Google has been on a mission to redefine itself as a design-focused company for some years now. With the release of Android 5.0 Lollipop on the new Nexus 6 phone and Nexus 9 tablet, that mission has reached an apotheosis. It's a sudden, jarring change from the Android we've known, now combined with a torrent of tweaks and features. It's easily the most important update to the world's most-used mobile OS in several years. It's a big deal.
It's hard not to get metaphysical when talking about the design for Lollipop. That's because the philosophy behind the new look is based on something Google calls "Material Design”." You also can't talk about the design changes in Lollipop without comparing it to the equally bold design changes Apple made with iOS 7 last year. Both attempt to remake nearly every corner of the OS, both make heavy use of layers, and both have high-concept ideas about how those layers interact with each other.
Jony Ive’s mission at Apple was to get rid of skeuomorphism, where digital things imitate real-world objects. In doing so, he created a beautiful but cold crystal palace of colorless, translucent planes. Android designer Matias Duarte at Google, on the other hand, has built the Emerald City. Lollipop has more skeuomorphism than ever before, except the reality being imitated here isn't real at all. It's like waking up in Kansas and discovering that everything is still in color and your slippers are still very much a deep shade of ruby red.
Like I said, it's hard not to get metaphysical. Let's channel Dorothy and stay pragmatic as we go down the Yellow Brick Road. (Let's also studiously avoid "Lollipop Guild" puns, no matter how apropos they may be to Android and Google's culture.)
This is Google’s vision for the future of computing.
Those fuzzy concepts about how an OS should look and feel do have practical effects. Android 5.0 looks virtually nothing like the Android that you're familiar with. All the shades, tinted glass, and neon effects have been replaced with subtly textured whites and bright (sometimes too bright) colors. Previously incoherent and random animations have turned into a simple suite of rules for the way things move and relate to each other on the screen.
If you've used Android before, you don't need to worry about being lost. The core elements of an app panel, a notification shade, a lock screen, and a home screen for widgets and Google Now are still here and still work essentially the same way. But for newcomers, the list of UI concepts and their relation to one another can be daunting. Lollipop's main job is to make them less so, and it works.
The best part might be the animations, which are so fluid and prevalent that they're practically a middle finger to the Android of a few versions ago. Transitioning from the Overview (formerly known as the recent apps switcher, or multitasking) to the home screen to the app pane to the notification shade isn't exactly a symphony of movement, but it is at the very least more harmonious than it's ever been.
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