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On desktop platforms, using the system's control styling, etc. is a very common practice and changing it ("theming") is usually looked down upon unless the application specifically calls for it (like a themable music player).

However, on mobile platforms (smartphones), I've noticed that this isn't all that common. Many apps prefer to throw the platform styling out of the window and simply use their own. Also, apps that use their own styling appear to be "better" than those that use the system styling. (I'm talking about Android apps in specific, and about my own opinion.)

So, my question is, what should one do in such a situation?

EDIT: Native app.

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This is a really subjective question. A nice observation, though. I guess mobile apps are viewed as closer to web apps, and thus more skinnable. –  Assaf Lavie Oct 22 '11 at 7:07
    
I agree with Assaf, treat it like a web app. Even desktop apps seem to be taking more of that route though. The ninties are over, just because it doesn't have the default win 95 theme doesn't mean it's impossible to use. –  Ben Brocka Oct 22 '11 at 17:08

4 Answers 4

To see what users think of your mobile app (even in the planning stages) try User Testing for mobile sites and mobile apps at http://www.usertesting.com

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It's less design and more branding. When writing an iOS app, you want to use the standard navigation bar and tab bar, but with your own brand's coloring. Sizes shouldn't change, gradients need to pop-out or in with the same direction, and elements should be rounded to almost the same degree.

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It is one thing to change the layout that is assigned with interface guidelines and that people are used to, its the other to make a reskin or different styleing.

Take a look at http://www.foodspotting.com/ for example. They have apps for every phone, and on every kind of phone it does the same thing but in a different way. I think its a very nice example.

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One thing to consider is the type of app you are making. Is it web or native? I've seen quite a few arguments for NOT trying to make web apps look and act natively. If you are going native follow the UI guidelines for the platform, but dont be too concerned about making it look exactly the same as every other app. I think having your own app style can really enhance an app as long as it isn't too unfamiliar and the interactions still make sense.

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