Wanted: Android, with the Chrome update system
What has bothered me about Google in the past is the inherent disjunct between their products. Until very recently (we’re talking post Google+) the design, mechanisms, and most importantly UI / UX have been different from property to property. For example what we saw as a design language in Gmail was different from Google Voice and GTalk, which was completely different from the Google.com search page.
Fortunately for me (and millions of others, I’m sure), Google really has started to unify their properties. The consistent black bar that first appeared in G+ now continues through ALL Google apps. The simple black/white with red accents provides comfort when tabbing between different apps. The buttons have been standardized, and things actually work as you would expect! Fancy that.
Now this brings me to Android (doesn’t it usually?). Unfortunately, what used to plague Google Apps online properties still exists on their mobile OS. All skins aside (let’s keep it simple and talk about stock Android), design languages are still horribly disjunct. Only the most recent versions of the Market, Google+ and Google Music (which is a Beta, invite only) apps have the updated ‘look and feel’ that they’re going for. Whereas even though several features updates have come for other google properties like Talk, Voice, Maps, etc. they still look the same as they did (give or take) in Android 2.1. And nowhere in Android do I see any connection design wise to other Google properties, even though they’re 100% connected to all of the web-side Google services. You’d think that Google would want to keep a consistent experience between the Gmail Android App, and Gmail.com. They’re not practicing what they preach when it comes to the simplicity of moving between the phone and the web.
Dribble about UI and UX unity aside, let’s get to the point. First off, Google Chrome is updated every 6 weeks, regardless of what features are being worked on or added. If something isn’t ready for this release, it’ll be pushed to the next release (it’s only 6 weeks away, what’s the harm?). Second, Chrome updates are downloaded in the background, unbeknownst by the user. No prompts, questions, or concerns. Next time they open Chrome, they’ll be on the newest version and not even know it (there isn’t even a popup like Firefox stating there was a new version). There’s something extremely intriguing about this update model. To the average user, Chrome seems to stay the ‘same’, but in reality its secretly getting better, faster, more optimized and feature rich without so much as an extra click. It’s elegant and seamless. Not words particularly synonymous with Google products
Now we bring this together. We understand Android isn’t consistent (understatement of the century). We also know that updates for the Android platform are few and far between. Solve one problem and you’ve nearly solved the other. Fast updates for Android mean Google has a frictionless path to unify design. The first step for Android to follow this release cycle has already begun. Google has removed their Google Apps such as Gmail, Maps, Books, Docs, Voice, Talk (etc. etc. for days on end) from the actual Android OS, and simply made them applications in the Market. When there’s an update to an individual app, the other apps aren’t disturbed, the OS doesn’t have to be upgraded, and they can be updated independently. At this point its really a hack considering what they SHOULD be doing…
In a perfect world, all Android devices would run a version of stock Android, and carriers wouldn’t be involved (no rant this time, see my prior post on removing Android skins). If somehow these conditions were met, it would surely allow Google to push Chrome-style updates to the OS regularly and efficiently. To be honest I’m not completely sure if users want to be given an update that often, but if it is as seamless as Chrome (and Google has proven they can accomplish this with millions of Chrome users), I see no reason why it wouldn’t be possible. In this perfect world, Google would be able to not only update apps but also fix bugs, add OS features, and improve usability for EVERY user. I would be surprised if Google didn’t want to provide the same thing for their Android customers as they do for Chrome.
I can see that Google is pushing towards consistent experiences with their changes to Gmail, G+, Docs, etc. and I can only hope that they pass on this new found passion to their other products. Creating a consistent experience and ecosystem that people can feel comfortable relying on is one of the most important things when it comes to luring in new customers as well as retaining current ones. Its not a one-fix problem, and it will take a major change in the way Google operates, but I think that it is truly necessary if they want to push on to the next level of customer satisfaction on Android.