Early in 2012, Google released a set of design principles to aid developers in creating apps that complement the Ice Cream Sandwich user interface, also known as ‘Holo’. These guidelines aimed to allow for apps to ‘enchant’ and ‘amaze’ users, and simplify the user experience.
Now, while developers do not have to oblige Google and adhere to this aesthetic, many have embraced it with good results. This roundup highlights a few such applications worthy of your attention. Some you’ll know and probably already use, but there might be a few surprises too.
I have deliberately not included Google’s own apps. After all, you’d expect them to follow their own rules, and they haven’t disappointed. The likes of Google Drive, Google+ and Currents all look great and feel superb.
Weather Flow is a gorgeous weather app that is not only full of useful meteorological info, but also looks pretty amazing too. Opt for the ‘Typographic’ setting which boasts a striking ICS-inspired look and all manner of weather statistics, or instead try the beautifully rendered ‘Rich’ theme which shows the weather in a sublime moving graphic.
The Holo design works brilliantly within Weather Flow and the bold text on black background is clear, concise and vivid. If you’re looking for a weather app that really compliments the ICS experience on your phone, this is one you should try.
StumbleUpon is a popular web service that helps you find great content depending on your interests. The official Android application lets you do precisely the same thing, all within the app itself. Simply tap the ‘Stumble’ icon to find new websites based on your pre-set preferences. You can give the discovered content the thumbs up or down, allowing you experience to be customised even further.
The StumbleUpon app is a great example of the Holo design. It retains the feel of the newly renovated StumbleUpon website, but clearly follows the impressive ICS theme. If you’re a StumbleUpon user, definitely check it out if you haven’t already.
QuickPic is one of the first apps many users find themselves downloading after a reset or new phone purchase. It is a gallery-replacement application for Android devices that actually does a far better job at presenting and managing your images than any vanilla Android gallery I’ve encountered.
The Holo design aspects of the app are subtle- instead leaving as much screen real-estate for your pictures but it is there and works incredibly well. It’s highly intuitive, looks remarkably fresh and, importantly, is completely free to download.
Dropbox is already many users cloud storage solution of choice. You get 2GB of storage absolutely free and there are various ways to increase this by recommending the service to friends. If you’ve recently bought a HTC device you can access an additional 23GB for free and I believe the same applies to owners of the new Samsung Galaxy S3 phone.
The user interface in Dropbox is simple, intuitive and very easy to use. It follows the design guidelines very closely so feels almost like a native part of your Android experience, especially if your device runs on Android 4.0 or above.
Tasks is a functional and beautifully designed task list or to-do list generator. It syncs with Google Tasks too so you can always have your checklist of jobs handy. It also features things like reminders and some great looking widgets.
Tasks could easily have been developed by Google themselves, it’s that good. While many people use other stunning to-do apps like Any.Do, if you want something that fits a little better with your device’s ICS feel, Tasks is an excellent replacement.
Pocket, formerly known as Read It Later, is one seriously slick and user-friendly application. It aggregates web pages and news articles for you to read at your own convenience. Simply add an extension to your browser and, when you discover a page you want to read later, tap the Pocket button. The page is automatically uploaded to your Pocket account and synced to the app itself. It’s really handy, incredibly popular and also very nice to use.
When Pocket went through its recent name-change, it exchanged the already-impressive Read It Later UI for one which follows the Google design principals. Everything about Pocket is smooth and intuitive, definitely ticking those ‘amaze’, ‘enchant’ and ‘simplify’ boxes.
The official Facebook app is one of the most complained about in the Android ecosystem. It’s sluggish, poorly designed and often very counter-intuitive. It’s not surprising then that third-party apps have popped up to present better options for your Android device. One such example is Flipster, a competent and glossy Facebook portal.
Flipster does exactly what the Facebook app does – only better and in a shiny ICS style. You might also want to take a look at Faster Facebook. While very much a beta release, it toys with the ICS design in a unique way. Faster Facebook is still quite slow though, ironically, so Flipster is perhaps the better option for everyday usage.
