Head of Android design comments on Google violating the iOS interface guidelines

Matias Duarte is a hell of a designer. He helped create webOS and then brought Android into the consistent, coherent 21st century. So, when he shares his thoughts on Google failing to use standard iOS icons in their iOS apps, it's worth a read. From Google+:

Iconography is an interesting middle ground between the visual emotional and brand elements of a platform and the functional elements. Some icons have become universal, like the magnifying icon for search. Others are strongly branded, like the +1 or thumb up. Share sits in a middle ground where many consider it a brand element of their platform or service, while it is at the same time being so ubiquitous that recognition is important. There's many other "universal" icons in the HIG that popular services deviate from because they feel that their unique spin does not hamper usability and is part of their brand. Consider the Twitter compose button with it's fanciful quill.

In this case, Duarte thinks Android's brand and a standard beyond Apple's trumps the iOS HIG (Human Interface Guidelines). It's a valid argument. Balancing consistency in platform with consistency of brand with aesthetic of designer is a tough challenge. Google has certainly upped their iOS game. Also, the shape of an icon is only one factor in making it discoverable and understandable. Position is another one. Hell, in many places Apple is using text instead of glyphs in iOS 7.

Still, using non-standard icons or processes isn't without drawbacks. It's loud. It's authorial voice. It's greater cognitive load for users. Anything inconsistent, first or third party is. On an integrated platform like iOS, integrating with the platform offers a lot of benefits, especially when it comes to user experience.

If you use Google apps, either a lot or a little, does the lack of iOS-style buttons make any difference to you?

Source: Google+

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, ZEN and TECH, MacBreak Weekly. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter, App.net, Google+.

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There are 24 comments. Add yours.

djstarion says:

I don't mind it, since it's pretty much consistent throughout all of Google's apps. They look amazing overall.

My only complaint with Google apps on iOS is that I wish they would update Translate for the iPhone 5.

Cameron Brinkman says:

I know I've been eating for that since I got my device

Sent from the iMore App

necigrad says:

I couldn't care less as long as it works. On the other hand, I have substantial worries that someone who brought Android "into the consistent, coherent 20th century" should be executed, not celebrated.

steviet02 says:

Pretty ignorant comment, have you even seen android lately?

necigrad says:

You do know it's the 21st century, right? I don't call bringing a platform into the 1900's progress.

gtricecakes says:

what do you mean by that? Android is a nice 21st Century piece of tech and in some ways is better than iOS. I have both kinds of devices and I couldn't pick which one I would keep if I had to.

Nathan Bael says:

I don't have a problem with Android. I have a problem with Google's policy of killing products. Icon wise, I much prefer Google's stuff to iOS 7.

necigrad says:

When I posted the comment (half an hour after the article was posted I might add) it said 20th century. They apparently did not review the article prior to posting, nor in a reasonable time after posting. I came across it, made a comment about what they said, then they edited the article, leaving my comment making no sense.

Dude495 says:

One thing I'm curious about, but honestly haven't looked too hard to find the answer, was if you trade your phone in for the upgrade instead of paying it off for the full 24 months, do you have to keep the phone in perfect condition? I rarely ever use a case on my iPhone as I think it looks better without one, and have been known to drop it at times. The screen isn't broken, which is easy to fix, but it does have a few scratches and dings on it.

PattayaNic says:

Google's Icons looks like crap. It think they should use IOS standard icons. I love Google+ But the design is crap.

Dev from tipb says:

Google simply does not want their brand and experience to be subordinate by a competitor. In that sense, it is no different than when Apple released iTunes for Windows and cheerfully ignored a bevy of Windows UI conventions. More than a few people attributed iTunes for Windows rather awful performance and experience, especially in those early days, to a refusal to work with what is best for the platform. Apple stuck to their guns, and it obviously paid off for them handsomely.

Cross-platform experiences are not necessarily bad. (Yes, even Java has a few good examples. Ok, two.) But if it is thoughtfully put together, with an interface that capitalizes on the native aspects of the OS while evoking a brand/experience familiarity across platforms, I'm all for it. It's a difficult balance, but Google under Duarte has made great strides in that direction over the past year or so.

Chris Summers2 says:

It's Apple's OS and they want a classy and consistent look. Beside, I deleted google search because of how bad it effects battery life. It's a shame you can control how often it checks location, but that may have been Googles plan when they developed the app. Most people would not take the time to realize an Google app was killing their battery. Google can say what they want it hits the battery hard :( I really like Google search but I like my battery better. Since I deleted Google Search I continued deleting the rest of my Google apps. I did keep Google Maps, but with all the improvements to IOS Maps I rarely use it. By the way Apple Maps works great wear I live and since its native its my go to map app now. It was hard to give up Google Maps but thank you Apple for finally getting right.

Sent from the iMore App

sdreelin says:

You can turn off the location services for Google Search and that stops the GPS updates and battery drain.

