Material Design

A good place to begin before discussing the operating system itself is to explain what exactly "Material Design" is. The term comes up a lot throughout the course of the review, which makes sense given how the biggest changes that users will see when moving from KitKat to Lollipop will be because of Material Design. Material Design is a set of design principles, and contained within them is something of a mission statement about Google's approach to services across multiple platforms. Material Design is definitely not Google's first big change to the Android interface, but this time I'm actually very confident that it will be the last we see for a very long time. I'm very impressed by the work Google has done to create an interface that looks and feels modern, simple, and beautiful. Before getting into what Material Design looks and acts like, I'd like to address and give my thoughts about Google's previous style of interface design which was called Holo.

To me, Holo always seemed like a transitional type of interface. Google had just brought on Matías Duarte, but as someone whose first smartphone was a Palm Pre, I didn't feel his influence anywhere at all. I think that Holo was a definite improvement over the previous Android interface, but that isn't really saying much. In my opinion, it still didn't feel coherent or look visually appealing. For example, if you showed me the two screens above without the status bar and navigation buttons, I would be hard pressed to tell you that they're from the same operating system. They don't share a single common interface element. The lack of color and use of grey was also questionable. While some users protest the heavy use of white in many modern interfaces, to me the grey that was commonly used in Holo Light applications was analogous to a dirty white cloth. The lacking color also made applications feel rather dull and lifeless, and I almost wondered if it was an effort to try and mask the fact that phones were shipping with either under-saturated or over-saturated displays by just having almost no color at all. 

With my disappointment in Google's new interface, I was worried that it would just be something I would have to deal with for many years. Fortunately, less than one year after Android Ice Cream Sandwich was released, we were given a glimpse of the beginnings of a new type of design that was distinctly not Holo. It was in a feature called Google Now which launched with Android 4.1, and that many people now use everyday. This application used bright white cards to display relevant information, and had a much heavier use of color than any other applications that shipped along with Android. While at the time this could have been dismissed as the most obvious way to make an application that is constantly displaying and updating information for the user, in hindsight it was clearly the beginning of a new type of design being practiced at Google. It was still immature, lacking the animations, drop shadows, and dynamic nature of Material Design, but it began the dissolution of the Holo interface that had just been introduced.

Finally with the end of Holo, comes the beginning of Material. When Google gave a sneak peek of the new interface for Lollipop at Google IO I was very excited by what I saw seeing. The basic idea of the cards in Google Now had been applied to the entire operating system, and expanded upon in ways that I hadn't expected but have been pleasantly surprised by. As you can see above, both applications display the sections of the interface on white cards that float above the background and cast slight shadows. There's also a much greater use of color, and a better use of screen real estate by dividing the application into multiple sections which can be seen in the new Calendar application. The Settings application is actually a bad example in this regard, as the increased spacing means the main page fits less on screen than before, but this is an exception and I included it primarily to show the contrast between new and old.

Material Design is based upon the ideas of paper, lighting, shadows, depth, and color. While this sounds a lot like the skeuomorphic interface of previous versions of iOS, Material Design doesn't limit itself based on the actual limits of physical items like paper, and it doesn't go to the point where applications are merely digital recreations of real world objects. There's also a heavy use of animations. Everything you touch seems to respond with an elegant animation, and the different cards in the interface can expand, contract, and stack atop one another to create an extremely dynamic feel. It is truly hard to explain, and it's really something that needs to be used to be fully understood.

The last thing to say about Material Design is how it represents more than just a way to design applications. Like I said earlier, within Material Design is a mission statement about Google's approach to services across multiple platforms. Although I've discussed it within the context of the Android platform, Material Design is going to be what you see in Google's applications across every platform. From web apps, to Android, to Chrome, to iOS applications, you will see a consistent style of design that adapts to different display sizes, use models, and methods of input. Overall this is a great step forward in making Google's services consistent across all devices, but I think in the context of iOS applications Google may be going a bit too far by ignoring the design guidelines of that platform in favor of their own.

Introduction Lock Screen, Launcher, Keyboard, and Navigation Buttons
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • nevertell - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    And no comment on the move to 64 bit target platforms ?
  • Brandon Chester - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    That's just a result of the move to ART. I didn't want to just carbon copy Andrei's article, but it's linked in there and it's definitely worth the read.
  • Maleficum - Friday, December 26, 2014 - link

    It's the other way around: Android absolutely needs AOT-type compiler (ART) to decide between aarch32 and aarch64 prior to starting the process. If an app contains even a single JNI call to an aarch32 subroutine, the whole app HAS TO be compiled to aarch32, because no mode switching is allowed within a process.

    Your saying "apps are primarily written in Java" and Andrei's article are also misleading in just stating what Google claimed: 85% apps are written in Java.

    Google most probably isn't lying with that, but the fact is: most TOP apps AREN'T written in Java.
    I once checked top 25 apps in the US store: only two of them were written purely in Java.

    What this means? 64-bit will remain just a gimmick on Android for the upcoming 4 years thanks to the fragmentation.

    For 64-bit NDK apps, the devs HAVE TO set Lollipop as the minimum requirement since it REQUIRES AOT.

    And will they do that? You know the answer.
  • OreoCookie - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    Also, it seems much less clear whether and how much of a speed boost you actually get (as evidenced by the benchmarks run on the Nexus 9 where basically there is no difference between running Android in 32 and 64 bit mode).
  • Krysto - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    And what benchmarks are those? So far all the benchmarks I've seen are done in the 32-bit mode.
  • kron123456789 - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    Geekbench 3, for example.
  • Martuv93 - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    I haven't seen anyone do an AArch32 vs AArch64 showdown on Android yet.
    The Denver CPU is also a very weird thing so it might not benefit from the move to AArch64 in the same way for example the Exynos 7 Octa will.
  • kron123456789 - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    I'm not even sure that Exynos 7 Octa will support AArch64))
    And, yes — Exynos 7 Octa and so-called Exynos 5433 are the same SoC.
  • garretelder - Thursday, December 4, 2014 - link

    Good news! Now it's about time to upgrade to a TOP phone (see rankings such as for instance).
  • extide - Friday, December 5, 2014 - link

    Almost the same, the Exynos 7 does not have AArch64 disabled, like the 5433

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now