Quick thoughts on the MIUI Android rom

A new rom has been developed by the chinese. It’s called “Miui” and it’s Android based. Be careful, unless you like 80ies power-ballads, you may want to turn down the volume:

Since I’ve been very harsh to HTC Sense and Android skins in general, I’ve been politely asked my thoughts on this one. And while I’m still preparing a larger rant on the skin situation, I’d like to give a few quick notes on what I think about this particular flavor.

— I love that it’s possible. I love that because of Android being open source, such an OS image can be put together.


— I like the lock screen, insofar as you can open the phone, messages or the device in general by swiping three different icons. I’m less thrilled that the direction to swipe/unlock is vertical. Which doesn’t work so well for HTC Sense.


— The homescreen / launcher seems as uninventive as every other homescreen out there (save for Windows Phone 7 which looks to bring something new to the table), but it’s a formula that works reasonably well. There’s a customizable dock for those shortcuts you use all the time, and there’s the rest of the screen for littering with various apps you use.

— In the spirit of Samsung TouchWiz (ugh), every icon gets an iOS-like rounded-corner box. Which does bring a grid-like look to the apps, but feels dated. Also, since the icons weren’t designed to be shown in such boxes (unlike iOS icons), I doubt the viability of this framing of all icons.

— Android has numerous ways to quickly toggle GPS, Bluetooth, Wifi and other “quick settings”, and it’s an interesting approach for MIUI to place these in the notification drawer. But like task-killers, some of these features really shouldn’t be “quick toggles”, but rather completely automatic and built in such a way that they don’t kill your battery. Like Android 2.2 killed task killers (( Yes, really! Task killers no longer work in Android 2.2, and you don’t need them either. )), I’m hoping future Android releases will better manage these settings for me.

— The ability to quickly rearrange the sequence of homescreens is nice, if one likes the way Android homescreens work. I’m not convinced. On the one hand, I love the completely sandbox-esque feel of being able to tweak every homescreen and their widget and app layouts. On the other hand, I like iOS completely automatic and fascist homescreen regime wherein the leftmost homescreen is the search screen, and homescreens are simply added to the right when you need them. In the case of iOS, however, the otherwise brilliantly unified “there are no app shortcuts” metaphor lends itself to what I like to call the “stocks-app homescreen syndrome”, which refers to right-most iOS homescreen which is usually the debris garden for unwanted yet un-uninstallable apps.

— The app/widget trash can that has gotten prime real estate right at the top of the screen is rather silly. Sure it makes it easy when you need to move apps from one homescreen to the other, but in the ongoing crusade against the filesystem, the trash can will be first against the wall. And so it’s a UI metaphor that we should start to shy away from, no matter the kooky and fun way we decide to use it. The trash can is broken goods.

— In the folders vs. stacks fight that goes on, I’m actually in the stacks side of the arena, even if I think the stacks implementation of “max. 12 apps per stack” on iOS is dumb. This MIUI implementation of having folders that just look like stacks but behave like folders, is unimpressive.

— Most central in my argument against skins is that there are some aspects that are fair game, and some that you just don’t mess with. With HTC Sense, it’s primarily the bundled apps. Overall, I think it’ll be the same with MIUI, whose contact list is so stupid. How stupid is it? It’s so stupid, it copied Apples patently stupid interface mechanism where if you swipe right on a contact, it reveals a delete button (see the video, 3 minutes in exactly). Which, if it isn’t clear, is such a vicious example of mystery meat navigation that only bad bicyclists can get my blood to boil more.

— So you don’t mess with core apps is my mantra. Browser, calendar, mail, contacts, phone … those are off limits. Do not touch. What’s left in MIUI? Well there’s the lock screen, the homescreen (with custom icons and widgets), the app drawer and the notification drawer. Did you know that all those aspects of the Android interface, can be replaced by Android apps? In fact, MIUI could’ve been simply an Android app instead of a fullblown rom.

