How Android progressed while avoiding Apple’s designs, like a boss
The recent Apple vs Samsung lawsuit sparked a huge debate on whether obvious things like “icons with uniformly rounded corners” are worthy to be patented or not. While I do agree that some characteristics of Samsung’s phones were heavily inspired by Apple’s designs (like the complete redesign of Android’s homescreen), The big question is: how has Google avoided this?
Google has made it clear that most of Apple’s claims ‘don’t relate’ to ‘core Android’. Here is the full statement:
The court of appeals will review both infringement and the validity of the patent claims. Most of these don’t relate to the core Android operating system, and several are being re-examined by the US Patent Office. The mobile industry is moving fast and all players — including newcomers — are building upon ideas that have been around for decades. We work with our partners to give consumers innovative and affordable products, and we don’t want anything to limit that.
In other words, Google is putting other Android users fears to rest that their devices should not be affected by this decision.
To answer this big question, let’s begin with the hardware:
Google’s Hardware: Nexus
Google has experience in developing Android hardware. While they’re not manufacturing the hardware itself, Google’s been cleverly circumventing Apple and their assortment of patents by guiding manufacturers in the design process of their handsets
The Nexus One was the first phone to initiate this vogue: It was a mutual partnership between HTC and Google to produce a beautiful 3.7″ Android smartphone. The unibody design was totally one of it’s kind, the shape was nowhere near like the iPhone, and it was a brilliant device. The hardware buttons were very different too, featuring four capacitive buttons and even a trackball. Google was successful in evading Apple’s claims of “uniformly rounded corners” while being efficacious in producing a well-built piece of hardware.
The next was Nexus device was a collaboration between Samsung and Google. They reserved Samsung’s sleek unornamented display, but bent it to elude the “flat” characteristic of the iPhone. They also stuck with the nonuniform corners to again avoid Apple’s claims. Google was again successful in creating a very nice looking device while staying away from the look and feel of Apple’s iPhone.
Speciously, Google enjoyed working with Samsung, so they picked them to make their next Nexus device, the Galaxy Nexus. It too had the same curved display, nonuniform corners, and a different build style. This time, Google was all set to beat Apple at their own un-embellishment game. They discontinued the use of hardware buttons adopted on-screen buttons.
Nexus 7 was Google’s first tablet, in collaboration with Asus and Google left no stone unturned to make it different from Apple’s iPad, even though 7 inches alone differentiates it quite a bit from the iPad. The Nexus 7 has an unlike screen ratio and non-uniform bezels all around the display. The front is buttonless, just like the Galaxy Nexus, while the back is substantially different from the iPad, with its rubbery leather-like texture.
Google’s Software: Android
While working with manufacturers to create its own devices and guiding them to create theirs, Google has also been releasing huge updates to Android every year. They’ve been very careful in doing so, to avoid straight-up copying Apple’s iOS.
One essential area, which actually came under scrutiny with a lawsuit, is the lockscreen. In early versions of Android, the lock screen was an ugly gray rectangle with information on it and to unlock the device, the user had to press a physical “menu” key.
In Android 2.0, the lock screen was completely revamped. The user just has to swipe an unlock icon across the rotary dial and the phone would unlock. There was also a sound icon, which could be swiped right to turn on/off the phone’s sound/vibration state.
In Android 2.1, Google tweaked the lockscreen a bit more. Instead of the rotary dial, they changed it to a pull tab style, while keeping the unlock and sound icons the same. To unlock the device, the user just has to pull the unlock icon straight towards the right side, while to unlock, the user has to swipe the sound icon straight to the left side.
With Android 3.0, Googe changed the lockscreen design more substantially. The unlock icon sat in the middle of the unlock area and swiping it in any direcion unlocked the device.
With Android 4.0, Google once again brought a minor change. The added an unlock icon on the right of the unlock zone and a camera icon on the opposite side (for easy access) and the user just has to swipe the lock icon in the middle to the right to unlock the device, or left to start the camera.
With Android 4.1, Google added another shortcut, above the lock icon, which pointed to Google Now. In each version, Google looked at the utility and how it can be improved design-wise, in an innovative yet non-replicating way.
