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The Secret of Great Android App Design

images-2 The Secret of Great Android App Design

With hundreds of new apps rolling on the market every day, the industry is getting saturated in every niche you can imagine. To set one’s product apart in a tremendously competitive field like this, the app design plays a major part. Let us look at how android apps can be designed better by keeping a few simple things in mind.

Tips for Designing Great Android Apps

The mobile app industry is a place where one does judge a book by its cover. Also, as is the case with any good design example, it is not enough for the product to be pretty, but the fact is that good design must be a testament to good usability. Over the years, there have been many design philosophies that have begotten classic solutions to age old problems. Ever since the advent of smart mobile technology, a gauntlet has been thrown by the Apple designers to create products that are both visually stunning and end up making life easier for the user. But things are comparatively easier for iOS designers. Their work is cut out with respect to the hardware limitations and a design philosophy. An iOS designer’s canvas is limited to either the iPhone or the iPad and their few variants. On the other hand, an android app designer has to deal with creating an interface that must run seamlessly on a plethora of devices, large and small, with unique screen specifications, touch interfaces and resolutions.

Thus, it shouldn’t be surprising that for a long time, Android apps were considered to be visually inferior in front of the classy, sophisticated design touch that Apple tended to provide through its software. But times are changing fast. With 4.0 Ice-cream Sandwich, Android laid down specific design guidelines for its developers for the first time, while introducing the beautiful, modern Holo interface. And with KitKat, its latest release, Android is seen taking giant steps towards providing a beautiful, complete and visually satisfying user experience. The secret to success in the Android app market is to create an app that speaks to the aesthetic of your market, while making sure that the design compliments the usability of the product. Here are some guidelines that one can follow to make a good Android App design.

Aesthetics

One look at the comprehensive design guidelines that Android provides on their website tells you that what is expected is building ‘visually compelling apps that look great on any device.’ With each of its new releases, Android is advocating a modern, subtle aesthetic style with prominent blues and muted colours. The idea is to promote a certain ease of access to the user by not overwhelming them with graphical information, while at the same time not being drab and dull. Android promotes the use of user interactive animation, seamless transition screens and to-the-point content. While designing your app, make sure that its aesthetics are planned in a way that the user will be engaged for a long term. This means making it coherent with the OS aesthetic, while subtly putting your own mark on the screen.

Scaling on Multiple Devices

This is where Android design drastically changes direction with respect to Apple’s. Since an app, once in the market, is presumably downloaded on a plethora of devices with multitudes of screen sizes and qualities, care must be taken that the app has a comfortable usability irrespective of the screen size. The portrait to landscape transitioning must be smooth. This means that Android designers cannot have the liberty to play with every pixel, knowing where it is going to go on the screen like Apple designers. But it also means that the designs will have to be more robust and resilient to change. Android advises designers to be flexible, while making maximum use of the screen space with the larger devices, and substitute that with multiple screens for smaller ones.

Content

Android advises developers and designers to keep the content short and to-the-point, so as to increase the user’s attention span. So, instead of asking, ‘Would you like to sign into Google?’, one could simply ask – ‘Get Google?’.  This informal approach makes sure that your user attention is not diverted from the more important details of the service. Keep the content concise, simple and friendly. Make sure that the user specific goals come before the imperative action in the string. So, instead of saying ‘Restart your device to run the application.’, use the more result oriented ‘To run your application, restart the device.’

User Experience

Many times, we take our design problems for granted because we are conditioned to use a product as it is. Finding design problems comes before finding design solutions. Try to make the user experience interactive. Let the app have subtle visual responses to touch. Essentially, let the user know that the apo is listening to them. Small animations, clever use of transition screens, multi-pane layouts and a handy widget won’t go to waste.

Your Brand Recognition

You have to create a place for your own brand in a market filled with competitors. Study the rival applications and the design problems while using them. Create a simple, visually meaningful app logo that can be instantly recognizable. Even your app name matters a lot when it comes to success in the market. What users want along with a good operating experience is the feeling of using a cool app on their phone – a tasteful design that they can flaunt. Do not forget this x-factor while creating your app’s look.

Get in touch with OptimusMobility to know more about great app design. Our amazing designers are always happy to help!

Developer-Focused Changes Coming in Android 6.0 Marshmallow

Available to run on Nexus 5, 6, 9 and Player, the SDK for Android 6.0 Marshmallow is ready for download. Although Android M is an incremental release, it holds significant changes for users and developers across SDK functionalities.

App Linking

Android M apps can offer deeper linking between apps and web domains for direct user-level transitions. Associations are specified in the intent filter, verification uses a server-side JSON file while the transition itself is coded in an app activity.

