Huawei's global UI design director sits down with CNET to talk about the latest version of Huawei's highly customized take on Android.
BARCELONA, Spain--"They call me the UI guy." This is Dennis Poon speaking, Huawei's global UI design director for device-maker, and the man in charge of the new Emotion UI interface that all but completely re-envisions Android on smartphones.
Sporting a textured brown blazer and collapsing comfortably onto a couch in Huawei's meeting room, it's apparent that Poon is a different breed of executive, easily cracking jokes and sharing stories as he discusses Emotion UI, the Android layer Huawei uses in its Ascend P2 and Ascend Mate.
Like the debut version shown this past summer, Emotion 1.5 is so customized, it renders Android almost unrecognizable. Gone is the Android app tray. Instead, Emotion lays out all the icons on the top level, iOS style, without you having to dig down a level to find them. "To simplify the mental model," Poon explained.
Emotion UI was Huawei's attempt to make Android 4.0 less confusing for novices who didn't always readily understand the difference between deleting a home screen shortcut and keeping the app inside.
Poon also says that the custom interface helps keep the experience cohesive. "We fixed a lot of inconsistency issues with ICS," he said, like background colors that vary in separate menus, buttons that appear in separate positions, and other little details that drive design guys crazy.
Huawei isn't the only company that sees opportunity to streamline Android for beginners. Pantech's "easy interface" gives the OS an almost feature-phonelike menu.
Yet not every aspect of the Emotion interface is as simple or as organized as it appears. The screen's top half looks like a jumble of unrelated icons and widgets. Instead, this "Me widget" is a highly customizable collection of tiles that form the entire top portion of the home screen.
In fact, you can customize the entire Emotion UI, from app folders and theme colors to widgets. The look, while personal, can get jumbled. In the 5 test phones I picked up, no two looked the same, and it took a while to find the camera app, which was sometimes hidden in folders and sometimes on the top level of apps.
Of course, if you're the one who organized the phone in the first place, you probably won't forget where you put your apps.
Poon says that Huawei is hard at work on version 2.0, which should come out in the second half of the year.
In addition to working on smartphones, Huawei envisions that the UI will become a single platform to work equally across all devices, including tablets, set top boxes, and even digital picture frames.
Poon and his team see the custom Android layer as a maw of opportunity to set themselves apart, especially in areas like eye and face recognition, and "intelligence," when a device behaves a certain way based on the situation. "No mind reading yet," Poon said. "That will come."
Sharing content will be another major theme going forward, with Poon helping shape the experience of transferring data from one device to another, devices that might even be new avenues for Huawei, or white-label products made by another manufacturer, but bearing Huawei's name.
In the end, he acknowledged, a device's stability, speed, battery life, performance, and usably are what people really care about.
"I'm not going after big wows," Poon said. "I'm going for 'ooh, that's nice.' I don't believe big wows are sustainable."
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