Material Design in 2014 was just the beginning — now the good stuff really begins
2014 has been a year filled with fantastic things for the mobile world. Samsung is exploring aluminum casing, Motorola's crazy custom backplates got even more creative, and two different phones running Cyanogen OS have been launched as legitimate commercial products. Android as a platform has continued to grow dramatically, and this time next year a handful of us will wonder how we even managed to use infotainment systems in vehicles before Android Auto was a thing. It's been exciting to see the hardware grow and change at such an incredible pace, but in my opinion the coolest thing about Android in 2014, the thing worth getting truly excited about, has been the dramatic shift in software.
One of the biggest features of Android 5.0, when we all saw it officially announced at Google I/O this past summer, was Material Design. When it was announced, the biggest takeaway was that Google had decided on a brand identity for all of its products — mobile, desktop, cars, watches, whatever — and was going to make sure that visual uniqueness carried through to every screen you owned. The promise of Material Design was unification, and on its own that's something well worth getting excited about. What most people who were watching as this new visual identity unfolded didn't fully grasp was just how deep this new visual identity was going to go, and when the final builds for Lollipop started hitting Nexus devices that realization was overwhelming.
My phone doesn't feel like a tool anymore, even though it still does all of the same things. I don't feel any more or less productive when using my 2014 Moto X or my HTC One M8, but I often find myself noticeably happier performing the
Our devices are even more an extension of ourselves, and less of an unwieldy tool.
same tasks on Android 5.0. Everything, from opening the launcher or swiping up to grab Google Now to the way the Settings gear rolls into place as you pull down on the notification pane, just makes the OS feel incredibly responsive. My smartphone feels alive in my hand as smooth animations and vibrant colors fill my screen. I find myself caring a lot less if my phone takes an extra second to share something to Google+ because I'm at the In Laws and my network connection isn't great, because that spinning activity ring is downright soothing.
The overall feel of Android when it comes to accessing information on your phone has started to change, and it seems like those changes are for the better. So much information is available at a glance now, replacing information density with information accessibility. What used to be a dense list with a single line of text and maybe a tiny image is now several lines of text, a huge image, and in some cases the ability to perform an action baked right in to the available space. The Google Play Store, in particular, has become an incredibly visual medium that places a premium on thoughtful design to catch the eye of a would-be user. As Material Design is implemented by third party developers we're seeing the unique and exciting ways apps have chosen to stand out while playing nice with the overall aesthetic, and even some like Chris Lacy who have taken the experience one step further with Action Launcher 3.
One floating action button to rule them all.
By far the most interesting change, the one that I see all day every day and still stop to think about months after I first saw these changes, is the circles. Whether it's starting a new email in Inbox, opening Hangouts on my Desktop, or creating a new calendar entry for something, there's a large hovering circle waiting for me. This new action icon is my favorite part of Material Design, because it's something that could be applied to just about anything. It's the big friendly button, the one place users could grow to instinctively go to do whatever it is your app is set up to do, and it's almost always couple with an equally friendly animation to offer more options. Those circles are the one thing that scream Material Design more than anything else in the new interface, a visually pleasing button with an excellent animation to replace the flat, utilitarian plus sign.
The best part of all of this is it's just the beginning. 2015 is going to be filled with more and more users getting their hands on Android 5.0, with current generation phones being updated to the latest version and new hardware right around the corner. Google's visual identity will continue to thrust forward, and Android will continue to be the tip of the spear. The dark colors and Tron-esque visual accents have been replaced with vibrant colors and interfaces that generate an emotional response, complete with that increasing focus on polish and performance we've seen so much of this year. Strap in, folks. It's going to be great.
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