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Mobile OS & Mobile Apps Experiencing a Paradigm Shift

The mobile operating system landscape has changed so much within the last 5 years.  This is due largely in part to the rise of the smartphone, the release of the iPhone, and in the latter part Android’s maturation.  But mobile apps within those operating systems have experienced a monumental shift as well.  Think about the phone that you were using circa 2004.  Then think about the user interface of the original iPhone.  The difference is day and night in terms of user experience and usability.  When you got a new phone in 2004, chances are that you needed to read the user manual, explore all settings menus and options, and you were lucky if your carrier offered to transfer contacts from your previous device, especially if you didn’t save them to your SIM card.  Now think about the time that you searched to find a user manual for the iPhone.  Didn’t think so.  Of course these changes have been well-documented and everyone knows that this was a huge shift.  But consider the fact that, although the iPhone and iOS has made significant strides, updates, and improvements, the majority of the user interface is largely the same.

There are many apps that are bundled into iOS that are showing their age, and there are many alternatives on the App Store that offer a greater user experience, interface, features, and functionality.  Take for example the Messages app.  When the first iPhone came out this was the absolute best texting experience you could get!  A threaded chat conversation that I can scroll through that offers a high level of polish to the UI was fantastic.  But compared to what GroupMe and Facebook Messenger is doing, it is not up to snuff.  You can’t rename grouped messages (i.e. Family, Work Friends, etc.), the only media type that can be shared from the Messages app itself is either a photo or video (no location or audio), and the app doesn’t even show a photo of the contact you are messaging on either the messages list view or the chat view.  There are significant omissions that are being pointed out by more modernized and elegantly crafted alternatives and it doesn’t stop at the Messages app.

These trends can be seen in the Mail app if you compare it to something like Sparrow or the upcoming Mailbox app.  It is getting to a point where the paradigm shift that was the iPhone in 2007 compared to the dumbphones that preceded it is becoming increasingly similar to the better, faster, more featured apps compared to the stock iOS offering.  Android on the other hand has a similar yet different problem.

Let’s be honest.  Android before Ice Cream Sandwich was a mess in terms of user interface.  Once Google stepped up their game to make the Android operating system more of a pleasure to use, it has become a more mature user experience and one that is on par with lack of a user manual type of offering.  However, the uptake in usage of Android’s design guidelines is few and far between.  There are plenty of apps that offer a proper Android app experience, but there are far too many that try to cram an iPhone user interface into an Android app, or worse where there are bits and pieces from the design guidelines that are used, but not others.

There are many instances in which each mobile OS can present a case for remedying the issues that I have mentioned here, but until there is a solid solution for this upcoming / happening mobile OS shift, we’re going to be left using “dumbsmartphones”.

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