Last Updated: October 14th, 2012

GTKA is back! For those that don't know, this is the series where we compare the new version of Android to the previous one, in excruciating detail. I'm going to dub this the "Miscellaneous edition," because there is a bunch of new things I want to talk about, but they don't really fit into a nice, organized category. (This doesn't mean I'm running out of things to talk about, not by a long shot.) The usual GTKA style applies, Ice Cream Sandwich is on the left, Jelly Bean is on the right. Let's get to it:


Has anyone else noticed a general toning down of the Tron design from Honeycomb to ICS to Jelly Bean? I think they felt they went a little overboard, and have slowly been dialing back the crazier stuff.

The diagonal switches were one of the few really "aggressive" Tron design cues left. In Jelly Bean, the on/off switches have had their pointy bits chopped off. They're normal switches now, and they look a little more restrained and grown up. I like it. The old switches were the only UI element in Android that felt like they could used as a stabbing implement; reeling them in was a good idea.

wm_2012-08-04 20.39.13wm_2012-08-03 12.05.38

Half of the uninstall interface has been revamped. In ICS, you got a full screen "This application will be uninstalled" message, which looked absolutely ridiculous. Why fill the screen for a 1 line message? The Cancel/OK buttons are so far away from the message you could almost think they aren't related.

Jelly Bean handles this much more sensibly, with a small, tidy popup window asking if you want to uninstall. They also changed the text around so that you're being asked a question now.

The problem with this is that the uninstall interface is actually 2 screens, and only the first half was shrunk down into a little box. So the 2nd screen still looks like this:

2012-08-04 21.04.19

That's right, in Jelly Bean, first you get the small popup window, then you get this massive, full screen, 2 word message.  Weird.  This screen should be the same size as the popup.

Really though, I would prefer it if this message didn't exist at all. Just show a little toast popup. Uninstalling something takes, like, half a second and never fails. I don't need an "everything went as expected" screen - I know I hit uninstall. I can't even do anything on this screen other than dismiss it, so what's the point? Various manufacturer skins do away with this "I'm finished" screen, and, while it might not seem like a big deal, it feels much snappier and less annoying. Computers should just do their job, they don't need me to confirm that I know they've done their job.


The app picker has changed from a dark list to a white grid with big icons. This effects every app picker window: Wallpapers, Share, Set as, etc. It looks much brighter, and cleaner, and shows apps the same way you would see them in the app drawer and on the home screen. Hurray for consistency!

The other app picker they changed, that we really need to talk about, is the "Complete action using" window (AKA"open with"). It's... different:

wm_2012-06-29-14.15.22_thumbwm_2012-07-17 14.41.09

Here again, we see a change from the change from dark to light, which I have no problem with. The "Use by default" checkbox is gone. Fine. The huge problem is the way this screen works now. The best way to do this is to demonstrate it. Remember, ICS on the left, JB on the right; let's tap on Chrome:

wm_2012-08-04 23.21.05wm_2012-07-17 16.43.33

ICS happily loads the app you want and does its thing. Great.

Jelly Bean however, is just going to sit there, and you're going to sit there too, wondering why your app isn't launching. After a few moments you'll realize you this interface now requires an extra tap. Tapping an app icon doesn't launch the app, it only selects it. So you have to select and app, and pick "Always" or "Just Once" in order to go about your business and see your app. It's annoying.

Discussion about the new app picker broke out in the G+ comments of my last GTKA article, and, thanks to the extreme awesomeness of Google+, we actually have some insight from a Googler on the rational for this change. Adam Powell, Android Framework Engineer, chimed in this:

Moving to 2 clicks for "just once" was a UX decision. With the old checkbox method it was very common for users to instinctively tap an option first and lose the opportunity to set a default until next time, and since next time could be a while off they'd miss it then too. The goal is to help streamline things so that seeing the disambiguation picker at all happens less often. (Of course this doesn't apply to cases where the app expects the user to make an explicit choice each time such as sharing; the buttons don't even appear then.)

