App Development

Five Ways Lollipop Will Change Android Apps

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Lollipop (Android 5.0) is rolling out this week. This is the most important UX update in years (similar in impact to Apple’s iOS 7 update). Here are five critical implications for your applications and mobile strategy:

OS Fragmentation

The first thing to understand is how an Android OS rollout is a different beast from an iOS rollout. Apple basically pushes everyone who has supported devices to download the new OS, resulting in incredibly rapid adoption of the new OS. Mixpanel is reporting that iOS 8 has almost 60% market share ( chart) as of early Nov, less than a month after launch.

Google on the other hand leaves it to each manufacturer to roll out the OS and to decide which devices to target. Google’s own Nexus line will of course be quick with users of current models receiving notifications this week to upgrade, but other manufacturers may be far behind. Kit Kat, Android’s last update, went live in September 2013, and over a year later, has just crossed 50% market share. JellyBean, the previous Android OS and now over 2 years old, still commands over 40% of the market ( chart).

It all adds up to a messy OS upgrade picture creating complexity for app developers where we have to support various legacy OSes for an extended period of time.

To Do

We recommend updating your apps for Lollipop. Accompanying its release is Google’s new ‘Material Design’ standard which gives Android apps a more consistent look and feel, and contributes to smoother overall Android experience for users.

While slow rolling a new Lollipop version might make sense to some extent depending on your existing app(s), the heavy, well-off app users in most companies’ target demo are always the first to migrate to a new OS, and they naturally gravitate toward the newest and best-designed apps.

New Look and Feel - ‘Material Design’

Google is creating clear differentiation vs. Apple on the design side with the launch of its “Material Design” paradigm. While Apple focused heavily on simplicity and flat design elements in iOS 7 (taking a page from the previous version of Android in many ways), Google is now choosing to move toward a much more layered approach where every animation, every ripple, and every shadow looks real.  The idea is to make the OS look both flat and 3D at once. One example of this is Google’s choice to use shadow gradients and 3D tiles that slide over one another. They are also adding bright colors, lots of them.

A great deep dive into the Material Design philosophy and implications by Engadget is here.

To Do:

Next-gen Android apps (i) will have to be redesigned to feel at home in the OS, similar to what happened with iOS 7 and (ii) will diverge from Apple’s design paradigm in substantial ways, putting pressure on developers using single-platform tools (like PhoneGap). High-end, mission-critical applications will have to be designed quite differently for Android vs iOS.

Arming Android Developers

Historically, many of our development estimates for Android have been higher than for iOS, driven by Android OS and device proliferation, but also by the reality that iOS traditionally gave developers simpler libraries and frameworks.  For example, take the following two screens comparing Android Kit Kat to Android Lollipop:

Lollipop vs Kit Kat

The Kit Kat example took about 30 lines of code to create; the Lollipop example took five! New tools will make developers much more efficient, and make the Android experience more standardized across devices and across apps, as designers and developers make use of these tools. Google is also moving to the new ART runtime, and apps built for older OSes may not run properly on these. We’ve been testing ART and it’s amazing in terms of what it does for speed and user experience, but some old apps suffer performance problems/crashes.

To Do

  • Test existing apps on Lollipop to make sure they properly work with ART (vs. the older Dalvik runtime).
  • Understand that your Android Lollipop project will look substantially different from older Android and current iOS apps, in order to take full advantage of these efficiencies. Again, cross platform tools will come under pressure trying to work on platforms that are more and more differentiated, especially related to apps that place a premium on user experience.

Notifications

Notifications continue to take a front row seat in every OS upgrade, regardless of platform.  As the head of digital for Ebay said at SXSW last year, “I view apps as just a mechanism to get notifications to my users. The notifications are what matters.”

Notifications in Lollipop flow much more smoothly with a user’s entire experience, vs. jarring the user out of what they’ve been doing. For example, phone calls no longer come in via a new screen being superimposed, but instead they appear as a banner that can be swiped away.  Messages, alarms, and other notifications appear in the same way. This provides users with a distraction-free way to view critical notifications.

Notifications now appear on the lock screen as well and users can interact with them on that screen, further enhancing their power.

But be careful. Android has also made it easier for the user to block notifications, or set their priority via the new “Interruptions” screen. Spamming users with notifications might result in the death penalty for your app.

To Do

If you don’t already have a clear Notifications strategy across each OS, now is the time to act – and if you do, it’s probably time to expand. Very few apps outside of top games and leading mobile players like Amazon and Ebay are using notifications to their full potential. We think most apps could get their best bang for the buck by investing in a notification strategy and deployment. Some questions to make sure you have clear answers to:

  • Who runs our notifications day-to-day?
  • Who decides what the algorithmic notification formulas are?
  • Who writes and tests the notifications?
  • How do notifications relate to our other marketing efforts such as email and social media?
  • How is our audience being segmented for notifications?
  • Who is looking at analytics and reporting on results?
  • What are our notifications metrics/goals?

Device Interactions

Lollipop is built from the ground up to interact with devices around it, ranging from your car to your TV to your watch and other Bluetooth devices.

On the beacon side, phones can now perform concurrent operations with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) allowing both scanning (central mode) and advertising (peripheral mode).  This means that Android devices are now scanning much more efficiently and can make better use of beacons, and can easily act as beacons themselves.

Android TV is now easily integrated. This is something to keep your eye on in the longer term, if Android TV starts to gain meaningful market share.

To Do

  • If you have physical locations, make sure whatever beacon strategy you are employing equally targets Android devices.

Lollipop represents a new “coming of age” for Android, where it now feels comfortable to directly challenge the iOS design paradigm and give users a real choice in terms of how smartphones look and feel. The time of an Android app being a slightly re-skinned version of an iOS app is over. To take full advantage of this change, developers will need to further bifurcate their iOS and Android strategies – they are two separate worlds with separate user bases.  The challenge for most companies is that executives tend to be on the iOS platform, so Android often gets shortchanged, and little thought is given to taking full advantage of tools Android gives us.  One thing every executive with mobile responsibilities can do today is make sure he or she has both an iOS and an Android smartphone – it will quickly open your eyes to the differences and get you thinking about how to optimize for each.

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