UX Case Study of the Pixel 4 vs iPhone 8
For the past 10 years, I have had an iPhone. I've watched as it subtly changes with each new IOS and phone every September. However, I kept seeing people talk about the features their Android phones had well before Apple even thought of it. With so little innovation happening I decided to make the switch to a Pixel 4 since I heard good things about it. I've noticed a lot of differences and wanted to analyze them from a UX perspective.
Notifications - Icons
The biggest difference I have noticed is between the two notifications systems. Looking at Apple first there are a few things they do to draw the user's eye. On an app, if the user has the bubble enabled, it uses a red bubble for everything. It's a very bright red that instantly makes you notice it. The bubble is also quite big while not making the app icon hard to read. It's off to the side making it easy to still tell what app it is. Inside the bubble is a number telling you how many notifications you have from the app. For messages, this can be especially important because if you get 10 different texts something could be wrong and you would want to check it promptly. Or your friend is the type of person who sends a bunch of messages separately rather than a large chunk and its not important. The point is they let you know the number of notifications right there.
Looking at the Pixel 4, which uses the Action Launcher by default, it has an entirely different notification system design than IOS. Firstly bubbles do not stand out. They tend to be a shade of the app's icon color meaning they blend in even more. They also are a lot smaller than on IOS. Nearly half the size. It feels like the Pixel doesn't want you to notice when you have notifications. They make it blend in, small so you can't see it, and you can't tell how many notifications you have right away. If you want to know you either need to open the app or look in your Notification Center, but more on that in a bit. Perhaps they chose to be this way so its not as intrusive on the user. Some users have a lot of notifications that they don't care about and leave up for a long time and this could be who Google is targeting with this design.
Notifications - Notification Center
Yes, I just was talking about the notifications, but there's more to them. We need to look at the systems themselves to truly gain a UX perspective here rather than just the UI bubble on the app icons.
Through the years Apple has made a lot of changes to their Notification Center. The current IOS 13.5 that I'm looking at Groups your notifications according to the app. So if you're looking for a Facebook notification you just need to find the Facebook symbol. For those that have trouble with only symbols, there is also the text telling you what app it is. The App name is in a lighter grey than the actual notification to give provide more weight to the notification text. On the far right side is the time and potentially the date that the message was received. It shares a line with the app name giving the most space again to the actual notification. If you open one text message but still have a message from a different person it leaves both the bubble and the notification in the notification center. Letting you know you haven't responded yet. For some people, they might not respond to that last message and this could be very irritating to them, but others may enjoy that because they're forgetful.
The Pixel notification center isn't just for notifications it includes the tool window that Apple has in an entirely different area. This means users don't have to swipe around to change some of their settings or turn on a flashlight. They can do it right where the notifications are. That could be handy for people that frequently turn off their WIFI and don't realize it's on until they get a Snapchat from someone and it lets them see both in the same place. The notifications themselves give you some extra features that you don't see in IOS. Such as you can press a button to respond or press a button to mark it as read in the app itself. For apps such as Discord that can be handy because you don't want it to still be marked as unread on your computer but you maybe don't want to open the message fully yet. The App name is a bit smaller than it is on iPhones as is the date. However, the date is right next to the name of the app making it easier to see when you got the notification. You don't have to look at the other side of your screen.
One of the biggest downfalls of the Notification center here is the fact that they're not grouped with apps. They put them next to the other same app notifications, but they're not stacked on top of each other as IOS has them. This also means your messages are no longer organized according to when they were sent which ruins any sort of potential priority system you would follow. People generally do the first thing they see and go most recent down or they go reverse. So when you don't have a simple organization it can make things harder for people to figure out what to respond to first. The text messages also get lumped together so it's hard to see just how many messages you were sent. You can adjust the settings for an app right there which is useful. iPhones require you to go into the settings and search for the app just to change notifications which is a lot more work. It also separates silent notifications. They get put in their own area so you can see their importance. One of the other flaws with the notification system is rooted in their messages. If 2 people message you and you open 1 person's messages not even touching the other person's conversation all notifications for that message are gone. For people that need that notification to remember this is awful. Again for the people that don't want a lot of notifications it works, but that could be an extra setting. They already have many customization options for notifications. Why not just let people see that they still have a message?