Ipheuria says:

Awesome comment and great analogy. I love Apple but believe fair play is key. If Apple did the same thing on another platform they can't expect another company, a competitor not to do the same. On Windows I heard iTunes is awful. On my Mac it's fine, does what it's supposed to do. So is the hope that users will see that and when the time comes switch to a Mac? You could see the same with Google's apps. They prob work great on Android. On iOS they hit the battery. Inexperienced users will blame the hardware and perhaps next time switch to Android. I understand Apple's stance if there were no HIG icons would be a mess hodge podge slop. They would all try to stand out and it would be us users that would pay in the experience. As any Apple user will tell you "The experience" is what Apple is all about.

Sent from the iMore App

Dev from tipb says:

To be clear, I don't think Apple intentionally made iTunes for Windows crappy -- that would have been stupid, and self-defeating, and Apple is neither. Apple simply decided their brushed metal look, and their own UI conventions, were more important than following the Windows HIG. With their IOS Apps, Google is making a similar choice now.

Derrick4Real says:

Was he speaking english? I'm not sure i understood any of that. ha ha.

threepio says:

Glad, I'm not the only person who thought this. The article was poorly written and had a total Apple-Fan-Boy-esque feel to it. Yes I understand we are on an Apple promoting website, but the nitpicking against other mobile platforms is ridiculous!

atantalus says:

Sometimes I don't know why Google's updated design aesthetic is so lauded. They have done some great stuff with "cards" and Maps, but they still have a log way to go (and still make big glaring errors and confusing inconsistencies. I mean just stand back and look at the icons and positioning in desktop Gmail... ugh!).

Android itself is sometimes a great big mess when it comes to the way third party apps use iconography and how they approach the general user experience (such as how the "back" button works and where you go to share or operate settings). iOS, as a whole, is more consistent among third party apps - and the ones that try to be different better be good and obvious!

But Google can do what it wants if it believes it has a familiar brand and standard. I just don't think it's anything to do with Android - it is more the grand ambition for a consistent look and feel for Google services on EVERY platform.

gtricecakes says:

Does anyone really notice it that much? To be honest, I'm not even sure what the difference is, but I am new to the iOS ecosystem, so that may have a lot to do with it.

benlee78 says:

I have to agree with you (and I have owned an iPod Touch 4, iPad 2, and iPad mini in the last 3 years), I barely noticed major differences. Sure, the cards in Google Search and Maps look different; but they didn't throw me off in any way. My main problem with Google is the persistent tracking and nagging me to login (so they can track my person and not just the UDID) annoys me to no end.

I love Chrome on the desktop, but other than that, I am pretty much sans Google all around. Apple's standard apps work just fine for me in all circumstances, and Google's competition has forced them to stay on their toes.

sgillila777 says:

It doesn't matter to me. I know that when I'm firing up a non-Apple app for the first time that it may look a little different and implement GUI applications (buttons, widgets, etc.) that I'm unfamiliar with. If done correctly, it's an exciting experience. That said, some (or possibly most) of my enjoyment comes from the fact that the vast majority of applications due adhere to Apple's HIGs and therefor these occasional departures are novel and not laborious. But no, it doesn't bother me.

iSRS says:

Rene, you missed this part of his response, which I find a bit on the pretentious side. "The share icon Google uses in it's properties (and the share icon that Android endorses) is a popular opensource icon and one that we feel well describes the connective nature of sharing. In a sense you could say we believe it's part of our brand and that Google's brand is to embrace the open and universal standard."

Maybe I am thinking of a different share icon, but the one in Gmail looks like they took the Apple arrow out of a box, ran it through an app that gives it the sketch treatment, and voila! The Gmail share icon. Plus, they are inconsistent. Reply, Reply All, Forward? All make sense and look fine. Click on a link in the Gmail app and then built in browser share button goes it's own route. IMHO, the Default Apple one makes more sense and matches the Gmail app esthetic better than what they use, and is, to me, a case of wanting to be different than Apple/not use/bend to Apple defaults at the expense of good UI/UX.

I love/loved webOS, but this inconsistency is more offensive to me than not using the Apple HIG version.

I don't care if they go their own way. But this icon is goofy looking to me.

os2baba says:

This whole thing started with the Yahoo weather app on Android. There were a lot of people who loved it and some who were disappointed. If you are interested, you could check out the follow-up article http://www.androiduipatterns.com/2013/08/yahoo-weather-app-followup.html and the original article it referred to. For designers, (even non-Android) , it's informative.

"Android sharing is different from iOS sharing. The actual sharing happens outside your app. Therefore whenever you have a sharing intent in our app you're, in effect, linking to platform functionality and your link (icon) should reflect that."

Duarte followed that with a Google+ post - https://plus.google.com/app/basic/stream/z12kynbqhrmlt1owa04celbqlrejj5p...

Someone asked in a comment why Google violated the Apple HIG iconography and the quote in the article was a response to that question.