Thursday , August 24 2017

Google Engineer Dan Sandler explains why Android 4.4 connectivity indicators have changed

We know there have been a lot of changes in Android 4.4, and a lot of them visual. One of the more obvious changes, which you can see in the image above, is that stock Android now features white status bar icons instead of blue. You mightn’t think that this means an awful lot, and you could be forgiven for thinking so, but to understand why this change matters, you need to understand how things were.

How it used to be

Previously, in Android 4.3 and for quite a few versions before, the status bar icons were blue. Sometimes they turned grey, and many people probably didn’t really know why that was. Put simply, a blue WiFi or Mobile Data indicator showed you that your Android had connectivity to Google services (and probably, the Internet as well), and a grey indicator showed that your Android couldn’t reach Google’s services. It probably would also indicate that you couldn’t reach the Internet, either, as Google’s servers are pretty reliable.

Previously, you would also have seen little up and down arrows rendered over the top of the WiFi or Mobile Data indicators, to show that data was moving. Somewhat useful if you wanted to see what your phone was doing, but otherwise, probably not all that essential.

How it is now

In Android 4.4 KitKat, this colour changing behaviour is gone. The indicators are white, and they’re white regardless of whether your Internet connectivity is active, working, or not. According to Android engineer Dan Sandler, these white icons were chosen to present a more neutral palette that works better with apps. Equally, on a transparent status bar, white and grey icons are a lot easier to see and make out than the previous ‘holo’ blue.

To determine whether your Android has a connectivity issue, you need only swipe to the Quick Settings drop-down. Your WiFI or Mobile Data indicator will be white if everything is working normally, and a muted orange tone if there’s an issue with connectivity.

Data flow indicators have also been removed from the main status bar, and also appear in Quick Settings now. Why have they been moved? The answer is fairly logical — these data flow indicators take a noticeable amount of CPU and GPU time to render, and so moving them away from the primary status interface saves resources and allows your phone to either use less power, or offer more power to other more desirable tasks (such as running your apps or games faster).

What Dan Sandler said

On his Google+ page, Dan Sandler explained these changes in his own words, which you might like to read:

Seems like this is as good a place as any to explain the changes to the system status icon colors in KK.

1. Whiten ALL the status bar icons! 

Aesthetic concerns definitely factored into this (as has been mentioned elsewhere, a more neutral SystemUI allows apps to manage their own color palettes a bit better), but also keep in mind that with the new translucent bars feature, the color became a usability problem. Good old 33b5e5 doesn’t pop as well on top of random wallpapers, even with the background protection.

2. What about the MCS GCM indicator? 

+Liam Spradlin basically called it: “Overall, network connectivity has been made strangely more opaque in KitKat, though for many average users this isn’t a huge concern.” In fact,most users find the colors confusing, if they notice them at all. Even the vanishingly small fraction of users who understood what the gray meant only really looked for it when things weren’t working right; now you and I just have to remember to actually pop into quick settings to look for things like GCM liveness (orange is the new gray) and in/out indicators. Which brings me to…

3. B—BUT MY BLINKENLIGHTS?! 

So this (the removal of the little in/out data traffic arrows from the RSSI) was mostly a performance consideration, believe it or not. The way the data bits are bubbled up and drawn was not only causing a ton of extra rendering work, but actually forcing a layout (!) in the status bar as well. We could have more aggressively cached the bitmaps (rather than creating new BitmapDrawables from resource IDs every time, which was causing the relayout) but that would still have left all the drawing—multiple times per second in some cases—sucking away precious CPU and GPU from your game or Launcher animations or whatever. In the end it seemed like a lot of work (and battery) for what was effectively visual noise, so this too was booted to Quick Settings where it would be available for us nerds.
Dan Sandler, Google Engineer

So there you have it folks, the change from holo blue to white wasn’t just a random design change; there’s solid reasoning behind it, and Android 4.4 should be all the more efficient because of it.

 
Source: Dan Sandler -- Google Engineer.
Via: Android Police.

Scott Plowman   Associate Editor

Scott is our modding guru - he has his finger on the pulse of all things ‘moddable’, pointing us towards all the cutting edge mods hacks that are available. When he’s not gymming it up, or scanning the heck out of Nexus devices, you'll find him on the Ausdroid Podcast.

Outside of Ausdroid, Scott's a health care professional and lecturer at a well known Victorian university.

Join the Ausdroid Conversation

8 Comments on "Google Engineer Dan Sandler explains why Android 4.4 connectivity indicators have changed"

avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Jeffy
Valued Guest
Jeffy

Great idea get rid of waste. Resource draining indicators that are 100% wasteful when not being looked at.. BUT could they get my wasteful “eye” checking indicator to check if I am looking at the phone and then display the usage flow indicator etc. ?
I don’t want to press a button to see if something costly or vital is happening or not. The reasoning and explanation in this article seems flaky at the very least.

Hayden
Valued Guest
Hayden

Very useful article thank you so much

Member

🙁 A step backwards.
Hate the “It doesn’t look pretty, so we are removing the functionality” line.
And surely the little arrows didn’t eat that much battery.

Member

I take the markdowns are from people who like prettiness over functionality.

Member

what can I do to change my gnex with cm to make the status icons white? and is there any mods to allow a transparent status bar?

Greg
Valued Guest
Greg

Bluetooth is grey when not connected. Surely common sense would allow the connection status to be rendered as a greyed out WiFi or signal indicator.

Knowing that you’re connected but not accessing Google’s servers is important to working out of you need to fix something or call your ISP, mobile provider or IT department.

Fred
Valued Guest
Fred
Right, so it was better and now it’s worse because of “aesthetic concerns” and because google couldn’t manage to display an icon efficiently? Not exactly ‘solid’ reasons – except to sell google stock since apparently they can’t do what my ZX Spectrum had no hassle over, and the fashion designer who now apparently rules the roost didn’t like blue (yes, grey is *so* much more noticeable). You just know google are on the way down. If they were developing ‘pagerank’ today they’d have an arts grad arguing over whether it should be ‘0 to 10’ or ‘a to z’, or… Read more »
Harpersneil
Valued Guest
Harpersneil

I love articles like this, thank you very much. It’s nice having the intricacies (or at least what feel like intricacies to a novice like me!) explained in laymen’s terms; makes me feel more in touch with my device.

wpDiscuz

Check Also

Samsung Gear Fit 2 Pro details leaked prior to announcement

Overnight Samsung were expected to announce the new Gear Fit 2 Pro at their Unpacked …