I can only assume that on their first day at Google, new employees are given their Android phone, a ChromeBook, a self-driving car, and complementary Laser Eye Surgery. That’s my theory on some of the problems besetting Android’s Lollipop release.
I’ve ranted about Lollipop before, and now I’d like to point out two particular problems.
All of these tests were performed on a Nexus 4 running Android 5.0.1, and the most recent versions of the apps.
I’ve spent two years moaning about how Google ignores its public bug tracker. One bug which keeps raising its head is that Google’s default web browser doesn’t wrap text when zoomed in.
Let me show you what I mean. On the left is Google Chrome. On the right is Opera. I’ve tried to scale the images so they’re roughly the same as their physical size. When opening a non-mobile page, I can double tap to zoom into the text.
That’s not easily readable for me. My eyesight is pretty good, but reading text at that size is simply not comfortable for long periods of time. I can move the phone closer to my eyes, but that’s also quite uncomfortable.
Ok, so let’s use Apple’s patented “Pinch To Zoom” method and bump up that font size.
So, the font size is readable, but using Chrome I have to pan left & right in order to read the page. With Opera, the text wraps perfectly and I only need to scroll vertically.
Horizontal scrolling of text is an awful user experience; it’s slow and error prone. It’s fatiguing to read, problematic for many people with visual impairments, and can interfere with other horizontal gestures that a page or app may have.
(NB – mobile users are quite used to horizontal swiping as a form of navigation – but for reading large swathes of text, it’s not very pleasant.)
Opera gets it right. It wraps the text to the viewport. This is, it has to be said, an opt-in setting. It’s off by default.
Opera places virtually no limit on the amount to which a user can zoom. Were my eyesight terrible, I could go all the way up to ludicrous zoom and be easily able to read the text.
Again, for someone with less than perfect vision, Google’s Chrome just isn’t very usable. It’s almost as though every Google employee has perfect vision and doesn’t need to bother with such trifles as accessibility.
Compare and Contrast
And so, on to Google’s new Material Design, which promises:
Deliberate color choices, edge-to-edge imagery, large-scale typography, and intentional white space create a bold and graphic interface that immerse the user in the experience.
It’s a bit of a running joke that today’s web designers like to use pencil thin, light grey fonts on a subtle grey background. Wonderful if you’ve got a band new Retina MacBook Pro, are in ideal lighting conditions, and have 20/20 vision. For those of us in the real world – with smudges on our screen, sunlight relecting off the glass, and slightly wonky eyes – it’s a nightmare.
Android told me that I’d connected to a new Bluetooth device – did I want to set up smart lock?
For the designers out there, the text is coloured #389088;, and the background is #007166;.
Just how fucking readable is this?
Ensure critical text has enough contrast
In most cases, “sufficient contrast” means having a contrast ratio of 4.5:1. Enough contrast between the background and the text or critical elements allows all users, and particularly those with poor vision, to read text more easily. Smaller text needs lots of contrast, while big headings can tolerate a wider range of colors and backgrounds.
Material Design readability guidelines
For those playing along at home, the above contrast ratio is 1.6. Pathetic.
The YouTube app’s dark text also fails.
Ratio of 1.8.
Those menu items have a ratio of 1.9.
I really can’t be bothered listing more of the examples that I found – but there are dozens.
Lollipop is, for a large section of the population, really unpleasant to use.
I know I’m not the only person who has spent a lifetime working at a screen and appreciates legible text.
Now, I’ll be fair to Google – the new Lollipop version of Android does have some very welcome improvements for helping men with colour-blindness.
— Terence Eden (@edent) November 16, 2014
(Ok, that was a bit of snark, but these forms of colour-blindness disproportionately affect men.)
My Eyes Are Dim
Perhaps I need accept the inevitable and start wearing glasses?
Perhaps I need to use a different phone operating system? One which understands the needs of all its users.
Perhaps I need to lower my expectations and put up with a substandard product?
Google aren’t a start-up any more. Android is not a side project. If Android is to thrive, it needs resources thrown at it to fix all those bugs and niggles which prevent it from excelling.
A product is accessible when all people — regardless of ability — can navigate it, understand it, and use it to achieve their goals. A truly successful product is accessible to the widest possible audience.
Google’s Material Design Usability Guidelines