Ever since Google picked up design guru Matias Duarte, Android's stock interface and user experience has done a complete 180° turn. Before it was rugged, heavily engineered and, to be frank, quite ugly. From top to bottom, front to back, the interface was convoluted, unintuitive and nothing really matched. It was patchwork, at best.
As the Director of Android OS User Experience, however, Duarte has applied his level of fit and finish to the platform. Renowned for the work he did for the widely adored interface of Palm's original webOS, Duarte has brought some of the simplicity and intuitiveness we saw in early webOS to Android. And we couldn't be more happy with the changes he's made.
First is the high contrast interface, dark backgrounds with white and neon texts and highlights. The Holo theme was also introduced, which gives the operating system a refined and cohesive appearance. Developers who adhere to the Android design guidelines can also make their applications look and feel as if they belong on Android.
One of the best changes Duarte has made is within one of my favorite parts of the Android interface: the notification shade. Unlike the whitish-gray shade in Android 2.2 (Froyo), the shade is now black with dark gray notifications with white and light gray text. To dismiss individually, you can simply swipe the notifications away, either left or right. And if the standard notification doesn't allow for enough information, a two-finger swipe down will expand the notification to reveal more information. It's really a neat concept.
But as Chris Lacy, sole creator of the offbeat and rather intriguing Android Twitter client Tweet Lanes, noted on his personal blog yesterday, "Android’s expanded notifications are a missed opportunity." Lacy's main point is that there is no visual indicator that a notification can be expanded. The only way to know for sure is to test a two-finger, downward swipe on every active notification and to remember which applications implement expanded notifications. (Android 4.1.2 does allow the user to use a single finger swipe down to expand all notifications, which is nice, but doesn't address the issue at hand.) Says Lacy:
"The recent Android 4.1.2 release introduced a somewhat handy new feature that allows users to expand all notifications with a single fingered downward swipe. This is an improvement, but it still fails to address the problem of the UI not informing the user when an expandable notification is present."
He suggests using a downward arrow, much like expanding application descriptions in the Play Store, would be a nice indicator. Or making expandable notifications a different color than non-expandable ones.
After staring at the notification shade on my Galaxy Nexus for about five minutes this morning, though, I discovered that there may actually be an indicator for notifications that can be expanded, but I can't be sure. It appears as if only expandable notifications have the small icon to the far right, as you can see highlighted by red boxes in the image above.
Still, I wholly agree with Lacy – even though those are indicators of expandable notifications, I have overlooked them for months now. I've had some of the same thoughts myself since the very first time I used Android 4.1. But rather than just saying the expanded notifications are a missed opportunity, I would say the entire notification shade is.
Look at the customized interfaces implemented by Google's partner manufacturers like HTC, Samsung and Motorola. Or even look at custom ROMs, such as Cyanogen Mod in the picture at the top of this page. They all have tried, at least once, to implement what is probably one of the most requested features in stock Android to date: quick settings in the notifications shade.
Lucky for us, Android Police have managed to get their hands on an early system dump of Android 4.2. Their source asked them not to publish the dump itself, but they're free to dig around and share their findings. Among many of the small changes found is yet another change to the notification shade. A single pull down from the top of the device's display will reveal the notification shade, just as always. However, a second swipe down reveals a never before seen placeholder image that says, "Future site of quick settings."
Although it's not exactly confirmed and could still be a hoax, this would be a welcomed change. Unlike the small row of quick settings implemented in various custom versions of Android (or the scrollable controls in TouchWiz), this would unleash an entirely new page, giving the Android dev team the ability to really create something unique and possibly even groundbreaking.
However, I have my concerns. If this is to be the new quick settings, I'm not exactly sure how this is any more intuitive or, well … quick than simply tapping the Settings icon in the existing notification shade. Tapping that icon shoots you directly to the Settings app, where many important settings are at the top and ready to be toggled at your discretion. The only difference I can see here is that you will have to hit the back button to navigate back to the previous app. One button tap. Using the shade, you would swipe back up instead, assuming the shade wouldn't close automatically once you toggle a setting.
Not to mention, this method requires two swipes downward. I'm not positive this wouldn't conflict with expanding all notifications as I mentioned earlier. And wouldn't it be easier to use a two-finger downward swipe to open quick settings without having to open notifications first?
Don't get me wrong, I will be more than satisfied if and when Google finally implements quick settings in the notification shade. But I have reservations about a second shade (though it may be necessary due to how large and abundant notifications are). I'm not sure it's intuitive or any more useful than what's already available. And I fear the developers may be missing a huge opportunity if they don't implement a separate, quicker way to access quick settings, like a two-finger swipe down.
What say you? Are you excited about quick settings in stock Android, folks? Or do you, too, have your reservations about an entirely separate shade for quick settings?