The USS Quad Damage

Android 2007

In the end, the main thing I got out of the Android pictures in 2007 isn't how much has changed, it's how little.

Now look at the screenshots. Sure they're a little shorter, but other than that they're substantially the same.

I’m sure many of you have seen these pictures along with some breathless analysis. Perhaps you read the quote that the Android touchscreen cannot completely replace physical buttons and thought "man those guys totally copied Apple."

This post is going to be pejorative. I’m sorry to the reasonable ones out there, but I’ve had about enough. This idea of “design” being “the only thing important to a product” and the prima donnas that sell that bull-shit. Here’s some news: designers make things pretty. Engineers make it work. Allow me to demonstrate. Look at this smiley:


Now imagine I do something to it:


Notice how, from a design perspective, the smiley is completely different now. The meaning, the ideas, the human interface, the blah blah blah is fundamentally a different beast. But from an engineering perspective, all I did was add a little ‘>’ character there. Now imagine that the engineers had designed the smiley to have the little ‘>’ there, and perhaps even add a nose to get ‘>:-)’ or make the smiley a sad face. With the same engineering design, you can have many possibilities.

While the iPhone is a phone, Android is an ecosystem. It needs to be built that way. With that in mind, what’s surprising isn’t how much Android has changed since the beginning, it’s how little it’s changed. In fact, it’s the iPhone that’s changed hugely, and most of that change has come straight from the Android engineering handbook.

Look at that touchscreen quote. In full, it looks like:

Touchscreens will be supported. However, the Product was designed with the presence of discrete physical buttons as an assumption, therefore a touchscreen cannot completely replace physical buttons.

Look at this as a statement for building an OS, not a phone, and it starts to make sense. It says “We support touch screens, but some phones might run Android and may not have touch screens. We need to support that as well”. And it did. I used my Magic without a touchscreen remarkably often. Even most third party apps could be used without using the touchscreen. The only ones that couldn’t were the iOS clones.

I’m almost certain Android still supports this concept, because it will be deployed on TVs, which — surprise — do not have a touch screen. I wonder how iOS will support being on a TV. I bet it will copy Android’s design guidelines if it wants iPhone apps to work on TVs.

Now look at the screenshots. Sure they’re a little shorter, but other than that they’re substantially the same. There’s still widgets, which are a hallmark of Android. The “selected item” was there for as long as there were phones with the little trackballs, and probably still exists. The “recent calls”; the ring button; they’re all very similar to Android today. The new Android has a fresh coat of paint to be sure, but nothing deeper.

Contrast with iOS, which gained background apps, the drop down drawer and notification system. All of this was new engineering from Apple, and I bet the systems engineering amounted to “do what Android does”. This is far more work on Apple’s part than whatever Google changed to make it more Apple-like (and what was that? I’m not sure).

In the end, the main thing to note isn’t how much Android has changed since inception, but how little, and contrast that with the complete overhaul in the iPhone.