It was just today that Google’s Android version 3.0 Honeycomb’s lead designer Matias Duarte spoke with Ina Fried of Mobilized. If you’ll take a look waaay back to May of 2010, you’ll see the story we ran on how Duarte came to Google from Palm, becoming at the big G the User Experience Director, a role that would of course make him prime suspect for the way Android 3.0 Honeycomb is set to work with the user. Speaking with Fried, Duarte noted some wonderful things: “Tablet was the focus, but the changes we did also free it up to be more flexible for other contexts as well. It’s about really eliminating all the barriers to all the different kinds of form factors that people might want to interact with.”
The three major areas of focus when it came to designing Honeycomb:
1. Change the way Android worked so it was better suited to tablet sized devices (aka anything bigger than a smartphone.)
2. Evolve Android to become better overall at mobile computing tasks.
3. Make Android more usable.
Duarte humbly notes that each of these tasks is still a work in progress, and that he and the other designers at Google are far from completing or being completely done with any of those goals. One of the ways Android is going forward with making Honeycomb more versatile is the fact that it, Android 3.0, no longer relies on physical hardware buttons. In doing this, Duarte notes, the way is paved for all kinds of devices. “Some of them might look more like a laptop…some of them might not even have soft buttons,” Duarte noted. “They might be purely gesturally driven.”
After speaking with Matias on the possible applications for Android in the future (refridgerators, products for kids, products for the elderly, a giant screen to compete with Microsoft’s Surface,) Duarte notes that the folks at Apple are more than to be praised. Duarte notes that the people who “brushed aside” Apple’s iPad a year ago “were short-sighted. That’s the genius of what Apple achieved with that iPad.”
On how tablets are changing the world, Duarte says, “People have seen screens that size and have been taking screens that size to bed with them and to their coffee shops with them. They’ve been sitting with them hunched over and in all kinds of contorted positions. But having that touch interface means that you can interact with the Internet or with a book or with a video player in a totally different posture, in a totally different way. It changes how you engage with the content, how long you engage with the content and even how emotionally close you are to it.”
Honeycomb as an operating system for larger devices is a catalyst for longer interactions with the digital world, something people are moving toward anyway, Duarte says, “so we need to think of Android as an experience that you have 24/7, throughout the entire day. What that means is that you are doing a lot more and you are doing a lot more for longer periods of time.”
Duarte notes his frustration with how the rest of the digital world is moving so slow compared to Android: “Using computers suck – to this day, it’s one of my daily frustrations that the rate of change in computing experiences is so slow.” Duarte continues by noting how similar the way we compute now is to the way we computed 10 and 20 years ago, noting that the way we handle files to be strikingly similar to the way he “did [things] in high school on a Mac Plus.” *Editor’s note – Chris Burns’ first computer was a Color Classic.
Finally, Duarte puts the fear back in us, “People always think of cybernetics with computers as being this thing that happens far in the future, and you have Star Trek, Borg-like scary things. But the way computers are used today through social networking, through email, through accessing information like Google–they are already becoming [those] cybernetic parts of our mind.” Scary.