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Matias Duarte Talks Tablet UI in Jelly Bean, Lack of SD Card Slots in Nexus Devices

Yesterday afternoon, Matias Duarte – the UX master of Android – took to Google+ to field your questions on all things Nexus and Jelly Bean. A number of people responded, prompting Duarte to answer two questions thus far. He tackled the idea of the new tablet UI in Jelly Bean, plus the lack of SD card slots in Nexus devices. 

I’ve copied and pasted his entire responses, as to not diminish or miss any point that he was trying to get across. The first one has to do with the tablet UI that has confused some after seeing the Nexus 10. As you know, it looks like a stretched out version of the phone and Nexus 7 UI, something that was done on purpose.

Why did you make the system buttons and status bar consistent across all devices in Jelly Bean?

Consistency and usability are really important to us, and that’s something we strive to improve in every new version of Android. With Honeycomb we first introduced the idea of a completely onscreen navigation UI which gave us unprecedented flexibility in how that UI adapts and transforms – both when you turn the device in your hands and when the software changes and has different control needs. Now in Jelly Bean we’ve made the universal software navigation buttons and system bar consistent across all screen sizes.

This new configuration is based on usability research we did on all of the different form factors and screen sizes that Android runs on. What mattered most of all was muscle memory – keeping the buttons where you expect them, no matter how you hold the device.

Phones are almost always used in portrait mode, flip sideways occasionally, and never go upside down. As screen sizes get larger though, any which way goes. Imagine the frustration you’d feel if every time you picked up a tablet off the table ‘the wrong way up’ you found yourself reaching for a home button that wasn’t where you expect it to be? That irritation adds up and over time like a tiny grain of sand in your shoe and undermines the rest of your experience.

The Jelly Bean system bar always keeps the same 3 buttons where you expect them. This happens dynamically for every screen size, up until you get to small handheld screens where stacking the bars in landscape mode would leave too little vertical space.

The second thing we discovered was that there are almost as many different ways of holding our devices as there are people. In fact people love to use their Nexus so much that they use them for such long periods of time that having a single ‘correct grip’ is actually counter productive and increases hand strain. The Jelly Bean navigation buttons work equally well for left handers and right handers, one handed use, or two handed use, and for devices you’re carrying, resting on your knee, or putting on the table.

Last but not least, by unifying the design we are now able to put Notifications and Quick Settings right where you’d expect them, and only one swipe away.

The second question he answered had to do with SD card slots. As you know from previous Android team talks, Nexus phones haven’t had SD card slots in some time. While there are technical reasons for doing so, Matias puts reasoning squarely on user experience. If you add in an SD card slot, you potentially make it confusing.

Why don’t Nexus devices have SD cards?

Everybody likes the idea of having an SD card, but in reality it’s just confusing for users.

If you’re saving photos, videos or music, where does it go? Is it on your phone? Or on your card? Should there be a setting? Prompt everytime? What happens to the experience when you swap out the card? It’s just too complicated.

We take a different approach. Your Nexus has a fixed amount of space and your apps just seamlessly use it for you without you ever having to worry about files or volumes or any of that techy nonsense left over from the paleolithic era of computing.

With a Nexus you know exactly how much storage you get upfront and you can decide what’s the right size for you. That’s simple and good for users.

And there you have it. There is a chance that he continues to answer questions, so feel free to check out the Google+ thread we have linked to below.

In the mean time, I would love to hear your thoughts on these two subjects.

Via:  +Matias Duarte

Cheers Kane!

  • Dave Acklam

    If you are worried about ‘confusing users’ drop the !@%#!#% ball on your OEMs & their nasty front-end shells…

    Sense, Touchwiz, and Motoblur are far more ‘confusing’ to users, than the concept of an SD slot….

    Hell, Microsoft got this right back in 1996, when they made Packard Bell & Compaq quit ‘skinning’ the Windows UI…

  • my phone goes upside down when i’m in the car playing music. because of the location of the headphone jack and length of my cord. just sayin…

  • dmd3

    Wow..I can’t believe it. The lack of an SD card slot is why I haven’t purchased an iPad. I’ve been waiting for a high resolution tablet with an SD card slot and thought the Nexus 10 would be it. NOT! Yes, this is sounding like Apple and that’s VERY DISAPPOINTING. It would be nice to see competition in the marketplace.

    What is confusing about an SD card? An SD card slot is a simple, cheap and versatile method of adding storage and makes it extremely simple to move large files. It’s the obvious solution to the iOS shortcomings. SD memory is down to nearly $0.50/ GB (and getting lower all the time). Yet, Nexus is charging $6.25/ GB for more capacity…and you’re locked into that for life. Ridiculous!

    So, how do I get my large files into the Nexus device? Currently I just pop the SD card out of my camera and stick it into my netbook or desktop….no wires to deal with!!! what a great concept. I can move a 4 GB movie or any large file in an instant from computer (or camera) to computer without tying up any internal memory….how simple and convenient! How is the Nexus better?

