GOOGLE'S HOLDBACK: The Unseen Struggle for Bottom Toolbars in Apps

Google, with all its cloud computing and artificial intelligence might, is lagging on one glaringly simple aspect of technology and user interface design. When using the search engine company’s flagship apps, it may seem quite mundane, but when you think about it, it’s actually glaringly apparent but deeply impactful. The lack of bottom toolbars in Google’s apps truly makes a difference in user experience, especially if you’re using a device such as the Pixel, where not having bottom toolbars means doing a dangerous thumb stretch. Why not, Google? Why not?

The Necessity of Bottom Toolbars for Enhanced Usability

The Ergonomic Case for Bottom Toolbars

The rationale behind bottom toolbars for mobile apps is simple yet powerful: it’s about ergonomics and accessibility. Users usually hold their phone with one hand, and use their thumb to tap and swipe. That thumb can reach only about 40 per cent of the screen – which is to say the bottom of the screen. If you design bottom toolbars, they can become an obvious way to make your app more useable. It makes the app more accessible, especially for people who might have accessibility needs or might be limited in their ability to hold their phone because their other hand is full.

The Appeal of Bottom Navigation in Competitor Apps

In a bizarre twist that speaks volumes about privacy, Google itself has dragged its heels while other browsers such as Firefox, as well as mobile apps on its Android platform, have adopted bottom navigation, which is faster and safer as well as more compatible with the natural grip. One can’t help but suspect a failure of nerve in Google’s own app design ethos here.

GOOGLE'S Historical Design Inconsistencies

Instead it’s a design approach characterised by diversity and inconsistency – think of the icon redesigns of 2020, the occasional facelifts of Google Drive, Google’s Calendar app that still looks like it hasn’t received a single update since 2009, or even the persistent sidebar that some of its apps still use, despite years of backlash and calls for consumers to return to older apps with the bottom toolbar. The incongruity of this approach shines through when considering that, of all the elements in the long list of changes Google makes to its suite of services all the time, it singularly holds on to the old navigation model for as long as it does. What explains this reluctance? What could explain why Google still hasn’t deployed what, on the face of it, looks to be a demonstrably better model of navigating apps?

The Paradox: Advanced in AI, Lagging in User Experience

So why hasn’t Google ever followed Apple’s lead and introduced bottom toolbars on Chrome? It’s hard to understand. Sure, the company might have its reasons, such as inertia, legacy code issues, or shifting priorities away from improving core web features (in favour of things like AI). However, if a bottom toolbar really was better for users ergonomically, it shouldn’t matter that other tech giants successfully pioneered the idea. When considering how popular web functions work on other platforms, we come close to the ideal of evaluating a feature on its own merits, without political or economic considerations muddying the waters. Sadly, things never really work out like that.

Forecast: Will GOOGLE Adapt or Stay the Course?

Despite the company’s current position, Google’s history of innovation suggests it might still readapt. The more urgent question is whether it will respond to this growing demand for more effective one-handed use – or instead focus on other areas, risking alienating users who prefer practical, ergonomic design improvements that make their lives slightly more sane (if also more predictable) to new AI-powered features.

Understanding GOOGLE'S Broader Mission

As a Google company rooted in the web, its pivot to AI might explain why it prefers to focus on more transformative interactions instead of basic UI/UX improvements. But if Google is going to continue to reinvent itself, it shouldn’t discount the power of usability principles that make the everyday user experience work well.

To wrap up, Google’s app policies present a surprising oversight from a company so strong in innovation. Not only do these design decisions hurt user experience but they also show broader themes of inconsistency and change within Google. As changes continue to hit the tech world, let’s hope Google rethinks its approach and places more emphasis on integrating bottom toolbars and other user-friendly features if they wish to remain a key player in the tech world.

Jun 17, 2024
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