Over the years, Android has had a rough time with app design. As the platform of freedom, developers were left to fend for themselves to design a UI consistent in a sea of inconsistency. Apple had, and still has, a very strict set of UI guidelines and review processes in place to make sure everything on it’s store acted and looks as users would expect. Two years ago, when Honeycomb launched, Google also introduced Android’s new style, Holo, and later with Ice Cream Sandwich, design guidelines for application designers and developers to adhere to. Today, Android’s Holo theme is on over half of the devices out there, but what do you do to support everyone?
One of the main components of the Holo theme is the Action Bar. The Action Bar has many components and users are starting to expect it in their applications, but it’s not available before Honeycomb. This is where ActionBarSherlock comes in. It is a compatibility library by Jake Wharton which brings the Action Bar all the way back to Froyo. It’s almost a drop in replacement, with only a few API differences and small tweaks to your styles. But Holo isn’t just including the Action Bar, it’s also how all of the buttons, lists, and other widgets appear. This is where the HoloEverwhere library comes in; it provides you with all of the holo widget themes for use back to Froyo.
Now that we have a base Holo application, what if we want to theme it? Well, there are two tools available for that, both are featured in the Android Asset Studio. One is the Android Action Bar Style Generator. It allows you to pick colors for the Action Bar components and it generates resource files for you. You can even have it generate themes using ActionBarSherlock as a base!
The other tool is Holo Colors, which allows you to choose a base theme and a color. It will then generate colored widget resources to include in your application. For most of the applications at Myriad, we use ActionBarSherlock as a base, on top of which sits Holo Colors resources for any colored components, and finally on top of that are the Action Bar Style Generator resources.
Ok, so why do we go through all of this work? It shows that you care. I challenge you to find a popular application that doesn’t use aspects of Holo backwards compatible to Froyo. This sets a precedent for you to match, because users who still have a Gingerbread or Froyo device will notice exactly how much you care about them. And on the other end, if you don’t use Holo at all, that is 60% of user who won’t even think about downloading your app since it looks like it was made 2 years ago, which is a millennium in the mobile app industry. It doesn’t take too long to implement these libraries, maybe a full workday your first time through, but the reward for you and your users should easily makeup the difference.