App Auto Backup

Full, automatic data backup and restore is now available for users with Google accounts. All or part of the app’s data including databases, shared preferences and the application’s private directory can be duplicated. There is a 25MB limit per app, but that does not count against the user’s quota. Developers need only update targetSdkVersion to 23 to enable this feature.

Fingerprints and Passwords

With Android M, developers can add fingerprint scanning for any platform with an appropriate device using the new FingerprintManager class. Apps using this feature must authenticate independently of other apps. Apps can check the interval since the last user authentication on a device-unlocking mechanism, such as a screen-lock password. This feature frees developers from implementing separate authentication interfaces and eliminates app-specific passwords.

Direct Share

Developers can define direct share targets within their apps to launch specific activities via new APIs. These allow users to share content, e.g. contact info, to other apps by launching activities in those apps. Direct sharing by users is facilitated by exposing the direct share targets in a Share menu on the platform.

Voice Interactions

A new voice interaction API is included in Android Marshmallow that works alongside Voice Actions to enable conversational interaction between apps and users. Most interactions are initiated by a voice action from the user, but can be accomplished by an app sending an intent to start voice interaction. Apps then prompt users to confirm interactions or continue with the conversation.

Support for Android Pay

Android Pay is now fully integrated with Android M. Users store payment information on the platform, which is securely available to developer apps. These apps are able to couple with store or payment provider apps to permit users to utilize NFC terminals for payment processing. Android M also supports third-parties ample freedom with regard to customized presentation and brand integration. Google announced that over 700,000 merchants and over a thousand apps are already signed up.

Chrome Custom Tabs

Custom tabs in Android M allow apps to overlay a customized Chrome window on the currently active app in lieu of launching a full instantiation of Chrome. This softens the boundary between app and web experience for users. Since Android M can pre-fetch the tab content, it feels faster too. Each tab includes overflow menu options. Apps control the overall look and feel while taking full advantage of Chrome capabilities.

App Permissions

With Marshmallow, app permission moves to an on-demand model, which significantly lowers users’ cognitive load, while avoiding or deferring users’ negative impression that an app has too many permissions. At runtime, when an app requires permissions, it displays a one-time prompt asking the user to grant permission. Apps that do not adopt the new permissions model, default to the install-time permissions model.

Apps declare all potential permissions in the app manifest. Permissions designated as PROTECTION_NORMAL are auto-granted at install time. Unfortunately, apps must poll the current state of its permissions at runtime, since apps are not notified when a user turns off one or more of them.

Google Now

Context awareness, answers and assistance in taking action have all been improved within Google Now on Android M. Google Now graphs over one billion entities including 100 million different places. Users access the virtual assistant within an app by holding the home button, an action known as Google Now on Tap. Thus, the assistant might display a list of restaurants given the context of a text chat about where to go for lunch. App access is via the new AssistContent class and Google is rolling out a Now on Tap pilot program with 100 apps.

App Notifications

Apps can take advantage of a number of new alarms:

  • A new filter, INTERRUPTION_FILTER_ALARMS, permits alarms to penetrate the do not disturb mode.
  • A new category value, CATEGORY_REMINDER, distinguishes user-scheduled alarms from CATEGORY_EVENT and CATEGORY_ALARM reminders.
  • A new Icon class can attach to notifications and the addAction() method now accepts Icon objects.
  • A new method, getActiveNotifications(), lets apps enumerate currently active notifications.

Android for Work

Many new APIs and controls in Android M have been created to specifically support corporate, single-use devices and enterprise workflows. These include controls for keyguards, status bars, safe boots, always-on screens, auto-acceptance of system updates and runtime permissions management.

Device provisioning and unprovisioning without user intervention is supported now in the PackageInstaller APIs, which permits one-touch provisioning of kiosks or other devices without a Google account. Managed app access to certificates is possible now without user intervention and certificate installation can be delegated to third-party apps.

 

Despite appearing to be just an incremental release, Android 6.0 M includes meaningful advances for both users and developers in the areas of security, contextual awareness, improved user interaction and experience plus new automation capabilities for enterprise administrators. Although deployment is currently limited to Nexus devices, developers can get a head start on Marshmallow app development by downloading the Android M Developer Preview today.

What’s New in Android M?

Google recently previewed its newest Android release, dubbed Android M. Reviewers are calling it a return to basics instead of a splash of new eye candy. There are some significant enhancements, and thousands of much-needed bug fixes that are bringing a new level of stability and usability to the widely-used Android platform.