    Guess I’ll just stick with my 4 yr old netbook ….it’s far ore versatile!

  • aaaa

    It’d be hilarious if Google reduced the size offerings to 2 gigs for the next Nexus device, and argued that Cloud is so much superior and that extra storage makes it too confusing for the average user

  • Cooke

    That is such an Applesque answer for why there is no SD Card.

    Android has always been about choices, and if a SD card is so confused for the average user then why not just include a SD slot while having it deactivated by default and blocking the ability for Apps to install on there.

    Users who want to use a micro SD card can then go into the menu and activate, so that they can use it as external storage the way so many people use external hardrive and flash drives on their laptop and desktop computers.

    But, of course, the whole simple answer is basically…well we want users to pay more for storage.

  • Milind

    What a load of crock on the SD Card! I don’t see a whole lot of people hollering about how complicated it is to have additional storage. If I wanted a locked down simplistic user interface I’d have bought an iPhone. I want the flexibility to add storage for offline use. If they priced the 16GB/32GB/64GB models with the *current* prices of SD cards, then I’d go with it. When you charge $50 for 8GB and $100 for 16GB, it’s called gouging and it’s the reason I want an SD Card.

  • Nick Bohl

    My biggest question at this point is simply, “when can I get the menu button (or overflow) to appear on the opposite side for left-handed users”. On a 4.3″ device I wouldn’t really mind, but as screens get bigger and (and as I MUST have everyone of these large devices) none of them can offer a one-handed experience for me because the distance from left-thumb to top-right is too great. I think this could be done very elegantly and wouldn’t require a terrible amount of work to be done for it. To me, this seems as important a feature as being able to switch between multiple accounts on a device.

  • Abhijeet Mishra

    It’s what is happening with Apple and MS too, make stuff for the average user, though these two companies restrict too much for that. Google isn’t as restrictive, but even they aren’t thinking about the intelligent crowd by doing things like no SD card slot, or making MTP the default option (which certainly has its advantages, I’ll admit). Just make things as simple as they can be for the “average user”, which are in the majority and forget about the intelligent user.
    But at least Android gives us the ability to hack it to oblivion.

  • CedrickwithnoK

    Damn, I thought this was a video. There’s something magical about hearing Matias speak about UI design elements

  • do people not realize that the nexus 4 isnt announced for the US carriers(and probably never will)….

    the gnex was announced the same way, 16gb only, no sd card, no lte, hspa+ only

    why is this such a surprise?
    if the nexus 4 gets released for US carriers, than the nexus 4 WILL have LTE, and possibly more memory(32gb) because thats what the US market looks for

    the US market is completely different from the rest of the world and in the US, we are willing to pay more for cell phone service so we can get a phone at a discounted price(which ends up being the most costly over 2 years ironically) instead of buying the phone out right and paying for cheap service

    tbh if my employer wasnt paying my phone bill with verizon, i would be on tmobile’s walmart plan with a brand new nexus 4

    tldr: people in the USA are stupid(really stupid) and its cause of this stupidity, our markets are over saturated with expensive things that shouldnt be that expensive to begin with(like cell phone service), and this is coming from an american citizen who is a realist and not trapped in the reality distortion field marketing companies place on most americans(like verizon)

  • skinja

    “This phone is geared toward Senior Citizens and has to be less confusing, just like an iPhone”

  • skinja

    So now we are all mouth breathing iphone users that cannot understand the file system on our phones?

    Jesus, just add an SD slot and make that be the only place for file storage.

    Thanks to DL, I now have a 64GB sd card in my phone.

  • Jwhap

    Though I hate that Google did not include LTE on this phone…..I think that most of us gnex users are still on contract for another year. I can see how holding off on this for other carriers (gsm) makes some sense. I would have upgraded myself with LTE.

  • sport

    I can see the reasoning for no sd card slot but I don’t agree with it. I bought a 16gb Razr and just recently upgraded the card I had in it froma 32gb to double that, 64gb. Now had I bought a Nexus, I’d be screwed. I like the sd card.

  • Dor Juravski

    As much as I like to buy this phone, no decent storage + extension –> no buy. It’s very simple and if users are confused they don’t need to use the sd card. Most of us want the option to choose

  • The only problem I have with the UI on the Nexus 10 is there seems to be a lot of wasted space on the navigation bar. It certainly makes sense for the Nexus 7 and Phones, but I certainly preferred the way it was on Honeycomb thru Jelly Bean 4.1 in comparison.

  • skinja

    SD cards make file mgmt so much easier. Not harder.

    Just get rid of the internal file storage. And only have SD cards.

  • MentatYP

    Google starting to act like Apple: “We know what’s best for you. We’ll restrict choice if we think it improves the user experience.” That’s not a good sign.