When you think of iPhones you generally think of their rounded corner square apps and the 4 buttons on the home bar. You don't have a whole lot of customization with any of that. You can change the size of things overall but that's about it. Adding your own home screen and lock screen make it a bit more customized, but what else can you do? Nothing. Besides how you organize your apps that's it. Apple doesn't provide its users with many places to make the phone their own. Its clear people like to make things their own. We decorate our rooms. We put stickers on our computers, skateboards, and cars. We have moving desktop backgrounds. We want to be able to show just who we are to the world, but you can't go far with an iPhone in terms of customization.
Androids are known for customization. At least that's what I always knew of them. With the Pixel 4, the default customization options include the basic home screen and lock screen. But there's so much more. You can change your keyboard size, color, messages colors (though that is related to the keyboard color), and so much more. Accessibility wise this is great. Users can finetune the basic icons, fonts, and colors to be readable for them. You can also change the basic shape of your apps. Some of their options are a bit hard to read (I'm looking at you circle with a tail), but the User has a lot of agency here. Even the default loading system can be changed. All of what I've talked about is the Action Launcher which comes default but users can change that which has even more customization options. This is more of an Android thing that something specific to the Pixel 4, but the fact that they give Users so much choice is what makes them so popular. You're not forced into a bubble of being the same as everyone else and can make it your own. One negative aspect to all of these customization choices is people who aren't as technically savvy may not ever find these options. These customization features are then no longer accessible for a large group of people. The Pixel 4 does a good job of prompting the user to choose their customization when setting up the phone, but some of the options are unclear. To make things less confusing they could show your selections changing the actual phone UI as you select. The preview is nice, but it isn't the same as seeing something in action.
When you get a new phone one of the first things you do is swipe around. You want to see what happens when you swipe left, right, up, or down. On the iPhone 8 which is different than the larger more recent phones swiping up (finger goes bottom to top) will open the tools panel. This has various settings, some shortcuts, flashlight, and a few other aspects you can choose. Swiping down from the very top (finger goes top to bottom) will open the notification center. Here gives you the date and time in a larger font as well as the notifications. Swiping down from the middle of the page will open the search bar and your most recent apps. You can swipe to the left which will open your camera. The only way to get out of the camera will be to press the home button. If you go all the way to the left you to get your news panel. There's nothing that happens when swiping to the right. All in all its not bad. You swipe and a thing happens. Probably the most frustrating swipe for a user will be opening the camera than having to press a button to leave it. The 2 different types of swiping downs could also be harder for some people. I know with the newer iPhone X it can be a lot harder to get to the tools panel. You have to swipe down from the corner of the screen which can be confusing. It took me a while to find it and my dad who had the phone for a year at that point didn't even know it existed.
On the Pixel 4 swiping down will open the notification and tools panel. The tools panel is compressed, but with another swipe, you can expand it for more settings. There aren't multiple types of swiping down here its just the one. Swiping up shows your most recent apps, the search bar (also accessible normally on your home pages), and all apps on the phone. On Android, you can have apps installed without being on your home page. That's another handy UX feature, since some people may download an app but not use it frequently. Allowing it to be out of the way but still installed means it doesn't clutter your home pages and you still have all data for said app accessible for when you need it. Swiping right or left while not on the home screen will close an app. This can be hard to manage on some apps that require you to swipe to go to a new page in the app and you may accidentally close it instead. Swiping up while in an app will bring up all of your open apps which you can then close. You can also see your app recommendations, search bar, or go back to the home page from there. A common theme with the Pixel 4 is there generally isn't only one way to find things. Multiple menus keep the search bar active, and you have 3 ways to close an app.
I talked a lot about both the iPhone 8 and the Pixel 4 here and there are a lot more features I didn't even mention for both phones. When you look at the overall UX of these 2 phones it is apparent that the iPhone 8 is designed to tell you everything and make it as easy as possible for the user. The notifications are easily sorted, your notifications are obvious in their reminders, its harder to accidentally close apps (this may not be the case with the iPhone X and newer), and you know what options are available in terms of customization. The iPhone doesn't want you to have to think hard to do anything. The Pixel 4 is designed for people that aren't as fussy about their notifications and want the most out of their swiping features. You can easily finetune the type of notifications you want, the notification bubble blends in, and more features are shown with less swiping required. All Androids are designed for people that want the most in terms of customization. Most of what I talked about on the Pixel 4 is from the defaulted Action Launcher, but users can change what Action Launcher they want to use and each one has its own features and customization choices. Neither phone is wrong in their design, they're just designed with different intents.
I hope you enjoyed my analysis of the two phones. If you have any thoughts on their designs I'd love to hear them!