Compared to the latest design language revamp, Google’s Material You launch is proceeding at a much faster rate. That Material You app update comes amid a Pixel 6 barrage advertising and that is not a coincidence. It’s the sign of a vision on the right track at Google that has been missing.
Material You was officially announced at I / O 2021 in May as Google hyper-personalized approach to design applications and other user interfaces that adapt to users. The objective is to provide people, who are considered “co-creators”, “more expressiveness and control over your personal devices”.
The main aspect of Material You is the theme based on wallpaper. Pixel phones look at their background and create a palette to color the system interface (notification tone, settings, etc.) and applications. This results in a giant color clock on your lock screen, while Gmail and Messages, places where most users spend a great deal of time, no longer feel generic.
Giving everything a consistent color other than white or gray is delightful in a way you hadn’t anticipated. I initially found the splash of colors refreshing, but since then it has grown into a deeper appreciation. Switch from Gmail on my Pixel to gmail.com on a laptop now it feels pretty stark. The latter feels pretty generic and the (exactly the same) information doesn’t feel personalized to me in any way. It’s a weird feeling, but I’m getting more and more fond of the consistently applied shades.
The other physical change made by Material You is to various button shapes and sizes. This feels almost superficial with any design language revamp, but the modernization is welcome. One of the most notable changes here is a higher bottom bar, with larger touch targets apparently the target. The focus on playability has resulted in a funny widget which is shaped like a flower, which seems to be the way Google officially refers to that design.
It is bulbous and vaguely organic in a way that it could grow in some people, but it is not guaranteed. That could be a sign that Google will let you choose shapes for widgets in the future. It would make sense for a Google Photos widget, but Android 12 just removed the app icon customization with apparently no immediate plans to bring it back.
All these nice aspects of Material You are easy to grasp because Google has rolled out redesigned apps very quickly. Of course, it started in Android 12 with a new lock screen, notification tone, and quick settings. Google Camera, Gboard, and Records, all applications adjacent to the system, in a row.
The first major redesign was Google Contacts (edit) in mid-August with the Pixel Launcher Discovery Feed and Lens following. Android 12 Beta 5 early last month saw Google Watch and Calculator. Then came the big announcement from various Google Workspace applications.
From Gmail The Material You redesign began rolling out on September 2 and became widely available two weeks later. By contrast, the above Google Stuff topic was announced in May 2018 and Gmail was the first preview with that layout two months later. It started rolling out in January 2019 before being fully available in mid-February. Similarly, Google took forever to introduce dark themes in all your applications with Google One skipping the nighttime friendly look altogether down to Material You.
This rapid change is even more impressive when you consider how modern three apps are in one Gmail. Meanwhile, other completed renovations for large applications include Calendar, Documents / Spreadsheets / Presentations and Keep.
One reason redesigns are moving so fast is because Google wants to make sure its source apps match Android 12 before launch. The Pixel 6 is the other big factor.
More than any other Nexus or Pixel device of the past, the software and design are a big selling point of this year’s flagship. The Pixel has always had custom software experiences like Google Camera, Recorder, and Personal Safety, but those are more or less created by the same division.
What’s different is how the Pixel 6 is gaining widespread acceptance from all parts of the company. Android does that every year with the operating system, but now it is the Material Design team in a very important way. Having a custom color palette, which first required a completely new design system for years, is literally a selling point of the phone. With Material You appearing in Pixel 6 ads, this is the most public outing for a Google design language.
Meanwhile, the Workspace group makes sure that Gmail and other productivity apps are ready on time, while more consumer apps like Photos, Phone, and Messages are ready, if not waiting – the Pixel 6 to launch. In turn, the phones take on the color very clearly (coral and green / fog especially) inspiration from Material You highlights.
What’s remarkable about this moment is how in sync Google’s software, led by Material Design, is with the Pixel hardware. This tight integration is only ready to prosper. After Pixel and the phone form factor, Google explicitly said that it expects Material You on the web, Chrome OS, wearable devices, and smart displays.
Except for the web, those three silos represent hardware in which Made by Google has a large investment. Smart displays help drive Google’s vision for Environmental Computing, which needs expert design (both UI and UX) to feel flawless and succeed, and wearables are seeing new life with Use OS 3, while there is rumors of a Pixelbook with Tensor in the future.
If those marquee hardware releases look anything like this Material You software update before the Pixel 6, Google will create products that offer a complete end-to-end view that doesn’t have footwear. It’s something the company hasn’t naturally offered in a while.
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