Google Wants to Kill the Menu Button on Android for Good

Google Wants to Kill the Menu Button on Android for Good

Jan 27, 2012

A venerable piece of Android UI is soon to be dead and buried if Google has their way, as the Android Developers website has released new developer guidelines that discourage the usage of the Menu button on Android phones. Now, apps will be expected to use the action bar, which is located somewhere in the app’s user interface, instead of being a hidden menu only called up by pressing the menu button.

This is a transition that could be seen not just with the introduction of Ice Cream Sandwich and the Galaxy Nexus which lacked a menu button, but with Honeycomb tablets that also lacked the menu botton. The Menu button has typically been replaced with a software menu in tablet-optimized apps, usually denoted by the old Menu button itself. While Honeycomb and ICS devices have support for a software Menu button, which is now a software “action overflow” button that appears on the right side of the software keys, Google wants this to be phased out.

In fact, it will be possible for developers to continue to support the Menu button along with the action bar on devices that have the Menu button, and those that don’t. However, considering that apps’ user interface will need to support the action bar anyway, it may just make sense for developers to ignore that button’s functionality entirely for older phones.

However, as is key with Android, flexibility and functionality will still exist for developers. It just appears that the powers that be at Android want to develop user experiences that are more consistent across apps and devices. Essentially, the idea is that one app will work in a similar way to another app. This kind of unified UX is something that Apple has excelled at providing in its interface guidelines for developers, and Android appears to be taking similar steps to ensure this is the case on their OS as well.

The Hills Are Greener: The Tablet Inequality

The Hills Are Greener: The Tablet Inequality

Aug 8, 2011

I have gotten to use an Android tablet for a week and a half now. If there is anything that I have learned, it is that Apple’s penchant for design and user experience is quite overblown when comparing the iPad to Android tablets. While the iPad may have come first and sales numbers for Android tablets are struggling, Android tablets are designed to be superior usage experiences.

Android 3.x is just better designed for tablets than iOS is for the iPad. It starts on the lockscreen, where the lock is on the right side, easily accessible by the right thumb when holding the tablet with two hands. The multitasking works much better than iOS, with a virtual button for calling up a list of the most recently opened apps. This means that switching between apps works much better than iOS, where double-tapping the menu button is required to call up the multitasking dock. The notification system is designed to be unobtrusive, with notifications popping up in the bottom right of the static bar without being obtrusive. This bottom right area offers easy access to the recent notification stack, as well as quick options for brightness, rotation, wifi, and quick access to settings. The static bottom bar is always available, and is thumb-accessible. That is the best part about Android tablets -they feel like they were designed for tablet usage, far more so than iOS is for the iPad. It feels like whenever the tablet has to be held in one hand, it’s because thumb access was not impenetrable, with the exception of the keyboard; thankfully it is easy to find thumb keyboards on Android Market.

Compare this to the iPad, where the device just feels like a blown up iPhone after using an Android tablet. The OS itself is not designed for tablets. Many elements feel placed where they are because that’s where they were on the iPhone, like the lock slider being in the bottom center of the lockscreen. While Apple is making improvements, like a builtin thumb keyboard, and an improved notification system that won’t entirely interrupt apps with a small box in the center of the screen, it will still just feel like a bigger iPhone. The apps are what defines the tablet experience of the iPad, not the OS itself. While this is less of a problem with the iPad having App Store access, than the limited selection of tablet apps on the Android Market, it still feels like Apple could do more to make the iPad feel like a more natural tablet experience. Even having more apps on the homescreens like Android has would help improve the experience.

User experience is Apple’s strength! So why does a tablet made by Motorola and featuring a Google-designed OS feel more comfortable and natural than Apple hardware and software? The iPad I love because of the apps and games for it; my Android tablet I love because it is better to use. The apps will come. The iPad was the first major tablet, but I have learned it is not the best tablet. Android is the OS that is supposed to be rougher around the edges, yet it somehow is better as an OS?

The Hills Are Greener: The Great Divide

The Hills Are Greener: The Great Divide

Aug 1, 2011

Recently, I got my hands on the Motorola Xoom tablet, and will be reviewing apps for it here on Android Rundown. I’m learning a lot by using it, not just about what the Android tablet experience is compared to the iPad (something that I will cover in a future column) , but a revelation struck me recently. When people, including the prominent tech bloggers and writers, try to talk about Android and iOS, are they actually comparing the operating systems, or their app marketplaces?

Android as an OS is impressive in part because it is so flexible. It has to be comparable feature-wise with iOS, which Apple can build from the ground up for their devices. Android has to run on such a wide array of devices, that it’s impressive that there aren’t more issues with fragmentation. Android also has more flexibility and customization available to users; iOS users will likely get widgets when hell freezes over. The notification system is still better than iOS, especially on tablets, where they are very unobtrusive. Android is very powerful, and there is little that the OS can’t do that Android can.

However, it is difficult to escape the thought that the iOS App Store is superior to the Android Market. There are just more high-quality apps on the App Store at this time than the Android Market. There are more apps launching on the App Store first. More original games are available on the App Store first. There are fewer apps of dubious copyright status. The App Store is far from perfect, but it has many advantages over the Android Market at this point.

The problem is that the difference in application stores is what has defined the debate between the two OS’s more than anything else. It’s not as if Android is lacking for apps – there is little in the way of functionality either builtin or available through apps that it can’t do, the game selection is wider than it may seem, and this isn’t counting what the platform can do that iOS can’t. It just feels like Android devices are somehow slighted because of their app store is mildly inferior, and it doesn’t have as vast a swath of apps as its biggest competitor. As an Android user, it is baffling and frustrating, because the experience of Android gets unfairly derided by the media and iOS-focused types.