Why do you partner with one of the most popular confectionery brands in the world to advertise a relatively minor update to your mobile operating system? Especially considering the Android robot is already one of the most recognized logos in the world. Most leaks point to Android 4.4 receiving an iterative visual refresh that further refines Holo and a few under the hood tweaks including a new mobile payment system and location settings. But, buried are also mentions of something called the Google Experience, a possible launcher based on stock Android. One would assume that any Android 4.4 device regardless of OEM would be able to install (presumably from the Play Store) the stock launcher over the OEM's skin. But KitKat is about more than just regaining control of the Android experience from OEMs, it’s also about unifying Google’s Design Language with Android's.
Buried are mentions of something called the Google Experience, a simple way to bring a skinned device back to stock
Google has already started sidestepping OEM’s experiences (TouchWiz, Sense, etc.) by making the stock Android keyboard available on the Play Store and updating their core apps (Gmail, Calendar, etc.) separately from OS updates.
The supposed Google Experience launcher would basically allow you to get a completely different and arguably better experience on your phone or tablet. An experience available on any and every Android 4.4 device. Most consumers are not aware of stock Android. Frankly, most Android users have nothing against their OEM skin. OEMs like Samsung have even created one or two actually useful features for in their versions of Android. Google’s challenge will ultimately be convincing consumers that the ‘Google Experience’ is a better one- and that’s where Nestle’s marketing muscle comes into play.
Today, if you install a custom launcher, the Notification drawer will still be customized by the skin
In Android’s current iteration, installing a stock launcher on a device can’t completely eliminate a devices’ skin. The Notification drawer, for example, will still be customized by an OEM’s skin, even if you install one of the many custom launchers available through the Play Store today. We’re willing to wager that KitKat includes new developer features that will allow Google’s experience launcher to change things like the Notification drawer.
The increasingly heavy skins that OEMs are putting on Android devices are fragmenting Android's user experience and ultimately Google’s reputation. A person who uses a Galaxy S3 device on a daily basis would be surprised to find the user experience on their recently purchased Nexus 7 to be completely different to their phone. They might not talk about ‘OS Fragmentation’ or ‘UI inconsistency’, but they will be annoyed when they have to relearn a new way to toggle Wi-Fi or change their wallpaper. The experiences that are being created not only look, but work like different operating systems.
When Larry Page became Google’s CEO in April of 2011 he issued a mandate to the entire company to redesign everything. That mandate became Project Kennedy and has unified the general design of all Google's products. Save for Android whose design direction is exclusively headed by Matias Duarte. That’s not to say there’s no crossover, but Google’s Android properties (like Gmail, as shown above) have always looked different to everything else Google is doing. Duarte’s Holo design language has arguably become the most well recognized design language ever, all the while not aligning with Page’s vision.
In their last investor call, Page said, "We are closing in on our goal of a beautiful, simple, and intuitive experience regardless of your device." "Closing in," but not there yet. That's what I believe Android 4.4 will do. It will provide Google with a completely unified design language from the web to Chrome OS to iOS to Android. We can already see some of that happening below, you can see the phone icon in KitKat has dropped it’s third dimension and is now more conformant to Google’s Design Guidelines (Part 1, Part 2) and it’s easy to assume we’ll see more icons get a makeover (i.e. flattening) in KitKat.
It’s ironic that Google’s challenge of Fragmentation is both internal and external. OEM skins destroy much of Google’s visual direction with Android - but Google’s visual direction with Android is in itself fragmented from that of the rest of the company.
Google’s challenge is both internal and external
I believe this Android update underscores Google’s new vision for OEMs has hardware producers only! Android 4.4 is a trojan horse of unification - it will give Google the tools it needs to completely wipe a skin from a device with a simple download from the Play Store. Not coincidentally, they’ll be letting every consumer know it exists by coupling it with an enormous marketing partnership!
Steve Jobs used to say, to provide a great experience you need both control the hardware and the software
Steve Jobs used to say, to provide a great experience you need both control the hardware and the software. And though Google is trying that approach with Motorola to little success. They might prove those once wise words wrong; by simply controlling the software completely. Android 4.4 is about taking the ball back from the OEMs and putting an end to the diluted Google brand that has gone along with OEM skinned phones.
KitKat will take Android back from the OEMs and is more inline with Google’s overall design vision. If you ask us, it’s going to be one Sweet Success.
Cameron Burgess contributed to this Editorial.