Matias Duarte is a legend in the world of mobile user interfaces, described rightfully as a “design guru.” He created the interface for the original Sidekick phone (then called the Hiptop), then left to create the interface for the Helio Ocean, one of the hallmarks of modern mobile phone design. After making Helio one of the most exciting small companies in the pre-iPhone world, he moved over to Palm, where he designed what might be the best mobile OS ever made: WebOS.
Due to circumstances largely unrelated to the work he did with WebOS, including a lackluster app store, mediocre hardware, undersized ad campaign, and Palm’s partnership with Sprint, the relaunched Palm flopped. We all know that story–lousy sales led to Palm being sold to HP a few weeks ago. In what could prove both disastrous for Palm/HP and a huge boon for Google, Duarte has moved from the former to the latter company.
Without Duarte, Palm/HP may find it extremely difficult to grow WebOS. His talents would be invaluable in creating a tablet version of the OS for the upcoming HP Slate, as well as for whatever smartphone incarnation uses WebOS next. Who knows why he left–Duarte may not think much of the Palm/HP partnership, he may simply want to try something new, or, likely as not, Google drove a dumptruck filled with money up to his house. Regardless, he could be a huge asset to Google.
Android does a ton of things right–top-of-the-line hardware, an app store bursting at the seams, amazing integration of Google services, and a wide array of partners–but its user interface is sometimes jarringly raw and under-designed. It’s not particularly difficult to use, but it’s also not all that intuitive, and it is, compared to WebOS or iPhone, a bit ugly.
With Duarte on board, Android might get a much-needed shot of design work. We can only hope he takes some sort of leadership role and pushes Android to get its intuitiveness and eye candy under control–this could be an amazing pairing.