Android Bolsters Design Standards By Requiring ‘Holo’ Theme in Newer Devices

Addressing developer frustrations around fragmentation, Android is supporting more of a uniform design standard by requiring that device makers include the platform’s “Holo” theme in phones and tablets going forward.

That means that compatible phones or tablets carrying Ice Cream Sandwich (or Android 4.0) and up will have to at least make the “Holo” theme available. That should make it easier for developers to offer a more consistent look and feel across different phones.

“These changes let you spend more time on your design and less time worrying about what will be different from one device to another,” wrote Adam Powell, an Android framework engineer, in a blog post. “Finally, Android’s resource system allows you to support features from the latest platform version while offering graceful fallback on older devices.”

Shaped by design lead Matias Duarte, ‘Holo’ was introduced last year with the first tablet-focused version of Android, called Honeycomb. It then went onto include a brand new font called ‘Roboto’ when Ice Cream Sandwich was introduced. If developers want to use the ‘Holo’ theme for their apps, they can request it from their manifest (by using android:theme=”@android:style/Theme.Holo”).

At the same time, Google has to walk a delicate line with Android. Even though it may want to push a single design standard forward in the interest of making life easier for developers, the company also needs to protect the freedom of device maker and carrier partners to modify the OS so they can stand out against the competition.

So device makers like Motorola (which Google agreed to buy for up to $12.5 billion) can still offer variations like Motoblur with their own special designs. If developers want to resort to the device’s unique theme, they can call ‘DeviceDefault’ in Ice Cream Sandwich’s API. For older apps, Ice Cream Sandwich will also automatically identify a default theme based on the version of the OS.