It’s a Design Language World

Fellow Relay FM host Jason Snell wrote an interesting article comparing Google in the naughties to Microsoft in the 90s.

Open Google Docs for iOS and you’re whisked into a Material Design world. To create a new document, you must tap a large red circle at the bottom right corner of the screen. The options icon is three vertical dots, rather than the three horizontal dots favored by Apple. Menus display in Material Design style, white cards on a gray background.

Full Article

He argues that much like Microsoft was in the 90s, Google is now pushing a design language that is common across platforms and that in contrast Apple isn’t (as evidenced by Apple Music on Android). While I agree with some of what Jason is saying, I feel as if he’s so dangerously close to an epiphany. I’d argue that all the big companies now have their own design languages that they push across all their platforms, and that Google is the only one to actually give it a name.

Allow me to elaborate. Every time I head to iTunes Connect or I’m presented with web apps that look like iOS apps. We have iOS launcher style icons on blurred backgrounds, we have iOS style navigation, heck we even have pop-up boxes to notify you of events and errors. Everything about these ‘web apps’ screams iOS. So it would be easy for me to pen an article about how Apple doesn’t respect the web, or Windows. But they respect Android, right? Their music app changed 2 icons on the player screen! It turns out Apple actually have a huge sample size of 2 apps, which we can look at to see if they respect the Android platform. Here is the second one:

Fits right in on Android. Totally.

Fits right in on Android. Totally.

Yes readers there’s nothing the least bit iOS looking about that app. At all.

The truth is that Apple has a design language that they have chosen and they are applying it everywhere too. They haven’t named it ‘Apple Design’ or ‘TiLTOWB’ (Tiny Light Text On White Backgrounds) but it’s there, everywhere you look. Microsoft does the same, they have their ‘authentically digital’ design aesthetic that you see on Windows 10, Xbox, iOS and elsewhere.

So yes, Google is trying to apply Material Design to all platforms, but so is every other big tech company out there. Apple does it. Microsoft does it. Spotify does it. Facebook does it. As to whether they actually should, or each company should develop a unique aesthetic for each platform, well that’s another debate entirely.

Gold Bricks

“It’s no good to pump out gold bricks if you’re crushing the souls of tiny unicorns in the process” – Matías Duarte

If the above quote is not a great reason to listen to this week’s episode of Material, in which we interview Google’s Vice President of Design Matías Duarte, then I don’t know what is.

More Thoughts on Apple Music for Android

I had a few more thoughts after writing this post about Apple’s first Android app. The most interesting one was this: Apple Music on Android has the potential to be the best music app Apple has ever made. Bear with me here:

  • They won’t be burdened by any legacy implementation: they could literally build it from scratch, with all the lessons they’ve learnt to date.
  • They don’t have the burden of having to play your local music like the iOS app, it could be a dedicated app for Apple sourced music only.
  • They can update the app as often as they want, iterating on things fast, since unlike iOS it’s not tied to OS releases.
  • The team building it probably has far less oversight from the Print Designers that seem to run Apple’s User Interface division these days, so they can probably be a bit more experimental and try out some fun new interface paradigms.
  • Assuming they don’t clone their iOS app, they’d be free to rethink how things should be laid out to work best for their users.

I know this is just a dream. I know Apple probably has a tiny team working on this whose only goal is to clone the iOS feature set and get the job done. I doubt there’s a tonne of resources allocated to fancy animations or new interface ideas. It’s a shame really, at times like this I wish Apple were slightly more divisional. I wish that the division building the Apple Music service as a whole were focussed solely on making that an amazing experience on every device. I acknowledge though, that’s not how Apple rolls. The Android app will be, I suspect, a re-skinned version of the Beats Music app that preceded it.

Overall I’m conflicted by the commercial realities of the situation. In the long run is it better for Apple to make amazing apps on Android that entice people to look into their hardware, or is the sounder strategy to build a wall around their content and apps that will only run on their own devices? The optimist in me wishes the former were true, but the realist knows it’s the latter.

Apple’s First Android App

Remember back in June when Apple promised to bring their music app to Android in September? No? I do, because I was sitting in the keynote room at the time. My prevailing thought at the time was a simple one: “This is going to be fascinating. Will Apple try to clone their iOS app, or embrace Material Design, rise above pettiness and make something amazing?”. There’s two competing interests here of course, you don’t need to be clairvoyant to know that Apple hates Android. That said they clearly know that in order for their music service to be successful, they need to be on the biggest mobile platform in the world, Android. I love this kind of conundrum and I’m fascinated by the direction they’ll take.

I don’t know how much of an indication it gives you, but here’s their first ever Android app, released today:


Ummm. Ok. That’s not how Android app icons work.


Yeah. It’s a poor attempt at making an Android app look like an iOS app. If you’re being generous, you might think Apple did this to make you more comfortable about moving to iOS. You might even say they wanted it to look bad, because they want the amazing experience to be on iOS, not Android. Maybe. It’s certainly one way to look at it.

If this is the way they go with their music app though, you’ll know they let their arrogance and showmanship get in the way of the success of a great service. I sincerely hope they don’t, and that this app is just a fun little diversion before their music app ships. The date seems to have slipped to ‘Coming this Spring’ so we’ll have to wait a little longer, but I for one am fascinated by what they will do here.