Most people will find the use of "streamline" here rather puzzling as this box now takes two clicks instead of one. I replied saying this dialog is slower, in the way, and it feels like a speed bump. It turns out that is exactly what they were going for:

The "speedbump" factor is working as intended. ;) Being presented with a disambiguation picker in the first place instead of simply doing the right thing is the speedbump that this takes a step toward addressing.

We saw some really interesting user behavior around the old picker. Even when people always picked the same target, there was something about the special case option-ness of the checkbox that tripped the loss aversion switch in their brains. Users were less likely to check it because it felt more heavyweight and "permanent," and like I said before that's if they noticed/remembered it before just instinctively tapping a target.

Giving the buttons equal weight works to address both of these things. "Well you should have paid attention!" is an answer that power users will put up with due to pure familiarity with the system, but it's unnecessarily hostile.

We're not so married to this that we won't try to improve on it from where we're at, but the goals above are important and whatever we explore in the future will need to address them.

So, apparently, not choosing a default app for an action and having the app picker pop up every time is frowned upon in Google land. They want to you pick a default app for every action. I've been referring to it as the "Open With" box, and that's exactly what they don't want. Making the box annoying was their strategy for forcing you to pick a default app.

The big problem I have with this bit of UI is just how inconsistent it is with the rest of Android. It looks like other white app picker dialogs but doesn't work like them. I made a helpful diagram:


Android trains you to think "Icons launch apps" yet the "Complete action using" box is the one place in the OS where that isn't true. Other white popup boxes look extremely similar to "Open with" and only require 1 tap to do something, which is why, when the app picker pops up, I tap an icon and wonder why nothing is happening.

Even worse is the fact that I see these other dialogs much more frequently then I see the abnormal "Complete Action Using" box. As a result, this thing trips me up every time.

Every other popup with buttons on the bottom looks like this:

wm_2012-07-17 14.49.23wm_2012-07-17 14.55.02wm_2012-07-17 14.49.03wm_2012-08-03 12.05.38

Mostly plain, icon-less boxes that are asking me a question in plain text. This is how you ask a "choice 1" or choice 2" question in Android. When I see this I am prepared to deal with buttons, not when I see app icons. App icons should launch apps.

As I am wont to do, I complained about this in the G+ thread. I also said that, if they really want to banish the default app picker, they should add an easy way bring up the app picker when a default app is already set. For instance, being able to long press on a link and have an "open with" option, similarly to how Windows does things. This would make many people would be more comfortable choosing a default app, and would allow them to set smarter defaults out of the box (like opening YouTube videos with the YouTube app, etc). In response to my post about this and the UI issues, Adam only said:


Well then. I'm not sure which issue I brought up that he's referring too, but any change in this area can only be good, right? It's very cool to see Google is open to criticism.

wm_2012-08-03 12.06.18wm_2012-07-17 16.43.33

I'll leave you with one weird little quirk in the new system, the on-press highlight (left) has squared corners, but when you take your finger off the screen (right), you get a highlight with rounded corners. Unacceptable! Pick a corner style and stick with it.

More GTKAs are on the way! See you next time!

Ron Amadeo
Ron loves everything related to technology, design, and Google. He always wants to talk about "the big picture" and what's next for Android, and he's not afraid to get knee-deep in an APK for some details. Expect a good eye for detail, lots of research, and some lamenting about how something isn't designed well enough.
  • Abhijeet Mishra

    One thing where the ICS design fails is putting the menu button in apps on the top, which is a lot of work to reach on larger screens. And in the browser in ICS/Jelly Bean, the "stop" button for stopping loading of a page is hidden under the drop down menu, hence it's first a race of the finger to Mount Everest to reach that menu button, then pressing Stop to stop loading of a page, in which case the page has almost always loaded already. It's design missteps like these that make me think Google doesn't really know how to make stuff easier.
    But the "default app picker", while a little slower now, definitely makes people notice it more.

    • Ian Santopietro

      "which is a lot of work to reach on larger screens"


      • Manuel Bocchia

        This article is all about first world problems. Damn it, the whole site is!

      • Abhijeet Mishra

        Sorry guys, I'm from India, which is not a first world country so I wasn't even aware these are first world problems, haha. But it is a nuisance nevertheless, at 167 cm height my hands aren't that big to traverse such big screens easily with one hand. :P With all apps that follow the ICS design guidelines having a menu button, it is something that you come across a lot of times to be not called a nitpick or a "first world problem".