    • Justin Swanson

      I don’t think so, I think the SD restriction is to simplify for general users, not power users. I think power users would love a choice, because it’s android and we’ve grown accustom to that choice. Apple and Google both realize that for general users SD cards can be come confusing for general users and therefore have opted for the more simplified option.

      With that said, I really think they need at least a 32gb model and possible a 64gb model (at least for N10). Change the pricing structure to accommodate.
      Example: N10 16gb $399, 32gb $449, 64gb $499
      N4 16gb $299, 32gb $349, 64gb $399

      or whatever it works out to be…

      • gp126904

        Only problem is that of 16 more gigs they add $100 to the price tag which is insane, $50 should be the price increase.

  • Jillxz

    I have almost come to the conclusion that Google is so very inconsistent . You just never know what your gonna get next. i petty much am getting tired of this kind of thing. Sometimes I think I will just forget about Google and Android phones and tablets and go with Apple or Microsoft products. At least they are consistent .The so-called new Nexus tablet is a real big let down and also a “come” down for Google. No SD card slot and only 8-16G. I will be looking elsewhere for a Tablet as this is unforgivable in my book.

    • I think the 8GB is only for the Nexus 4 smartphone, not the Nexus 7 or 10 tablets. It appears Google got the message about storage on tablets. I’m not really sure why they didn’t carry this storage lineup over to the Nexus 4, though.

  • Justin Halcomb

    At the end of the day, rather you like this change or not y’all will accept it.

    • jeesung

      yes, i will accept it by not purchasing the Nexus 4 🙂

  • feztheforeigner

    Good first answer!
    Bad second answer…. 🙁

  • DanWazz

    Why are people still asking about SD card slots on nexus devices? This question has been answered a million times already.

    • La2da

      Because it is wanted by a majority of users, and the answer just changed from speed to user confusion, so we don’t believe the reasoning.

  • La2da

    Wow. Taking the Apple approach. Nice. I thought the old reason was that it slowed down the system, now its because we get confused. Please don’t tell me what I’m too stupid to handle, what YOU think I will get confused by, or what I am and am not ready for. Its comments like this from companies like Apple, Moto, and Verizon that make me lose all respect and question doing business with them. Someone like my mom can be pretty tech illetriate, but thanks to her digital camera, she at least knows what an SD card does and how to change it out.

    • Justin Swanson

      It’s not about you, it’s about your Mom, your Dad, you Grandmother, iSheep, etc. Will they understand the difference? Will they even benefit from the increase in cost? (even if it’s only a few dollars, but we all know that expands exponentially).

      Does your mom understand how to move files back and forth? What will happen if she disconnects the card while something is being written and it corrupts the file? This is what you should be considering.

      If you have THAT much of a problem with the storage, get a USB OTG and a small thumbdrive and you won’t have any issues.

  • To Quote Google’s Dan Morril from 11 months ago:

    “There’s no particular hardware reason a device can’t have both. The problem is that there is no good UI for it.

    One of the core Android principles is that you never need a file manager. Ever. We wanted to avoid the obnoxious “sneeze and a file picker appears” syndrome of basically every other OS. Local data that apps know how to handle should just be magically available within the apps, or stored in the cloud. You shouldn’t have to go spelunking on your SD card to find data.

    The problem with having both internal storage and SD cards is that suddenly that goal gets a whole lot harder to achieve. For a given shot, should the camera save to internal-16GB, or to SD card? Should an app from Market be installed to internal or SD? etc.

    Yes, we can solve this by letting the user choose, or have it be in settings. But then, that’s a file picker, or close enough to the file picker experience that we dislike it just as much.

    And besides that, there are API consequences: if you stick in an SD card with photos on it, do you add those to the system media content provider? If you do, you will screw up apps because they aren’t designed with the concept that photos can come and go.

    What we will probably do eventually is add an import/export concept to removable storage. So the Camera will always save to internal-16GB, and when you pop in an SD card (or insert a thumb drive on USB host devices) you can start a migration or import/export dialog.

    But until we have that, devices will generally either have an SD card, or a large internal storage, but not both. I totally get that a lot of people like SD cards, and I miss USB Mass Storage myself. But then, that’s why it’s great that there are so many devices to choose from. 🙂

    tl;dr: it’s a can of worms. We’re thinking about compromises for future versions.”

    So, if you want expandable storage, buy a different phone, it’s as simple as that. If you want LTE, buy a different phone. Isn’t that what’s great about Android? If one phone doesn’t have the features that you like, you have the option of a thousand other Android phones to choose from.

    • joejoe5709

      Ok well he said it right there. Why not make the SD card like a separate onboard harddrive? I’d be totally fine with that.

      • Justin Swanson

        Did you miss the file picker part? You’d have to tell the OS/App where you want X stored and they want to avoid that. (Read: for the common/general user)