Google knew they had to avoid the bounce-back effect in lists, so they simply excluded any similar feedback in Android. With the introduction of Android 2.3, Google decided to add some feedback, but they did it very cleverly: When the user reaches the end of a scrollable list, an orange colored glow bursts out from the end of the list. This effect was available everywhere except the homescreen and the “All apps” screen. In the all apps screen, Google used a 3D-scroll effect where the icons scrolled from/to the Z-axis. When the user hits the end of the list (or lets go after dragging the list more into the end), the list would snap back to line up the icons. On the home screen, Google applied a similar snap-back effect, where the home screen would snap back to the main homescreen after the user stops scrolling.
In Android 3.0 and above, Google enhanced the end-of-list glow effect a bit and took a unique approach for the homescreen and “All apps” screen. They applied the paging interface look to the “All apps” screen (similar to the home screen), and added a 3D tilt-like effect: When the user tries to scroll past the end, the homescreen or icons tilt on their Y-axis to show that you can’t go any further. It’s a small yet remarkable effect, while being patently poles-apart from Apple’s methodology.
In addition to the different scrolling effects, Google has been careful about how they apply the homescreen in Android too. Android, unlike iOS always had a very dynamic homescreen. iOS doesn’t come with a homescreen anyway, you just have icons on the screen in a strict 4×4 grid. in Android, in addition to icons, it has customizable widgets too. You can put the widget anywhere, resize it, create new homescreens and move your widgets there and a lot more. With the Nexus 7, Google seems to be drifting away from icons on the homescreen, in favor of large dynamic widgets, which can be resized and they also intelligently adapt depending on other widgets or content on the homescreen.
When Google originally introdiced folders in Android, it looked very ugly and the functionality sucked. The user had to long-press the homescreen (or hit the menu button and select “Add”), tap on “Folder”, and then drag icons onto it. When Apple introduced Drag and Drop folders in iOS, Google decided it was time to redesign their folder functionality as well. Instead of going through long-presses or menu, The user just has to drag one icon on top of another to create a folder. Once again, Google was vety careful and to differentiate the look and feel of the folders and icons; instead of using rounded square with icons side-by-side inside it, like Samsung, Google chose a circle with icons arranged and skewed with a 3D effect. When the user taps on the folder, instead of splitting the screen like iOS, a flat dark box containing app icons pops up.
The god of search, Google, had been careful around Apple’s claims with regards to searching on the mobile too. Earlier, Android devices used to have a hardware search button, which would open the Google search from the homescreen or the running app’s search interface from the app itself. In addition to that, Google also added a search widget that users could place on their homescreens. The widet gave users easy accesiblity to search the web as well as apps plugged into it. In Android 3.0 and above, Google added a persistent search bar to the homescreen, so no matter which homescreen you are, the search bar will always be visible. Speciously, Apple had a problem with this, and they successfully (though momentarily) got the Galaxy Nexus banned from sale in the United State.
Google revamped the search in Android 4.1, by announcing Google Now. The persistent search bar was still present, but it now opens Google Now, which offers accurate prediction and intelligently spulls in wwather information, sports scores, driving directions and more, without the user even asking. They also adjusted the way it uses to search the device and web, circumventing Apple’s patent. They even added their own voice search and actions functionality like Siri though in a different and faster way, all within Google Now.
Google’s been successful in eastablishing a substantially different and polished look and feel of it’s own Android operating system, without infringing on any patents, which makes it easier for them to keep inovating without ripping off existing work done by other companies. I personally believe that manufacturers should stop adding so many UI tweak to their devices. We’re already seening something similar from HTC – Their; newest version is less tweak-heavy then previous incarnations and I hope to see this from others too. Android looks very beautiful and modern by itself. Let the users do the tweaking!
As you all know, Motorola is now officially a part of Google and while they haven’t done anything significant with it, we can expect to see some innovative and solid-built smartphones from them in the near future.
The rumor has it that Google will be releasing 5 Nexus phones this fall. We believe that they will continue their vogue of diverting their hardware partners from possibly-infringing hardware designs while continuing to revolutionize with better displays, looks and more.
Do you think Google has done a great job of avoidng Apple’s claims, or do you think there’s more work to do? What kind of innovations would you like to see from Google and it’s hardware partners? Let us know in the comment section below!