    • Freak4Dell

      Which is yet another reason Google should not have waged a war on the menu button. Almost a year after ICS was released, and I still don't understand why that button was bad. To me, it's asinine for recent apps to have its own button, but not menu/settings.

      The other solution is to stop making giant phones. I'd be happy with that, too. When you can't use a phone with one hand, there's a problem.

      • RedPandaAlex

        It's because not all apps have menus (like games), and there's no visual indication of whether the app you're using does. You wind up not knowing whether anything is going to happen when you press it. Also, it's an app-specific control made parallel to an OS-level control.

        • Freak4Dell

          That's true, but the number of apps that don't have menus are few. A lot of games do technically have menus, but the developers choose to put their own buttons inside the game for the menu. Getting rid of an extremely useful button just because some developers choose not to use it is stupid. That's like PC makers getting rid of the function keys because some programs don't map any function to those keys. It doesn't hurt anyone by being there, and if you don't get rid of it, you don't create the Android version of the iOS back button hunt. Getting rid of the search button was also stupid.

  • RedPandaAlex

    That "Application will be uninstalled" dialogue looked especially ridiculous on tablets. The uninstall confirm screen looks slightly less ridiculous than it did before, but it's still pretty ridiculous.

  • http://twitter.com/thepowerofscott Scott Nienhuis

    "More GTKAs are on the way! See you next time!"

    What's left? ;)

    • Ron Amadeo

      I've still got to do Settings, Calendar, Music (maybe) and Google Now. I'll also probably do a "Nexus 7 UI" version.

      Once the GTKAs are done i'll have a big UI papercuts post, which I'm really looking forward to.

      Before all that though, I'm going to get sidetracked with some device reviews.

      • jordanjay29

        By the time you're done with GTKA for Jelly Bean, it'll be time for the next version! ;)

  • RedPandaAlex

    I don't think Google paid enough attention to the things you want to select what to open with every time. Most websites I want to open in Chrome, but some I know are going to have flash, so I want to use Browser. Most addresses I want to open in Maps, but sometimes it's a real-estate listing so I want to open it in Zillow. So I never set a default, and as a result, like you, I get confounded on that "Always/Just Once" thing every time.

    • Ron Amadeo

      Yeah, one of the things I said in the G+ discussion is a lot of actions for me are a 90/10 split.
      YouTube, for instance, 90% of the time I wanted the YouTube app, but if a video isn't allowed on mobile, I could just open it in the browser. Not picking a default with the old picker made that pretty easy, but now the extra click makes it a pain in the ass. I really think they know it sucks and will have a "long press -> open with" option in the future.

      • mikeym0p

        I wish they'd have it automatically highlight the most used app for the scenario. I like you do the same thing with Youtube, most of the time I'll view it using the app, however I like to never set a default because under certain circumstances I want to use the browser.

        It could detect that I either last used youtube's app in this scenario (or that most of the time I choose youtube) and by default have Youtube highlighted so I can just simply hit 'just once' and be in my way in 1 click.

  • NickAVV

    I think you're way too finicky about some of these things, the new default picker looks good and works well, although I do agree that there should be an easier way to get the "open with" option back, as you mention. I also think the square-to-rounded corner thing is a completely unreasonable nitpick. You see the finger-down square for less than a blink of an eye, usually.

    • Kenny O

      These things don't matter to some, but to others this kind of polish is important. It's obviously not so important to him that he would use Android, but when writing an honest review it's important to point out the good with the bad.

      • NickAVV

        Of course I think inconsistencies should be fixed, I want Android to be as flawless as anybody does. I just think the article gave way too much flak to minor things that, in my time with Jellybean, I either didn't even notice or wasn't bothered by. All subjective, I know

        • Kenny O

          I do agree with you as I really don't notice most of that stuff either, and when I do it generally doesn't bother me. I do however like when reviews point this out (and Ron more than anyone is very big on seemingly minor details, especially in regards to design) as it only by pointing out ways to improve can our favorite OS improve. It really goes to show how great Jellybean is that its these seemingly minor design details are pointed out.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      Hi, have you met Ron?

