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When designing a mobile app for use on both iPhone and Android, should you make the UI the same on both platforms? Why or why not?

I have thought about this a bit. To some extent, this entails more work, because the UI kits are not the same, so you have to do more custom programming. On the other hand, it might save you work in designing documentation or doing user support.

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5 Answers 5

I think it makes sense to follow the UI guidelines recommended by the vendor (Apple and Google) for their respective device for the following reasons.

People know what they are signing up for when they buy either of these devices. It's not like they walk into the store and say "Give me the best smartphone there is". They've likely already made up their mind before they go to the store.

So you can assume the user to expect the OS styles to follow a certain pattern that uniquely differentiates it from the rest. Android has the flat icons style, iOS is all about gradients, Windows Phone is all about tiles, etc.

So it would be a little disappointing to the user if the app maker decides to shove one specific vendor style down the throat of all the users across different platforms and devices. The user might be thinking "Why am I seeing iOS style buttons and titlebars on my Android phone? If I wanted an iPhone, I would have gotten an iPhone. Why does this app creator think everyone is on an iPhone?"

See my point?

Another thing is that people might think the app creator is just being lazy by coming up with a "one design fits all" approach.

If you think by having a similar UI across all platforms, you are being consistent, then you need to rethink what consistency means in this specific context. What type of users are you talking about that is looking for this "consistency"? Are you worried about users that are switching phones (iPhone to Android or vice versa) and want them to have a consistent experience? It's very unlikely that such users will complain because as I said earlier, they know what they're signing up for when they buy a phone.

The only reason I can think of when you may want the same UI on every platform is if you are building games like Angry Birds, Cut the rope, etc.

Hope that helps.

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One comment I would make is I have users that have both Androids and iPads. –  Andrew Johnson Nov 1 '12 at 21:46
    
I think a good example is Office ribbon for Windows and Office for OSX. I believe Microsoft kept Office consistent with the platform, and consistent across platforms. –  Andrew Finnell Nov 1 '12 at 23:25
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+1 "I think it makes sense to follow the UI guidelines recommended by the vendor (Apple and Google) for their respective device for the following reasons." Also, you can irritate users if they feel the app for their device uses other devices' conventions, like the app for their device is an afterthought or 2nd class. –  obelia Nov 1 '12 at 23:26

I think it depends on the sort of app you have. Some apps are designed to look identical on both platforms, in some cases mimicking the associated website they provide functionality for.

If you chose to go the custom UI route, you have to ensure your look and feel is sufficiently attractive to please users, and also not clash with the look of native UI. Given that Android and iPhone native widgets look quite different, this might be tricky.

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Much of what I'm going to say might mirror previous answers, fair warning.

Short answer: Visual design yes. Interaction design, no - because they are different platforms.

Long answer: Android and iOS are different. Yes, you have the basic similarities of a touch interface, but at the end of the day they offer different experiences. For example, iOS has no input outside of touch, while Android has "soft buttons" that support certain functionality. I'd say you have two options:

  1. Make an app that is unique enough to stand on it's own regardless of the system eg. a game.
  2. Treat the app as if it is on different platforms.

Personally, my vote is for the latter. If you try to force the same exact experience on both platforms they will both ultimately suffer. This doesn't mean they can't share a similar visual design, but the platforms have different requirements and constraints. Approaching it from the ground up would, imho, almost always result in a better experience.

Example 1: AirBnB airbnb

Example 2: Spotify spotify

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I think that it is important for the two applications to look the same, or at least have strong consistency between the two. Most mobile sites or applications would reflect some sort of branding or design standards, even if it is just for a single app.

Let's say you develop an iPhone app and then decide to extend it to Android users as well. In creating the Android app, you change the design or layout slightly (or maybe drastically), which changes the feel of the design. My friend with an iPhone shows it to me, tells me that it's the greatest app, and recommends that I should download it on my Android. But when I open it on my device, it doesn't look like the one she showed me, and I assume I must have found the wrong one.

For this reason, consistency is very important in any design. When users have trouble recognizing something, this will cause confusion and make them more likely to leave a site or uninstall an app. The intro of this great article, Inconsistency killed the cat, compares inconsistent design to an inconsistent layout in cars, which would make an app difficult to use. As Andrew Johnson commented, users with iPads and Android phones would have trouble using both designs. That being said, some adaptations for different sizes would be acceptable, as long as the look and feel of the design remains consistent and recognizable.

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If you are talking about interface and UI personality, yes it should remain the same irrespective of what platform is used to assess that.

Question raised by Girish that "Why am I seeing iOS style buttons and titlebars on my Android phone?" is valid if you are thinking through user expectations. On Android they expect things to be like android and on phone it is expected to look like iPhone but the question to ask is that if your application is about meeting visual expectations or is that about meeting a user need. If it is about meeting a need then you can live with compromising user's "design expectations" but still offering them a quality app making your app still a successful app.

Having two visual design standards for one application is just like building two visual brands for the same product. Do you think you can live with that? If your app's UI personality (UI look and feel) is entirely based on standard UI elements (which comes along with each platform), then you simply don't have a distinct UI personality and it is safe to use that of platform. _ BUT _ If you have invested on UI design then that UI design got to remain the same irrespective of what platform you use.

Considering the UX aspects, Is Android bad at usability? Are people who use android not able to use iphones? or reverse this question and try to answer yourself, in both cases, answer will be that both platforms are beautifully designed and in terms of use-ability it really doesn't matter what platform style you are following. If you have thoughtfully designed your interface and it doesn't have usability flaws, people on both platforms will be able to use it and enjoy its FUNCTIONALITY - yet there will remain some compromise on visual expectations which in my opinion is less risky to live with.

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