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Designing For Android Tablets

November 14th, 2012

More  than ever, designers are being asked to create experiences for a variety of mobile devices. As tablet adoption increases and we
move into the post-PC world, companies will compete for users’ attention with the quality of their experience. Designing successful apps for Android tablets requires not only a great concept that will encourage downloads, usage and retention, but also an experience tha
t Android users will find intuitive and native to the environment.

The following will help designers become familiar with Android tablet app design by understanding the differences between the iPad iOS user interface and Android 3.x “Honeycomb” UI conventions and elements. We will also look at Honeycomb design patterns and layout strategies, and then review some of the best Android tablet apps out there.

Note that while Android 2.x apps for smartphones can run on tablets, Android 3.0 Honeycomb was designed and launched specifically for tablets. Future updatespromise to bring Honeycomb features to smartphone devices, as well as make it easier to design and build for multiple screen types.

For most of us, our first exposure to tablets was via the iPad. For this reason, it’s reasonable to begin comparing the two user interfaces. By comparing, we can align what we’ve learned about tablets and begin to focus on the key differences between the two, so that we can meet the unique UI needs of Android users. Not only will this help us get up to speed, but it becomes especially important when designing an Android tablet app from an existing iPad one.

(Smashing’s side note: Have you already pre-ordered the brand new Smashing Mobile Book? The book features everything you need to know as a designer or developer to create beautiful and rich mobile experiences. Get your book today!)

It’s Just Like The iPad, Right?

While the Android tablet and iPad experience share many similarities (touch gestures, app launch icons, modals, etc.), designers should be aware of the many differences before making assumptions and drawing up screens.

SCREEN SIZE AND ORIENTATION

The biggest difference between the two platforms is the form factor. Layouts for the iPad are measured at 768 × 1024 physical pixels, and the iPad uses portrait mode as its default viewing orientation.

With Android tablets, it’s a bit more complicated, due to the multiple device makers. In general, there are 7- and 10-inch Android tablets screen sizes (measured diagonally from the top-left corner to the bottom-right), with sizes in between. However, most tablets are around 10 inches.

What does this mean in pixels? A good baseline for your layouts is 1280 × 752 pixels (excluding the system bar), based on a 10-inch screen size and using landscape (not portrait) as the default orientation. Like on the iPad, content on Android tablets can be viewed in both landscape or portrait view, but landscape mode is usually preferred.


The portrait view on a typical 10-inch Android tablet (left) and on the iPad (right).


The landscape view on a typical 10-inch Android tablet (left) and on the iPad (right).

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Designing For Android

November 14th, 2012

Designing For Android | Smashing Mobile

For designers, Android is the elephant in the room when it comes to app design. As much as designers would like to think it’s an iOS world in which all anyones cares about are iPhones, iPads and the App Store, nobody can ignore that Android currently has the majority of smartphone market share and that it is being used on everything from tablets to e-readers. In short, the Google Android platform is quickly becoming ubiquitous, and brands are starting to notice.

But let’s face it. Android’s multiple devices and form factors make it feel like designing for it is an uphill battle. And its cryptic documentation is hardly a starting point for designing and producing great apps. Surf the Web for resources on Android design and you’ll find little there to guide you.

If all this feels discouraging (and if it’s the reason you’re not designing apps for Android), you’re not alone. Fortunately, Android is beginning to address the issues with multiple devices and screen sizes, and device makers are slowly arriving at standards that will eventually reduce complexity.

This article will help designers become familiar with what they need to know to get started with Android and to deliver the right assets to the development team. The topics we’ll cover are:

  • Demystifying Android screen densities,
  • Learning the fundamentals of Android design via design patterns,
  • Design assets your developer needs,
  • How to get screenshots,
  • What Android 3 is about, and what’s on the horizon.
(Smashing’s side note: Have you already pre-ordered the brand new Smashing Mobile Book? The book features everything you need to know as a designer or developer to create beautiful and rich mobile experiences. Get your book today!)

Android Smartphones And Display Sizes

When starting any digital design project, understanding the hardware first is a good idea. For iOS apps, that would be the iPhone and iPod Touch. Android, meanwhile, spans dozens of devices and makers. Where to begin?

The old baseline for screens supported for Android smartphone devices was the T-Mobile G1, the first commercially available Android-powered device which has an HVGA screen measuring 320 x 480 pixels.

HVGA stands for “half-size video graphics array” (or half-size VGA) and is the standard display size for today’s smartphones. The iPhone 3GS, 3G and 2G use the same configuration.

Screenshot
T-Mobile G1, the first commercially available Android device and the baseline for Android screen specifications.

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