Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Is Android really an un-intuitive operating system?

Is Android Really an Un-Intuitive Operating System

Short answer, no. For years, Android has been placed under iOS as a confusing and hard to use OS. However, especially since Jelly Bean, I was asking myself if this was still true. Is Android hard to use? Everyone thinks it is, Cnet, Engadget, wherever else, they all say it is so much harder to use than iOS.

Now, I used iOS for many, many years. I know all the ins and outs of the OS, but I fairly recently got an Android phone (about 5 months ago). And for me especially, Android was incredibly intuitive, and I was shocked to discover that it strikes the balance between customization and simplicity, all in one.

Let's look at some aspects of Android and compare it to iOS.
Here is the main Android screen. Is this hard to figure out, besides the fact that I changed some of the apps to other ones here, and picked a different clock widget, this is the exact setup new users will see.

Now, when you first get your phone, the OS will show you how to see all your apps by clicking the app tray icon. However, even without it, it's not hard for anyone to tell that you can touch it. Without a doubt, someone will press it and see all their apps.

Now, for the most incapable of all users, that will be good enough. They won't know for a very long time that they can move those icons, and will leave them in the tray. There is a little app store logo in the top right, which clearly shows them where to get more apps, so that is good enough.

Eventually though, they will try to create folders like they see others do, so they will touch that app tray icon, tap and hold an icon, and then... WHAT!!!

Where are we? They now see that they are holding an app icon on the main screen, they let go of the app. They see it fall on the main screen, probably into a folder. Then a whole new world opens up, they can customize the screen!

Stop. Now, it is important to note that this is not unintuitive. Instead, it is just as intuitive as iOS, but with *more* features, these *more* features are completely optional, but once discovered, loved.

Now, let's look at something else:

What if we want to change our wallpaper. Well, some think that the fact that you have to touch and hold on the main screen to select a wallpaper is confusing. And it is! But guess what?

Say "what?"

That's another additional feature, and is optional. Instead, if they want to change their wallpaper, they will head over to settings like on iOS, tap on the only thing that could concern a wallpaper (Display), and see the wallpaper button. Where they can then go on to pick a wallpaper and set it.

Not hard at all. A wallpaper can also be set in the gallery, just like on iOS. So once again, this isn't any more difficult than iOS. But yet people consider these additional features, hard to use. Which is simply not the case, if you are pretty suave in these things, then you will use the shortcuts, otherwise, you can do it the old fashion way.

 And this is how most system settings work, I can't think of much that is unintuitive. But let's move on:

Take a look at the gallery. It's not hard to use, though I will say one thing is a little confusing, but barely so. As you add more apps, photos you take won't necessarily be in your Camera Roll, they will instead be placed in separate Albums, which can be difficult to find if you completely ignore the back button.

Actually, let's talk about these buttons.

One thing that really causes people to think of Android as confusing is the fact that is has three buttons, instead of one. But is this confusing. No. Actually, when you think about it, it makes more sense then iOS. Consider.

On the left, we have a back button. What could it do?  Well, go back of course. This is just convenient, instead of taping on the back button up top, we can just use this button. In fact, even if the app doesn't have any back buttons shown, we could probably use this to go "back". Nothing else, just back.

In the middle we have a home button. All this does is take you home, just like on iOS.

Lastly, on the right side, we have a button that resembles multiple pages. Although people may not know what it is at first, they will eventually figure out that it displays opened apps for multitasking. But let's compare this to iOS, how do you do this on iOS. Well, many people don't ever know how to. People who are more familiar with iOS will know that you double-tap on the home button to get here, but Android just gives it it's own button. Smart eh?

Now, let's look at the browser. Chrome is probably my favorite browser on mobile. (I know I'm a Firefox guy, and hope that it improves and will help it improve, but for now, Chrome is just faster and better for multitasking)

The browser is very, very simple to use. If you want to go back, press the back button that we talked about earlier. If you want to switch to a new tab, press the tab button OR swipe from either the left or right to navigate yours tabs (best feature ever, that is the reason I use Chrome). Other than that, there are no other buttons cluttering up the screen like Safari does. If you want to see your bookmarks, use a new tab. To bookmark a page, click on the three square icon, that is used throughout all of Android to display a list of functions. Very easy, makes sense, don't show more than needed.

Let's look at this "more functions" button right after the short jump.

See, when you press on it, you get a list of all the other functions possible, nicely listed in clean text. There is a little star if you want to bookmark something, along with some arrows, otherwise it's pretty straight forward.

None of these options are confusing, in fact, they are easier to decode then Apple's holy icons.

You don't have to navigate through a hierarchy of views to get to a simple Other Devices list.

Chrome even lets you request the desktop site easily, which is very nice.

Now, jumping down...

And down....

And down....

Now this is pretty confusing actually, and probably the most ridiculous part of Android. The calendar. Instead of being like every other calender app, they decided to make their calender's month view one long, everlasting, spreadsheet looking thing. They fade out previous months to try to emphasize the current month, but don't do a good enough job.

I find it quite hard to figure out what month I am looking at, and more importantly, what dates are part of this month.

Adding an event isn't very obvious either, and actually... I forgot how to, so let's just say it's hard and be done with it.

So the calendar is definitely a weak point in Android, and hopefully Google will fix that in Key Lime Pie.

I could go on quite a bit longer and talk about things, with more pictures, but for now, I stop. The point here is that minus the calender app, I can find almost nothing that is unintuitive about Jelly Bean. In fact, in many cases, it is more intuitive than iOS.

Having extra features doesn't mean it is confusing.  Overall, I would say for sure that Android is quite easy to figure out, and there is not to much against it. However, perhaps I missed something, if you know of something that is terribly unintuitive, drop a comment below, I would love to examine that.


  1. Coming from a strong IT background:

    Yes, is far less intuitive than iOS. I also come from an iPhone of many, many years and I frequently feel like "ugh, how do I just do this simple little task on my new Android Nexus phone?" Its hard to think of specifics, but often I get the frustration. With iOS I had a lot more feelings of "ah, well that was easy. That made sense." The interface was more consistant and seemed like it was built from the same group of engineers. Android is a lot less consistent.


    1. I definitely agree Android isn't very consistent, though Kit Kat is better. However, I do wonder if your "How do I do such-and-such task" view is slightly slanted due to the fact that you've used an iPhone for such a long time. Someone who has only used Android devices may find accomplishing the same task on an iPhone difficult. Also, I think iOS 7 really dropped a lot of the intuitive interfaces that I myself praised. That said, both really do have their issues, I just wonder if more of the issue is based on what you've used in the past.