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.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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!