Nope, it’s not just you. You might have noticed a hint of Mango in those first few delicious bites of Ice Cream Sandwich. As with many other thousands of people watching youtube.com/android for Google’s announcement covering its next flavor of the world’s most popular smartphone operating system to date, I sat glued to the live stream, poring over Google’s answer to iOS 5 and Windows Phone Mango. But as Matius and co. introduced successively more features of Android 4.0, the evidence started to mount. Could Android 4.0 actually be imitating UI features of Windows Phone?
It all started with a font. Roboto, a font specifically designed for Android 4.0, that, according to Matias Duarte, guided the design philosophy of the entire OS. Then there was the talk about eliminating unnecessary UI elements for a more streamlined, simple user-interface. Then the panorama style, side swiping between panes of an application. By the time Hugo Barra presented us with the Ice Cream Sandwich equivalent of the “People Hub,” the fact that Android was taking on some qualities of Windows Phone’s Metro UI became quite clear.
While Android 4.0 certainly has not turned into the ultra-simplistic, dual-tone design of the Metro UI, Google has made design decisions that reflect the underlying philosophy of Windows Phone. But why might Android, the operating system powering over 190 million devices to date, pull from an OS that has failed thus far in establishing a strong foothold in the smartphone market? Look no further than Android’s head of user experience Matius Daurte. In an interview with Josh Topolsky of This Is My Next, Duarte explains “With Android, people were not responding emotionally…users felt empowered by their devices, but often found Android phones overly complex.” For this OS update, Duarte’ team was focused on finding an innovative way to create deeper integration of emotional content within the UI.
For those few Windows Phone followers out there, the principle of designing APIs to allow simple, yet emotional impact is old news. From the start, Windows Phone’s contact list was not called “Contacts” but “People Hub.” The Microsoft understood that having contacts was not just about contacting people, but about keeping up to date on what they were up to and checking out photos of their friends and families. Not only does this design decision demonstrate the innovative aspect of Windows Phone, but it also highlights the emotional aspect of the UI design as well. Android 4.0 is Google’s attempt at revitalizing a cold, complex UI with these same principles.
Google’s imitation, in a way, is one of the biggest compliments that they could have given Windows Phone. Despite it’s minuscule slice of market share in comparison to Android, it shows that Google recognize the innovative value of Microsoft’s mobile division and may even be starting to see it as a threat to their own product. There may be hope yet for Windows Phone.