Android Mobile Design Practices (Part 3)
Android is an attractive platform for developers, but not all designers share the same enthusiasm. Making an app look great and feel great across many hundreds of devices with all the different combinations of screen size, pixel density and aspect ratio is not easy. Android’s diversity creates plenty of challenges, but creating apps to run on an entire ecosystem of devices can also be rewarding.
In Part 3 of this this article, we will continue with our list a set of practical tips and design considerations for you to create Android apps.
Be Platform Consistent
UI patterns are your friend. It is much better to think of these patterns as tools instead of constraints. Users prefer not to have to learn to use your app, so by using patterns, you’ll provide familiar hints about how they can navigate and interact.
Action bar is the most widely adopted Android pattern. It tells you immediately where you are and what you can do. It’s a native feature of the platform beginning with Honeycomb and the excellent Action Bar Sherlock library makes it available on older platform versions too.
The dashboard pattern is also quite widely used. These grids of icons usually are presented to the user when they launch an app. Dashboards provide users top level navigation and describe the primary areas of the app.
The workspaces pattern can be implemented using the ViewPager component. This allows users to swipe screens both left and right between content. This can also be used in conjunction with tabs to provide a more fluid browsing experience with tabbed data.
The ribbon menu is a navigation pattern just emerging. It allows us to launch the user directly into content and then provide the top level navigation in a menu. The menu then slides in from the left side of the screen when you press the up key.
Tablet optimized apps will often take advantage of multi-pane layouts. A single tablet screen might display the content of several separate phone screens side by side. Optimizing for tablets may involve creating several alternative layouts for various screen widths. Sections of the UI can be designed once and then laid out in different configurations for the various screen sizes. Then, multi-pane layouts help to avoid overly wide list items and limited layouts.
These are familiar and proven UI patterns. They are the best tools for starting to sketch out your app layouts and the navigation. However, they should not discourage you from trying something new. Just be sure to ensure that the app behaves predictably.
Android has many screen sizes. With variable screen areas, Android has a little in common with responsive web design. Design and implementation of a responsive experience across the full range of devices does take a lot of work. The ideal is to support every screen, but often there are sensible strategies for coping with the diversity of the platform.
When you know a little about your target users and popular devices, you can help focus efforts and avoid premature optimization. A good default strategy is to target popular, middle sized phones, such as 3.2″ – 4.6″, and then optimize when necessary with alternate layouts and user flows when dealing with particularly small devices and tablets less than around 3 inches.
It is always better to be orientation agnostic. Some devices will have physical keyboards that require the device to be held in landscape. On-screen keyboards are also easier to use in landscape. However, text entry on touch screens is usually awkward an error prone.
Understand Mobile Interactions
People will normally interact with mobile apps a little differently from websites or desktop software. Mobile apps will rarely have the undivided user’s attention, and most interactions will use touch input, which may not be as precise as we might like.
Optimize For First Use
First launch experience is crucial. Apps are normally installed in response to a real world problem. If the first run doesn’t satisfy the user, then he might never return. If the app requires sign up, be sure to offer preview functionality so that the user gets a feel for the experience. They probably will need to be convinced that it’s worth the time and effort to fill out the sign-up form. And, consider using analytics to measure points where users drop off in the launch and sign-up process.
Many apps launch with a tutorial. This usually means that the app is probably a little too complicated, but if you’re sure that you need one, be sure to keep it brief and nicely visual. You might also want to use analytics to confirm that a tutorial is actually serving a purpose. Are users who complete the tutorial more active? How many users simply skip the tutorial altogether?
The best way to get a feel for Android is by using it every day. Even the most satisfying app designs will have a few things in common. In Part 4 of our article, we will continue to examine more features of the Android OS.
Author Bio: Suzy is currently working as a blogger in Key Difference. Her major interests lie in SEO, SMO and various other trending technology topics. She’s passionate about writing compelling and informative articles, and sharing them with the web world.
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