Path For Android: Minor UI Analysis

While developing a mobile application, it’s very common to discuss how other apps solve problems that your app has or will encounter. Recently, one of the example apps that was discussed was Path. You’ve probably heard of it since it has recently seen a lot of press for uploading users’ address books on iOS without permission, but if you’ve somehow managed to not hear of it, you can think of it as a simple, social journal. Since I wasn’t familiar with the app, I downloaded it on my Galaxy Nexus and gave it a try.

I was surprised at how unintuitive I found the UI to be.

It’s pretty clear that it’s heavily inspired by iOS design, which often lowers the quality of Android apps (not because the iOS design is bad but because it breaks user-expected conventions), but there were also several general UI/UX problems.

I played around with the app a bit and finally decided to set a profile image. If you look at this first screenshot, you can see how the profile image is vital to understanding each “cell” of data since user’s names do not appear–you can’t tell whom any of the updates belong to without the profile image. So I pressed the big, circular profile image. And I went from the screen on the left to the screen on the right:

Since I hadn’t yet added any friends, it was unclear what the difference between these screens was. The UI was a bit different, but why was the picture so much bigger with identical content? It only took a couple of seconds to realize that this was the page for me, specifically, but that was needless user confusion. Okay, so clicking on my generic profile image takes me to this page. What happens when I press it again? I get a dialog to either take a photo or pick one from the gallery, so I take a quick shot and end up with this:

Yikes! That’s not what I intended. Apparently tapping on the profile image lets you change your “cover” image. To be fair, it did say “Set Cover” when choosing either to take a photo or choose from the gallery, but that isn’t much context and most users don’t read the dialog title, especially when they have a pre-conception of what it should be for (which appears to be confirmed by the dialog’s content). Okay, okay, I guess I have to go into settings to change it.

Yuck, the menu screen is ugly and there’s no reason for it to be a separate screen. I’d argue that it should be just an overflow menu, which would mean it should be at the top right to follow convention. That would make it faster and consistent with other apps. It looks like they’ve kept this bit of UI from their iPhone app, where the menu button in the top left appears to be a convention that’s dropped down from iPad and is employed in other apps such as Facebook; however, Facebook is the only other Android example I found of this, and it behaves differently from Path. And did I mention this menu screen has chevrons on it that shouldn’t be included on Android apps?

Anyway, I get distracted and go into “Activity” because I have no idea what that is. Here’s what I see:

Uh… okay. Never have a blank UI. If you don’t have content, explain why you don’t have content so the user will know what will go there and how to make it happen. At least I am able to count on the Android back button being consistent. I go back to the menu screen and go to settings. Suddenly, I’m using an iOS device:

To be fair, the only thing really wrong with this screen from a standalone UI standpoint is the whitespace around the section headings is even on the top and bottom; it should have less spacing on the bottom to associate the headings with the content. This screen looks pretty nice, but it’s a slightly modified version of a typical iOS settings screen; in other words, it doesn’t belong on Android. Why not use the convention for Android settings screens? It’s more familiar to the users and it takes less time for the developer.

Eventually, I got both my “cover” photo and my profile image set and things looked a lot better:

It all looks pretty good, except that you can tap the smiley face on an entry that’s near the bottom of the screen and can’t interact with the resulting menu. It also appears that the smiley face button is lighter when included in a thought bubble than when next to a status update.

The custom “add” menu at the bottom left of the main page is pretty nice, but the individual buttons are a bit small and pressing back after opening it closes the app rather than dismissing the menu.

Overall, it’s a nice app, but it brings too much of its iOS side to Android without good reason. Of all these issues, the biggest flaw is really that the most intuitive way of setting your profile image does not work, and that’s a major problem when your UI depends on everyone having a custom profile image.

About Ian G. Clifton

Ian currently works as a Senior Software Developer at Vulcan, Inc. in Seattle, WA. Previously, he has worked as a Director of User Experience, Android developer, web developer, and even a Satellite, Wideband, and Telemetry Systems Journeyman in the United States Air Force. He created the Essentials of Android Application Development LiveLessons video series and wrote Android User Interface Design: Turning Ideas and Sketches into Beautifully Designed Apps. He spends his off time on photography, drawing, developing, and doing technical review for other Android developers, and woodworking. You can follow his posts on this blog or his ramblings on Twitter.
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