Sunday Debate: Light-weight vs. Fully Featured Software
Join us in a fun Sunday Debate on software UX. Come with your opinions and feel free to read some of our thoughts, then pick your side or play devil’s advocate to get your voice heard and engage in friendly discussion. You can read our food-for-thought or jump straight into the fray below!
Android offers so many different software alternatives to sate almost any user. The Playstore has matured throughout the years, and it is likely that you’ll find plenty of alternatives for whatever application you desire. When it comes to ROMs, be them from official firmware of OEMs or custom ROMs from XDA, there’s also plenty of alternatives. In both applications and ROMs, there is usually a spectrum where functionality & features are on one side, and design & UX are on the other. This is not always the case, but most of the time you’ll find very simple applications or ROMs with minimal designs that do just what you need them to do, or kitchen-sink approaches to software that cram in as many useful features as possible.
Both types of software have their pros and cons, and this is seen in the followings that certain ROMs have. It is no secret that a lot of people love AOSP ROMs with basic modifications, or that try to stay as light as possible like slim ROMs. It seems that these users make the majority of Android enthusiasts, but there’s still hardcore Android users who appreciate the useful and sometimes invaluable features of ROMs like TouchWiz or apps like Titanium Backup. There doesn’t have to be a trade-off, but a lot of features are naturally hard to cram in a good design, and development time and costs for new features or optimization usually weigh into the matter as well.
What approach do you think makes for a better user experience, and where would you place your ideal software in the spectrum for both apps and ROMs? Here are some of our arguments in favor and against both, but feel free to jump straight to the comments and discuss if you already made up your mind!
Design & UX Focused / Light-weight
When it comes to apps, a good design with simple navigation and blazing performance can make your life much easier. Things like texting are done intermittently, and thus pulling out your phone to send a short IM greatly benefits from these aspects. The same applies to music players or e-mail clients, but it doesn’t stop there: nearly every app you are bound to use frequently will benefit from good performance and design. The two-tap rule, for example, emphasizes fast navigation that allows you to do what you are there to do 98% in a couple of taps. You can see a lot of this in Google’s Material Design and their Floating Action Button, which for the most part makes sending a new e-mail very intuitive and speedy.
In terms of ROMs, us enthusiasts always want to get the best out of our system. Slim ROMs without bloat or useless features sitting in memory or taking up space can allow for some of the fastest experiences on Android. Moreover, many custom ROMs barely weigh anything when compared to OEM ROMs, and it is usually those with emphasis on performance and useful design choices that gain mass appeal. Those that offer consciously practical and easy-to-use features that you might use a lot (but aren’t necessarily invaluable) see a lot of positive feedback, and now things like gestures have become common place. Ultimately, light ROMs with an emphasis on efficient user experiences are almost guaranteed to be a proper alternative for any user – and that versatility and reach gives them tremendous appeal.
Fully Featured / Heavy-weight
Applications can sometimes be overburdened with functions and features to the point where using them might become confusing. The more features you’ve got, the more menus and settings you’ve got to (usually) cram in – which means that user-experience centric aspects of software such as navigation can take a toll. If done correctly, however, swiss-army-knife applications can serve as a one-stop solution to many different problems. This approach benefits certain types of apps more than others: calculators, for example, might have all sorts of conversion or graphing features as well as several types of input. They can become as confusing as the high-end physical calculators… until you get the hang of them. While fully-featured applications can suffer for confusing or poor design, the learning curve increasingly leads to familiarization that makes the experience more efficient each time.
When it comes to ROMs, I personally see great options in UIs like TouchWiz. For productivity-focused individuals, the multi-window functionality can prove invaluable and with time, the design behind Samsung’s solution has improved dramatically to the point where summoning new windows is intuitive. Other aspects like voice-controlled alarm snoozing or music playback are very situational, but very sweet. The UIs themselves can be heavy handed, but the trade-off can be rather enticing to users that know they would make the best out of the offerings. In the past, heavy-handed UIs were performance-hogs; luckily we have extremely powerful processors coupled with increasingly optimized Android versions, and each year it is easier for OEMs and developers to get around the clunkiness. When it comes to design, though, we see OEMs removing features as they sometimes are too hard to implement in a good or consistent design. For these reasons we see a lot of hate for ROMs like TouchWiz, and the fans of such UIs are usually those that want productivity features.
On one hand, slim and fast software with thoughtful design can greatly optimize a user-experience, as well as diminish the possible confusion that may arise in its operation. On the other hand, fully featured software (while sometimes crowded and confusion) can offer everything you need without the need to search for alternative solutions, and it can all be integrated neatly to provide very practical functionality.
It is more of a spectrum than a dichotomy, though, and it doesn’t always have to be one-sided either. That being said, we’d love to hear some of your thoughts on what is the best distribution of design, features and weight.