Google’s Material You sounds great, but I predict a few flaws.

At Google’s 2021 I/O event, the tech giant revealed the new look Android 12, which is set to make its debut to the Pixel range of smartphones in the Autumn, along with a complete overhaul of how users can personalise their devices with a new design language called ‘Material you’.

‘Material You’ is set to transform design for Android, Google and the wider tech industry (Google claims) over the next year. The idea is to allow individuals to transform the UI of their phone, tablet or other platform, by allowing them to create your own colour pallets and designs that fit every screen and device. The company claims these designs won’t compromise on accessibility and will also work with third party apps.

Having watched (and re-watched) the launch video of Material You and Android 12, it appears you can change the colour and design of even the smallest detail. Say your alarm clock, if you want the background of the hour number to be one colour, the minutes another, the seconds another, you can do that from a pallet you create and design yourself.

Custom pallets can also be created via your own desktop wallpaper, which again are seen throughout the interface. This is something Windows have done in Windows 10 with the ability to pick the colour of your system and taskbar based on the main colour of yoru desktop wallpaper.

You might be thinking though – how will Google/Android keep its unique presentation and style? Well, they will be unifying everything they make and create through proportions, textures and shapes. So whilst it might look different depending on who’s platform you’re looking at, you’ll still be able to tell it’s a Google or Android device.

However, there should be some caution around this too. The promise that this will work with third party apps may not necessarily mean all third party apps, because ultimately apps such as Facebook & Twitter will have their own unique UI and pallets they’d like to keep across all platforms and devices – and Google needs to remember their own brand design too – knowing Android is open source, this, somewhere along the line, has the potential to be flawed.

The notion that every single app will be able to re-defined to fit every screen is a huge ask for app developers. With over 3 billion Android devices worldwide, in many different shapes and sizes, I can’t imagine one app working seamlessly across all platforms. Granted, you might not want it to work across all platforms, but for the most part, I reckon there are apps that you would.

Take Spotify for example – the way it looks and works on your phone, is different to the way it looks on the Home Hub, in your car etc. In fact, the Spotify experience on my old Chromebook was disappointing – because the app they used was merely that of the phone, it looked out of place. In my opinion, until things like that are sorted out, the premise of designing your own UI and colour pallets for all apps, that work across all devices, is challenging. It’ll be interesting to see how it all unfolds later this year.

As a former Android user (Google Pixel 3XL), I must admit I did enjoy the limited flexibility of choosing the colour scheme, the font, the shapes of icons and their spacing on my device. Android 12 is all of that, and then some. But, now a firm Apple user (I had been before my 6 month jaunt to Google), whilst there might not be much, if any, degree in flexibility in changing the look of the UI on Apple devices, it’s that consistency that makes their platform easier to use across the board.

This is the first major upgrade to the Android OS for many years and from a UI design perspective, giving the end user greater control in how things look and feel for the devices they use, based on their own personal preferences, can only be a good thing to better their devices to their needs. It really puts the user in control and personalises the phone to them. 

This will mean that the 3 billion android devices around the world, will all be individual to their users and whilst you might have the same Google Pixel or Samsung phone as your friend, they could be worlds apart in looks and UI design on the inside.