    • PhineasJW

      An application is nothing more than a collection of small details.

      Within those details lie user satisfaction. If you think of any piece of software that you *hate*, be it Internet Explorer, Lotus Notes, or whatever -- you'll no doubt be listing a bunch of details that don't work as you expect. That's why the details are important; they're the whole user experience.

  • JonJJon

    I just think that it's all musch nicer to use Jelly Bean than ICS, yes things can be improved but as I know I'll 95% be likely to get them on updates to my Nexus 7, it's all good, loving the Jelly Bean experience and has made me definitely want a Nexus phone next after my sluggish Sense experience.

    • Abhijeet Mishra

      ICS was sluggish too on Gnex when compared to Jelly Bean, so yeah, Jelly Bean is awesome for the most part. :D

      • fixxmyhead

        yup. got my wife a galaxy nexus and i fired it up and the damn thing stuttered right out of the box just navigating homescreen to homescreen. 5 mins later JB update and i have yet to see it stutter. its wayyyy faster on JB

        • Abhijeet Mishra

          Exactly. All reviews went "ICS is great and fast" when GNex came out. Not sure what they were on about, ICS wasn't fast enough even before we saw Jelly Bean.

          • fixxmyhead

            to be honest i always saw some stutter in the videos when ics first came out. I think people just didn't want to believe it that after a major update even after HC there was still lag in the OS

  • Asjad Hasan

    Pick a corner style and stick with it.... LOL

  • Piotr Zaborski

    I'm also irritated by this two-tap application chooser. I see two ways to fix this:
    1. Combine old style and new style. When the current media type is shown for the first time, show new-style two-tap chooser. If user chooses "Always", of course don't present it any more. But if user chooses "Just once", switch to old-style one-tap chooser with optional checkbox from now on.
    2. Add third button saying something like "I don't want to set default app for this type of media" and, when chosen, switch to one-tap chooser (or one-tap with optional checkbox).

  • http://twitter.com/ToysSamurai Toys Samurai

    The main problem with the "Complete action using" dialog is that the icons take away all the attention from the user and I bet 8 out of 10 people wouldn't get that there are 2 buttons below the icons. I think most people will click an icon, expecting it to do something, and stare at their phone for a min or so, find that nothing happens, THEN they will "see" the "Always" and "Just once" buttons below the icons. Let's just assume that the 2 step process is good, and we need to stick with it -- a better solution is to make it impossible for the user to miss the 2 buttons. Either hiding them initially, then reveal them after an icon is clicked. Or, we can remove the buttons completely from the app picker dialog, and move them to a second dialog that shows up after an icon is clicked.

    • Piotr Zaborski

      Yes, people don't pay much attention to those two buttons but it is partially because they are initially dimmed. I think that hiding them entirely would only make the problem worse.

    • Nicholas Loomans

      I like the new dialog idea... idk how smooth it'll be in practice, though.

    • Freak4Dell

      The new dialog would work best, I think. There should also be an option to have it not ask again, much like how Windows handles it. That way, the "never set defaults" crowd is not annoyed, and Google still gets people to notice the option to set a default.

  • Bariman43

    I'm only irritated with the app picker when I want to launch something once. I'm so used to hitting two items to make an item default that when I want the app to be temporary I sit there waiting for it to do something.

  • PhilNelwyn

    They could remove the buttons on the "complete action using" dialog, dismiss it when you pick an app, and then display another dialog asking "always use this app?"
    Not perfect, but this would at least avoid the situation where you wait for something to happen, that I experienced too, and still be the 2-steps process they want.

  • Herb

    A "don't ask again" option box would be good for users that always want to choose. Then the "Complete action using" pop-up would default to one click like the others.

  • http://profiles.google.com/cedric.berger74 Cédric Berger

    I indeed was a bit confused with this new box to choose default app...
    ... but it did exactly what they intented it to do : I just have to think and choose if I want a default or not, whereas before I almost always clicked then thought "oups I did not checked the checkbox".
    So I am quite pleased with this new way of choosing, though it might be a little more obvious to understand what you have to do...