Icy Time is a straightforward timing application. Select either Stopwatch to count upwards, or Timer to count down. Blissfully simple, it could be argued it lacks a little functionality compared with similar apps, but if you just need a basic app, it works a treat.
While it performs very simple functions, it adheres to the Holo design guidelines and looks both minimalist and neat. Depending on your requirements, this makes a nice addition to your app draw if you’re looking to make your Android experience consistent.
Explorer+ File Manager does exactly what it says on the tin. Search, browse, explore and manage your Android files in this practical little application. Obviously file managers are never going to be the sexist apps you download but they’re extremely useful for keeping tabs on your device content.
Designed with ICS in mind, Explorer+ File Manager looks and feels good to use. This is the free version of the app but you can also get a Pro version which removes ads.
Boid is one of the best Twitter clients available for devices running Android 4.0 and above. Although still in Beta, it runs really well and is fun to use. It easily rivals the official Twitter client for functionality and has actually been my own personal go-to Twitter app of choice since it was released.
The design is very clean and, while Holo-inspired throughout, it gives you further theming and text options which incorporates different colours and formats. The app is still in Beta so there are more resilient Twitter clients out there, but I keep going back to it because it looks so good!
Foursquare is probably the most popular stand-alone location sharing service available on multiple platforms. Share your ‘where’, collect mayorships, badges and check ins anywhere in the world. It has also proved to be a great marketing tool for businesses who often provide discounts for their location ‘Mayors’.
Foursquare had a revamp quite recently which saw the design of the Android app switch to one which endorses the Holo aesthetic. The service continues to grow and develop all the time, but now all the functionality is accessible through a rich and polished ICS user interface.
JustReader is a simple Google Reader client that looks great on your Android device whether it be a phone or tablet. Featuring offline support, podcasts and access to RSS feeds, it’s streamlined ICS looks are backed up with good functionality.
While JustReader has this ICS design, it incorporates a subtle brown colour which looks really nice alongside your coffee. I like the way it does this – it wants your Android experience to be consistent but the subtle colour difference breaks up the monotony of all those blues and whites.
Songkick is a bold and beautifully designed app which syncs to the online Songkick service. For the uninitiated, Songkick provides concert recommendations based on your personal music tastes. The app even scans your music library for your favourite artists and builds you a comprehensive calendar of potential gigs you might like.
Songkick is one of the best looking apps in this roundup. There is delicious contrast between the dark pink/red motifs and the black background. It also makes brilliant use of photography, meaning the app teems with lush images of your favourite artists. If you’re into music and haven’t tried it yet, definitely take a look.
PayPal Calculator is a simple app that lets you calculate the fees from your PayPal transactions. It has a number of features and makes the process of accurately determining your PayPal finances simple, perfect if you use the service a great deal.
The app has also been built using Google’s design guidelines so looks really nice. The app uses a light blue background colour which, again, differentiates it from other ICS themed applications.
TED is a international series of conferences where talks are given by inspiring individuals around the theme of ‘ideas worth sharing’. Some talks are funny, some are motivational, some are technology-based, but all are informative. Many are deeply moving or incredibly awe-inspiring. This official app brings you the ability to watch these talks on your Android device. You can also download talks for later offline viewing and the app is regularly updated with new content.
TED is another really good looking application that is intuitive to use and very streamlined. I guess with the talks themselves you cannot help but be ‘amazed’ and ‘enchanted’, so Google design principals compliment this well.
So there you have it, a selection of apps that have wholly jumped into the Google boat by using the Holo design guidelines in their applications. If you’re trying to give your Android experience some continuity, or are perhaps looking for sleeker apps than the ones you already use, this collection is worth checking out.
The effect these apps have, in my experience, is that they make using your applications feel much more integrated, even ‘native’. This demonstrates that even if apps are made by small, third-party developers, they can still look very impressive. Obviously there are many more Holo-inspired apps out there in the Google Play Store – let us know which ones you’ve found in the comments below!