Google has been improving Android at an incredible clip, and the newest version, Froyo, is the slickest and fastest yet. But in terms of design and user interface, it’s neither as simple as Apple‘s iOS nor as elegant as Palm’s WebOS. TechCrunch hears from “multiple sources close to Google” that that’s all about to change.
Google clearly knows its weakness, and swiped interface guru Matias Duarte from Palm/HP. Duarte is the main designer behind Palm WebOS, and he’s a huge get for Google. So it makes sense that these sources say the next version of Android (codename: Gingerbread), with Duarte’s help, will be “laser focused” on the user interface. But this has some serious implications for Android as a whole.
There’s been a sort of cottage industry in creating elaborate skins for the somewhat ugly-duckling Android. You’ve got the root community, with designers like Cyanogen creating custom interfaces for “rooted,” or jailbroken, Android handsets. That’s unlikely to change. But what about HTC, Motorola, and Samsung, all of whom have created their own Android skins to lay on top of their hardware? HTC’s Sense UI, which appears on the HTC Evo 4G and HTC Droid Incredible, is the best known and best received, largely because it very simply looks and feels better than stock Android. Motorola’s Motoblur, focused on social networking, never really got much of a foothold, and Samsung’s custom interface was called “the most impressively ugly Android phone in existence” by Matt Buchanan over at Gizmodo.
The weakness of these custom skins is their inability to update in a timely manner, a problem stock Android phones (like the Motorola Droid and Google Nexus One) don’t have. So if Google and Duarte can manage to get Android looking as good or better than HTC or Motorola, why would anyone bother with those?
But this is good for the platform as a whole. It’ll encourage third-party skinners to get even better, and it’ll make Android more palatable for a wider audience.