Are there Android UX patterns?

Twitter set the Android community abuzz this week by releasing its promised official Android app. And as long as you were one of the 27.3% of users that could use it, what you got was, in my opinion, one of the best-looking and coolest Android apps I’ve seen to date. Their partnership with the Android framework team paid off: the integration with Contacts is fantastic, functionality I predict will quickly become a “must have” in Android apps.

Android's best app?

Sure, I could write about how this is another symptom of Android’s version fragmentation. I actually can’t use it, since I’m still sporting my old G1 and holding out for a Desire. I’m also not able to use it because it doesn’t have multiple accounts support, something that most people probably don’t need, but when you do it becomes a necessity.

With all that, my current mobile Twitter experience has been brought to me by HootSuite. Their desktop client and web app are great for aggregating Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare into a convenient package. The Android app, however, also gives you a strange sense of déja vu — it’s UI is a near carbon-copy of its iPhone app, right down to the iPhone-esque header bar.

Is this a problem? Perhaps not. But the question remains in my head: what makes an Android app look like an Android app? What sort of UX patterns should be common to Android apps to make them stand out from the rest? It may be a silly question — isn’t the benefit of an open system such as Android is that one isn’t required to develop to the capricious and arbitrary restrictions of one company?

On the flip side, the iPhone’s usability partly comes from its attention to interaction design, and there’s a general feeling that Android could benefit from some interface commonality. For me, this means more than just scrolling lists and dialog boxes, more than just activity design. It also does not mean white-on-black, something that could be considered an Android-specific pattern, but on the whole I find most undesirable. It also means making things quick and responsive, something not always achieved on the lower end of the market (including older “high end” phones, like my gray-haired and bespectacled G1).

What are those patterns? Are they graphical design, or touch interaction? Can they be extended to work on tablets and other form factors? How do they make the user feel when interacting? And how do they make Android unique?

Among other places, I may look to the new Twitter app as a source of inspiration. If more apps could feel like this, Android will take a big chunk out of the usability gap between it and the iPhone.


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