Did I mention I love open source? My friendly criticism aside, I love that MIUI exists. I may even try it, and I will no doubt like it more than HTC Sense. But it all boils down to the fact that we’re still dealing with a phone, which needs to be stable, easy to update with security patches. And the core experience — phone, browser, contacts, email — needs to be razor sharp. With that in mind, I think it’s a real pity that MIUI isn’t just an Android Market app that replaced my homescreen, lock screen, app drawer and notification bar. After all, that’s not only entirely possible, but it’s likely I’d pay for it. I could say the same for HTC Sense.

Why I Now Believe There Will Eventually Be A Google Nexus Two

A while back, we learned from Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt, that the Nexus One was a successful one-shot experiment. Which when translated means: we’re going back to making only software. Now, however, we’re once again hearing rumours of a Nexus Two.

We’ll probably not get one next month, but I now believe we will get one eventually. For two reasons.


My current homescreen.


The first reason is that, as an OS maker with an increasingly popular offering, slated (get it?) to soon appear on tablets and televisions, Google will occasionally need updated hardware to internally develop and test for. This was the case with the G1, it’s the case with the N1, and it will be the case with the N2. Probably come Android 3.0 this fall.

Skin Discouragement

The second reason is related to so-called Android “skins”. I’m preparing a larger article on Android skins and the scourge they represent, suffice to say, there’s no such thing as “just an Android skin”.

The point is, there’s a reason for Apples success. It’s the holistic approach to a unified, singularly consistent and polished experience.

Since I bought an HTC Desire, I got some serious time with HTC Sense. Enough for me to root my phone and install a stock Froyo ROM in disgust. Sense may be polished, but it’s not consistent, user-friendly or thought through in the way the N1 is. And I can say that with some confidence as the ROM I’ve installed is pretty much the N1 experience.

So, Google gets it. Apple gets it. Apparently, HTC, Motorola, Samsung and Sony Ericsson don’t get it. These dinosaurs clearly have OS envy, which makes them unlikely to discontinue their misguided reskinning efforts in favor of Google Experience phones. Which is why — in efforts to stall this fragmentation — Google will have to lead the Android 3 charge with new hardware that demonstrates what Android is at its best.

This Fall

The bottomline is, Android is facing a serious challenge with the fragmentation. Android is not just an application platform, it’s an experience, and right now Android vendors are showing a surprising incompetence by diluting this.

There’s no doubt Androids success is its openness, and the abillity for Motorola to feel like they own what’s on their phones. But this very openness is what allows them to bundle an uninstallable demo of Need For Speed Shift on the Droid X, or HTC to switch out the stock Contacts app with one that misses the point entirely. Android is a great operating system, make no mistake, and Google Earth, Google Maps, Google Sky Map and all the other fantastic Android apps will run fine on phones riddled with “Moto Blur”, “HTC Sense” or “Samsung TouchWiz”. But the Android experience, the one that has a shot at surpassing the iPhone experience, is riddled with holes. Which is why, if 3rd party vendors can’t make proper Android phones — and I’d argue we have only the Nexus One and the Motorola DROID as proper Android phones — Google will have to do it themselves.

Firefox 4 Maximized, First Blurry Look

Mozilla has posted a startlingly effective video argument for why Firefox 4s default preference will be tabs-on-top. For the first time since the Firefox 4 mockups, we now see a maximized Firefox 4, which uses the Fitt’s Law argument I’ve chimed since 2006 when I tried redesigning the Firefox interface myself:


Of course only Windows gets this benefit, since both Ubuntu and OSX have a menu there.

The Apple/Google Let's All Be Friends Posts

It’s tearing me apart.

Seeing friends fight it out on Twitter. Over whether Android or Apple iOS is better, whether it’s okay for Jobs to kill Flash, whether it’s okay for Google to make mean jokes about Apple. Can’t we all just get along?


I don’t want us to agree to disagree. But I want us to not fight, also. Let’s see what we agree on:

  • Things were nicer when Google and Apple were friends
  • We both don’t like Microsoft
  • Competition is healthy for every platform

Right? See, friendships forming all around. Eyes tearing up yet? Let’s see if we can be friends some more…

What Google does well; like those of Christina Hendricks, their boons are undeniable:

  • Search
  • Sync
  • Free / open

What Apple does well is also clear as industrial touch-screen glass:

  • Polish
  • Fit & finish
  • Simple

Those of us who pick Android devices prefer the first three dots, those of you who pick iPhone prefer the second three dots. Imagine if we didn’t have to pick a camp?

