Back in Android’s earliest days — way, way back in the prehistoric era of 2010 and the years around it — the platform was a promising but messy piecemeal effort. It was fresh, it was packed with power and potential, and it was absolutely exciting. But it also had virtually no standards surrounding it, and it consequently felt like a mishmosh of conflicting interface styles and design patterns.

In those early days, in fact, that was a frequent criticism you’d hear from folks on the Apple side of the fence: Android was inconsistent. It was disjointed. It wasn’t, ahem, an elegant user experience.

And you know what? In many ways, they were right. Android had a lot to offer from the get-go and presented some intriguing advantages over Apple’s then especially locked-down and tightly controlled approach, but design and interface consistency were certainly not strengths of the platform at that point. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is either delusional or forgetting what, exactly, the experience of using a Gingerbread-era Android device was like. Powerful? Yup — you’d better believe it. But polished? Yeah — not so much.

That all started to change in 2012, when Google began to emphasize its first formal set of interface and design guidelines for Android — a style known as Holo. “Using system themes means developers can take advantage of a user’s existing expectations,” as Google put it at the time. Having platform-wide guidelines, the company went on to explain, would allow developers to “design an app with a single predictable look and feel.”

And boy, did that make a world of difference. The presence of design guidelines helped bring a consistent look and feel not only to Android itself but also to the apps around it — which in turn brought a much-needed sense of cohesiveness to the broader platform and made it immeasurably easier, as a user, to know what to expect. Even when you aren’t actively thinking about it, knowing that certain functions will always be in certain places and act a certain way allows you to move around your phone naturally and easily, without any ongoing thought or effort. And coming from the Wild West that Android and its apps had been up to that point, having that added sense of unity completely changed what the platform was like to use.

And Google wasn’t done yet. The unification extended even further with the launch of the Material Design standard two years later. So much progress! And yet somehow, almost seven years down the road, it feels like we’re moving back in the opposite direction.

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