The Evolution of Mobile App Design and Why You Should Care

March 23, 2016

Apple’s UI is based in flat design while Google has shifted toward what’s called Material Design. Although the differences between the approaches may appear subtle, the back-end differences are complex, and it’s crucial to consider both when designing for one audience or the other.

Today, both platforms–and their user interfaces–have evolved into very different animals. For an iOS user, for example, navigating through an Android device can feel a little like driving an unfamiliar car. They both have headlights and windshield wipers, but it can take a while to figure out where the knobs are and how to twist, turn or push them to get the right response.

The result: A single design phase is not good enough to create a consistent, high-quality product. If the ultimate plan is to launch on both platforms, then it’s essential to understand the differences between designing for iOS and Android–and to invest in doing them both right from the beginning.

Reason 1: Look Native, Feel Familiar

At the very core of platform-specific design is a desire to make users comfortable which helps increase satisfaction, lower bounce rates, and boost completion for transactions involving personal information or payment details. It’s also the basis of Google and Apple’s detailed design guidelines documents (iOS Design Guidelines and Google’s Material Design Guidelines). Users expect a mobile app to look and function a certain way when it comes to common UI controls. Using native components as much as possible is the easiest way to meet that expectation.

Reason 2: Getting From Here To There, Fast

Today, conventional and intuitive interface is really a user requirement especially when it comes to navigation. Delivering a bottom-nav iOS tab bar navigation to an Android user who expects a top-nav drawer menu to bound to create a frustrating experience, but reworking the navigation structure is a fairly big change when it comes to development.  The software for the two operating systems are also literally written in different computer languages, so there is no automatic way to convert from one to the other. Although Google just published guidelines for designing a bottom navigation bar, thinking through the nav nuances for both platforms before getting into development is still essential for time and cost budgeting.

Reason 3: Keeping It Right Sized

While iOS devices are all manufactured under the direction of a single company and have just seven different screen sizes supporting two graphics resolutions, there are hundreds of companies manufacturing thousands of devices running Android with five graphics resolutions supported. Assets need to be designed to look good on all screen sizes per platform to deliver a top-notch experience. Plan to have multiple variants of buttons, text styles, pixel densities, etc. created to meet your users’ expectations no matter the device.

Reason 4: Calls To Action You Can Trust

Mobile calls to action are your key conversion points and need to appear valid and trustworthy. Apple mandates that users opt in for each type of device permission separately (location services, camera, camera roll, access to contacts, etc.), whereas with Android, we can use a boilerplate permissions agreement to batch in several technologies. When, where, and how to communicate these permission requests to the user requires a lot of thoughtful design. If you’re asking a user to sign up, accept terms, provide personal information, enter sensitive payment details or opt-in, the last thing you want to do set off red flags by looking “not quite right.”

Reason 5: Exceptional User Experience

While Google and Apple have diverged on what consistent design elements look like, platform-specific UI guidelines really do improve UX, enabling users to quickly pick up and understand any app. User experience, at it’s core, means the way that people invite a product into their lives. People use iOS and Android technology in nuanced ways for different goals, and develop different habits. When you design the user experience, it is essential to focus on how those people are using the specific product to improve their quality of life.