Google has launched the Android Design site, a page of guidelines, design principles, UI best-practice and style shortcuts for developers working with Ice Cream Sandwich. Made up both of guiding principles for apps and interfaces, such as "delight me in surprising ways" and "let me make it mine", as well as the actual building blocks of an Android UI, including tabs, seek bars, switches and spinners, the site marks Google's most obvious attempt to-date to get all Android coders on the same style-sheet.
Much of what we saw - and praised - in Ice Cream Sandwich is being put forward as best-practice by Google today. The People hub, new in Android 4.0, is used as an example of using pictures instead of words, while the shift from physical buttons to virtual and the changing context menu is used to push the idea of not overwhelming people with too much at any one time.
A key part often cited in iOS - that users always know where they are in the app, and how to get back - is now being suggested for Android, too. "Make places in your app look distinct and use transitions to show relationships among screens" Google suggests. "Provide feedback on tasks in progress."
"Most developers want to distribute their apps on multiple platforms. As you plan your app for Android, keep in mind that different platforms play by different rules and conventions. Design decisions that make perfect sense on one platform will look and feel misplaced in the context of a different platform. While a "design once, ship anywhere" approach might save you time up-front, you run the very real risk of creating inconsistent apps that alienate users" Google
Google isn't saying developers can't think outside of the Android team's vision of the platform, but it is asking them to "deviate with purpose." There's a section on comparative controls across Android, iOS and Windows Phone, with the guidance that developers shouldn't use bottom tab bars as on iOS, or labeled back buttons.
With Eric Schmidt saying earlier this week that he believed there was no Android fragmentation issue, only a matter of differentiation between devices from various OEMs, this is a sign that Google is nonetheless attempting to address one of the common criticism of the Android platform, namely that it feels less harmonious than Apple's tightly controlled app ecosystem. The mandate that the core Android 4.0 "Holo" UI should be available on all devices should also help with this.
[via Tim Bray]