  • http://www.benvanhouts.com Benjamin van Houts

    I like the design of the old switches :(

  • TinmanTinman


    One of the last remaining issues with Android is the outlook compatibility .I cannot forward a outlook meeting invite from the default calendar app on Jelly Bean. Even worse is the fact that i cannot 'accept' or select a 'maybe' for a meeting invite from the default calendar app even thought the radio buttons are present for these actions, when i select them outlook does not get updated.

    Please highlight this in your upcoming posts so that Google will notice and fix this.

  • Ian

    One other thing that Google may want to pay attention to. When uninstalling an application, or several other types of questions, instead of giving an "Cancel/OK" scenario, just ask "No/Yes". It's a simple change, and it would have nothing but good repercussions on usability.

    • Freak4Dell

      Agreed. OK and Cancel sound so out of place to a yes/no question.

  • mikeym0p

    It's weird, on the Nexus 7 the entire uninstall process is done in a pop up window. I think they excluded it because they want to accommodate with really small screened phones, that the OS could be run on when the phone interface is called.

  • http://btwnworlds.tumblr.com/ Lou G

    I think this post towards the end is a little nitpicky and whiny. Perhaps it's because I'm very new to Android (the nexus 7 is my first android device) but I love what they've done.

    • ChavaM

      Nitpicky is what this series is all about.

  • http://twitter.com/PCN_DiRT DiRT

    "a general toning down of the Tron design"

    BOO! :-(

    • tsunami1609

      Yeah, I liked the tron design. It did make it extremely hard to find a great wallpaper to match the colors, though. And phones pretty much have to be black, white, or the right blue to fit it as well.

      I like the colors, because they make it easy to see, but pulling down the notification bar adds another inconsistency. you go from a blue small clock on the right to a slightly larger white clock on the left. Don't get me wrong, I actually like the new notification look better, it's just a little inconsistent in color and location

      • Ron Amadeo

        I agree. I'm sure most people don't see it, but to me there is a very sharp New UI/Old UI line in Jelly Bean. I can tell what version a screen was designed in just by looking at it. Hell, some default Google apps still use Gingerbread-style menus and buttons.

        All large OSes are like that though, I could point out some default Windows apps that haven't been touched for several versions. There just isn't enough manpower out there to revamp everything all at once.

    • Al McDowall

      Yup, me too. I loved the Tron design. Jelly Bean is lovely, I'm not disappointed with it, but I think some theming options would have been better than just cutting down without us having any choice in the matter

    • grellanl

      The one thing I was disappointed at losing, TRON-wise, was the diagonal on/off switches. The new ones are dull by comparison, and they have a naff-looking outline rather than being a solid block of colour.

      • mikeym0p

        Yea, I loved the razor looking switches. It was a good contrast from the boring switches use in iOS and desktops.

  • skeeterfood

    Am I the only one who tried to click on the Always button before the app icon and was annoyed that I had to do it in the other order? ICS trained me to make sure I clicked the "always" check-box before clicking an app icon.

    • Steven Pickle

      I had the same problem

  • ssj4Gogeta

    "being able to long press on a link and have an "open with" option"
    The problem is there might not be a link. App-picker dialogs are triggered by an implicit Intent, which can be created by an activity at any point, whether or not you clicked on a link, etc.
    Developers can, if they want, implement the "open with" options in their app by using queryIntentActivities() to get a list of activities that can process the Intent.

    Of course, they might come up with a completely different UI to resolve this universally.

  • Walther Lalk

    I reckon what they should do is have the default app window be a single 'one tap' window (like the other picker windows). However, in the background track what the user's last choice for that action was. So, if I pick 'Chrome' twice in a row, it should bring up a new dialog asking something like 'You seem to use Chrome a lot for this action, do you want to make it the default? Yes / No / No, and don't ask me again'

  • Bortak

    Sorry but you can't complain about the one tap/ two tap thing when comparing share options and using a default app. Those are to completely different things. Many users will want to use a default browser for example, but you wouldn't want to select a default app to share with. Your point doesn't make any sense.

    • Ron Amadeo

      My point is that the UI looks identical but functions differently.

      • Bortak

        Keeping it consistent, I bet that if it looked different, you'd argue that Google are not being consistent with their UI.