Chrome Webstore

Announced at Google IO is a Google Chrome web-store, no doubt created to bring good content to Chrome OS. You’ll be able to — just like on the iPhone app store — buy web-apps which are then installed in your Google Chrome browser or later this year, Chrome OS.


  • They demoed Plants vs. Zombies. Which tells me the first Chrome OS hardware release will be a tablet, not a netbook.
  • Interestingly, Plants vs. Zombies was built in Flash, which kinda explains why Google chose to integrate the Flash Player in Chrome.
  • A Unity app was also demoed. Does that mean a Unity plugin is about to be included in Chrome?
  • So maybe Google realises their Chrome OS HTML5/JavaScript strategy may be a few years in the future, so they’re using Flash and Unity as transitory technologies for web-apps.
  • It’ll be interesting to see if the Chrome web-store will work in browsers other than Chrome. My guess is: yes.

Wishy Washy Ubuntu [Updated]

A little while ago, I posted that Ubuntu is getting a new interface design which includes window management buttons on the left. In addition to this, the close button is now the third button from the left, and minimize and maximize icons are up and down arrows.


This seemingly arbitrary redesign of a central UI concept — window management buttons — has received some flak in the community. Alex Faaborg mentions that the up/down arrows are reminiscent of scrollbar buttons. The community has called out the lead designer to explain the reasoning behind this new direction, and Ivanka Majic responds haphazardly:

After the internal debate and analysis (which went something like the picture below) we decided to put this version in the theme and to use it. I have had it running on my machine with the buttons in this order since before the Portland sprint (first week of February?) and I am quite used to it.

Is it better or worse?

It is quite hard to tell. The theme has been in the alpha since Friday. Now that you have had a chance to use it what do you think?

Personally, I would have the max and min on the left and close on the right.

Aza Raskin, creative lead for Firefox responds on Twitter:

It’s this kind of wishy-washy design speak (from the lead Ubuntu designer) that weakens our field in open source http://bit.ly/axDRbf

Eloquenter. Point: Aza.

Had you asked me yesterday, I’d have cared slightly less about the design of maximize or minimize buttons or even whether they’re left or right (exciting new platforms and UI paradigms intrigue me more these days and these traditional OSes now seem quaint), but this kind of — Aza puts it rightly — wishy washy design speak belittles the whole interface design process.

Not all UI designers think like Ivanka and the Ubuntu design team.

I don’t even care to discuss left or right or up or down. But I will say that window management buttons, minimize, maximize and close, are vital parts of an operating system. That doesn’t mean this is by any means a sacred goat that should never ever be touched, it simply means that when you do touch it, you’re walking on the razors edge (don’t look down, you’ll lose your head).

I’ve said this before: usability is not a Jackson Pollock painting.

If you were designing a faucet, would you switch the locations for hot and cold water? How about making a door-handle go up instead of down to open? What about the direction you turn a key to unlock? Should we drive on the left or the right side of the road? Should americans switch from the imperial system to metric?

Whenever you change a completely vital aspect of a system, do not justify the change by asking: “Is it better or worse? It is quite hard to tell”. That will not fly.

Anyone can make up wishy washy design speak. In fact, here’s a snatched-from-the-ether list of similar justifications:

  • “Steve told me to do it.”
  • “Our branding team told us we had to mess with the buttons in order to stand out from OSX and Windows. It was either left-aligned, close button third-from-the left, or centered buttons.”
  • “It started as a joke, but then we kinda liked it.”
  • “We wanted to be more like OSX, but without blatantly copying.”
  • “Oh right those buttons. What do they do again?”
  • “The close button is a destructive action, which is bad. So we placed it in a really awkward place. The shut down operating system button, however, we placed in the top right corner of the screen, right at the edge, you know, where Windows has its maximized application close buttons. We think it looks good.”

As long as we’re playing “make up an excuse”, there are plenty better ones to pick from.

[Update]: Here’s a super quick mockup, which should hopefully serve to illustrate that the new theme aesthetics could easily work without changing basic window management layouts.