the right side where the button should be displayed.
2) Gone is the menu button from past releases and in it’s place is the strangely familiar ellipsis that Microsoft used on Windows Phone. Although, I will give Google credit for rotating them a whole 90 degrees making it look entirely different and fresh. I actually, think the use of these makes a lot more sense than the previous graphic used for the menu button. What I find confusing and awkward for new and non-techie users is that the ellipsis keep jumping all over the screen. In some apps they can be found on the lower right of the device. In other apps they are along the top of the app. I find myself hunting around the screen trying to locate it.
Follow along in the images above and try to find where the ellipsis are hiding. Remember, all these apps are Google apps, not third party apps. In some applications you have 2 sets of ellipsis on the screen, one at the top and one at the bottom. Of course, each one gives you different menu options. Finding the feature you want has never been harder.
4) Previous to ICS, the application list appeared to scroll off the bottom of the screen and off into the distance. It was a great little effect and it was a great way to let users know that there are more applications down this way. In ICS, Google has done away with this effect and made pages of applications. You need to swipe from the right to see the next page of applications. The first problem, is that there is no indication that you need to swipe to the side for more. There’s also no indication of how many pages you may have to swipe through to find your application. At least with Samsung, they include a little solid colored dot indicating the page you are currently on, and a empty circle for all the other pages. Simple and very effective in letting users know that there is more, and that they are off to the left or right. This is also similar to how Apple does it.
On the left is the new application list, and on the right is the old version. Which one do you think has more applications available, beyond the currently selectable icons?
5) To change the wallpaper, you just tap and hold on the home screen and select where you want to get the wallpaper from. But to add a widget to the home screen, you need to open your application list and jump over to widgets. For me, it makes more sense to keep the widgets were they used to be along side wallpaper. You want to change the home screen, tap and hold would allow you to select wallpaper and widgets to customize your experience.
Again, I just want to be clear about things. I’m sure the more technical crowd will easily figure these things out. But for new smartphone users, and for the less technical among us, these things can cause a lot of frustration. And by no means am I saying that these 5 things are the only non-intuitive elements in Android 4. These are just the ones lucky enough to get included in my rant.