        I understand your point of view, however I do not agree with it. Good job on the article though, and getting the quotes from Powell.

    • http://profiles.google.com/cajhne C Rogers

      I think it's perfectly reasonable to complain about it. It's the one thing I'd change in JB. He's not saying the option shouldn't be there, just that you shouldn't have to choose "just once" every time you want to complete an action. Tapping the icon should do that automatically, and after tapping the icon, I expect to be taken to the result, but it just sits there, waiting for me to choose an option below. Forcing the user to try to choose a default every time they try to complete an action is quite horrible. You only choose a default action once, so why force people to choose between a single-use option and an option that you would use intuitively every other time? The separation in share via and complete action using dialogues is irrelevant most of the time. When I "complete action using", I have 5 different things that I want to do for different reasons. Its the same situation as "share via".
      The explanation that they are trying to streamline the experience by intentionally making it extra annoying to have to choose "just once" is terrible UI. Now I'm at the mercy of "most users" that need to be trained to use one homogenized option for everything, because "checking a box triggers loss aversion response". Lol. So what? That is the correct response to having to set one option for the action.

  • http://profiles.google.com/c.nwanze Colin Nwanze

    I have the side with Google on this one a long press with open witismore of a speedbump than this app picker.

  • andrew__des_moines

    How could you possibly write an entire post on default actions without mentioning the update issue!?!?!?! Maybe you are just too much of a techie. My wife is a Luddite and gets completely confused every time an app updates and she has to pick a default app again. WHY CAN'T ANDROID REMEMBER DEFAULT ACTIONS?!?!?! This is especially DANGEROUS with apps that have access to the dialer. We had to call 911 recently and realized neither of our phones were able to do this because some damn app that is incapable of calling 911 had replaced the standard dialer.

  • grellanl

    The new "complete action using..." picker is a real example of "we know what's best" thinking, and that's disappointing from the Android team. They want to force us to pick defaults for everything, and that's all very well for a browser (fine, I'll pick Chrome, stop nagging me), but it doesn't work for everything.

    If I share a picture from Gallery for example, I might sometimes share it by WhatsApp, other times by GMail, yet other times to Dropbox. I do *NOT* want to save a default setting for this, and never will. But now, I have the two-tap delay *every damn time* I share a picture. Why should I be forced to suffer a "speedbump" every time, just because the UX team have decided that it's their official policy that we should be forced to choose default actions?

    • Freak4Dell

      According to the article and the G+ posts, the buttons don't appear when the action is sharing. If they are appearing, that's probably a bug.

      • grellanl

        Mmm, that's probably the intention here, but in reality it happens too often that I share (or otherwise pass a link between apps), and the always/just once thing comes up.

        If they can get it to consistently not ask on "share" actions that would be an improvement for sure.

  • http://twitter.com/nadam9 Adam Nybäck

    I wrote an app this weekend to get back the old app picker. It's available on Google Play.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/ron-amadeo/ Ron Amadeo

      You're missing the "Always use this" checkbox, aren't you?

      • http://twitter.com/nadam9 Adam Nybäck

        Fixed in version 0.2 for applications like Instagram and YouTube. Not sure if I want to add it for the browsers or how I would do it. Currently you would need to remove App Picker Classic as default and select the browser you want instead.

  • Michael

    Let's say I pick "Always". Later, I change my mind. Where in the world can I change it to the other app? I've looked all over for this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/patrick.b.steg Patrick B. Steg

    Mother of God, did none of the people who worked on this stop to think of the effect all this blinding bright white will have on someone trying to use their phone at night? I really don't need to illuminate the entire inside of the cruiser and flash blind myself trying to make a call from my phone book while sitting on the side of the highway waiting to catch drunk drivers. Anyone who works outside at night, or in the dark, has got to be cursing this.

  • 1Earth01

    Why does the "Complete action using:" box only offer two options? What can be done if I want to use an app to complete an action but the app isn't listed? For example, I often want to look in Google Drive for files I want to edit with an app however Google Drive is never provided as an option. This seems to be a much bigger inconvenience to me than whether I have to click once or twice to pick an app. Anybody agree or have a similar problem with Android 4.1?