Apple, Google and Microsoft in general control the roadmap of the operating systems used by over 95% of the users. I wonder if the creativity for UX in mobile applications is being controlled or restricted by the interaction capabilities that these 3 giants design, create or are actual able to implement. So UX designers are limited to devise the best combinations of the provided 'widgets' (let's say) and information, but not really creating new and disrupting ways of interacting.

In this sense it seems that web development (and in some way web-mobile) will lead the path to create really new, interesting, and groundbreaking interactions in both web and mobile applications. Is the democratization of creativity for apps reaching a limit?


My answer would be: absolutely not.

  • Market leaders provide standard patterns. This is a good thing as it promotes consistency, which is good for users.
  • Market leaders provide design guidelines (not rules). This is a good thing as it promotes consistency, which is good for users.
  • All platform provide means for new patterns to be implemented (with no restrictions), and generally speaking no market leader rejects a design for not complying with the guidelines or for not using standard patterns (Apple being somewhat of a sole exception here, but even with them you can argue that it is for the benefit of their users). In other words, no one stops no one from being original or creative.
  • If by creativity you mean "thinking out of the box" - the box has to be there; if you mean "noble or original designs" - the standard or norm has to be there for anything to be considered noble or original. Neither definitions really stand for 'creativity' though.
  • My experience is that creative designs flourish on the mobile app market.
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Yes, it is limiting and no it isn't.

The limit is primarily on a cognitive level: the design guidelines - and more importantly: the apps adhering to those, including built-in apps - will be the base of your users' expectations.

In order for an interface to be intuitive, it has to work in familiar ways.

Even on the web, we do have expectations: I expect input boxes to have a white background for example. Or that only errors or other important notifications should be red.

For example, Nielsen wrote this about search box expectations:

Users now have precise expectations for the behavior of search. Designs that invoke this mental model but work differently are confusing

On the same note, it's one of the top 10 big mistakes to devoid conventions unnecessarily.

You can do so in small / closed user bases but you won't have world-wide success with a special UI. Perhaps it fits in an industrial context however - but if you are for a consumer market, I'd vote for against anything too unconventional.

Take the case of Prezi *: Originally they had a very custom UI. I remember the founders deeming "such an unconventional approach needs an unconventional UI". But it wasn't until they have changed the UI in 2012 into a much more conventional, much more-powerpoint like user interface that had a huge positive impact in usability for them.

This is how it evolved, have a look at it for yourself.

(Disclaimer) * I was a workmate of the founders and know each and every user researcher of Prezi personally.

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  • You have a nice approach there. Conventions are an important tool to communicate effectively with the user without too many words (or not all). However, how are conventions created? I believe it has to do much with presenting a new way of interaction and letting the world-of-users to promote it or reject naturally, for example by using it or not using. How would you there create new ways of doing things. Who actually makes this new things possible? And if they are conventions, are Apple, Google, etc, extracting conventions from where? There has to be start for new things to happen. – Javierfdr May 14 '14 at 23:45
  • If you can persuade / force a large group of users to learn a new interaction - either because they simply don't have a choice, or your product has other benefits, and if those interactions become clear quickly (eg. half a year later most users can use it consciously). THEN you can try to spread it. A huge sum of marketing money went on teaching people what "slide to unlock" actually means by using below-the-fold advertising (eg. news reporters unlocking their phone publicly) – Aadaam May 15 '14 at 22:40

You can't group Android operating system with Windows Phone and Apple iOS. One crucial difference is that Android is open source.

This has already allowed companies and enthusiast collectives to

  • deeply customise the Android look, feel and behaviour (e.g. HTC Sense, Samsung Touchwiz)
  • pick and mix their personal touches (e.g. cyanogenmod, MIUI)
  • produce a divergent product (e.g. Kindle Fire tablets, Nokia X)

Open source allows for enormous degree of freedom in where and how the UX is modified. Proprietary systems like iOS and Windows prevent this degree of freedom.

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