Now on Tap Gets Smarter

Contextual assistance has taken a big leap forward with improvements to the Now on Tap feature. From within any Google Now enabled app, you can access the Google Now virtual assistant by holding the Home button, which provides you all information relevant to user context instantly. For instance, if you receive a text message from a friend telling you about a new movie they saw, a single tap brings you reviews, actor bios, movie locations, schedules and links to any other relevant apps. Developers can add this feature via App indexing.

Android Pay

Leveraging Gingerbread’s Near Field Communications and Kitkat’s Host Card Emulation, Android Pay on Android M allows users to securely and seamlessly use their Android phone to make payments in stores or via Android Pay partner apps.

Fingerprint

Android Pay’s and 3rd-party apps’ security will be further enhanced by Android M’s fingerprint feature. Any developer has the ability to add fingerprint authorization for purchases or unlocking functions via new Android APIs. For instance, multifactor confirmation can be added by asking for a fingerprint scan. The functionality works across a large range of sensors and devices.

User Control of Permissions

Users will be able to manage individual app permissions from within their platform settings on Android M. Also, apps can make contextually-sensitive, on-demand requests for permissions when needed for such things as access to contacts, photos or location. This features lets users get up and running more quickly without app pre-configuration.

Battery Management

A new Android M feature called Doze more intelligently saves power by using the output from motion sensors to determine if a device is unattended. If it determines the device is not actively in use, it can crank back background activity to increase battery life. Developers can use high priority messages to override this behavior if they want to keep their apps’ activity level high.

Miscellaneous Improvements

A number of other features are new or have been improved:

  • Do Not Disturb is more straightforward and easier to understand
  • App collections now scroll vertically and are indexed alphabetically
  • Android M supports USB-C, which is agnostic to plug orientation
  • Users will be able to charge their device from another Android M device
  • Copy/paste functionality is easier to use with floating toolbars
  • Smart Lock can be accessed by developers and publishers

New Developer Tools

  • Android Studio – A new version of Android Studio gives developers access to new Android M features such as code development for C/C++ alongside of Java.
  • Design Support Library – Essential components for use in material design apps are provided in this new library. Motion-enabled toolbars, navigation view and floating action buttons are among new functionality available. Everything is backward-compatible with API 7 so modernizing an Android app does not require a complete rebuild.
  • Google Play v7.5 – New features in Google Play include new Google Cloud Messaging and Google Case APIs, Smart Lock Passwords, and a Google Maps API for Android wearable devices.

None of these features are yet available and may not be present for months or even years on older devices unable to update the OS. However, web users will be able to enjoy many Android M features on Chrome, Gmail and Maps when they receive updates. For phone users, the first Android M device is a new Nexus phone launching later this year. Android M will be more widely distributed during the next round of showroom device releases from mobile device manufacturers in the first half of 2016.

Android Development Growth: Huge Leap in Adoption

Image348 Android Development Growth: Huge Leap in Adoption

Google’s mobile operating system, Android, is poised to make yet another huge leap in adoption. The steadily improving user-interface and native support for Google Apps is solidifying Android’s position as a leading OS for mobile devices.

Software improvements aside, Android’s growth is largely attributed to the open source operating system enabling hardware manufactures to bring down prices. For example, in China an unlocked iPhone 4 costs $1,282 USD; whereas, new Android phones could be under $150 USD.

Smartphone manufacturers and wireless service providers have been successful at penetrating developing markets with expensive 3G services. However, in order to increase the rate of adoption they plan to introduce powerful 3G enabled smartphones in the under $150 price range.

These lower priced smartphones are well positioned to reach mainstream adoption in developing markets. A recent study from ABI Research reports that there will be over 5 billion mobile subscribers by the end of 2010. The largest growth rates are expected to be in Asia and Africa.

In addition to the opportunities in developing markets, Android has been gaining ground in the US. According to The NDP Group, Android has pushed past Apple in unit sales for Q1 of 2010. RIM still leads the group with 36% market share, but Android has beaten Apple’s 21% share by increasing to 28%. On Google’s official blog they have reported 160,000 Android powered devices get activated worldwide every day.

The expanding market is opening doors for Android application developers. Last week, Google released a WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) application development platform called App Inventor. Although the platform is currently in closed beta, it promises to make Android application development much easier by enabling users to create applications without writing a single line of code. This new development method is likely to push the number of applications on the Android Marketplace well past the nearly 100,000 applications available today.

At OptimusMobility we believe Android is a powerful mobile OS with great potential. That’s why we have our developers creating advanced applications for our clients.

To find out how OptimusMobile can help with your Android development in Vancouver, send us an email at info@optimusinfo.com

(Photo credit: Jay Cuthrell)