Google Fights Microsoft With New Android Branding

Along with a tweak in the application design guidelines, Google has updated its own applications for Android with a subtle graphical tweak to remind users just who the driving force behind the ecosystem actually is. Not only are splash screens now an acceptable part of Android design, Google is making immediate use of them in a defensive move against other cloud providers such as Microsoft.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (image: Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is challenging Google in the cloud (image: Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

Opening the latest updates to its apps will result in a white screen and an oversized icon to be shown, along with the familiar Google corporate logo (reports Tom Maxwell). The changes are rolling out across the platform now through the automatic app updates through the Play Store, with the productivity apps of Google Docs and Google Sheets some of the earliest apps to show the Google emblazoned splash screen.

Previous versions of Android discouraged this practice, and there’s no technical reason why they should be brought back now in terms of the time required to open an application on an Android device. It’s always been in the best interests of a developer to have an app open as quickly as possible, and resorting to a splash screen to cover a few seconds of background action was always a rather quick sticking plaster over a complicated subject.

So why bring them in now, and especially why bring them in to Google’s own apps? I think the answer is branding and mind share. Mountain View is taking a defensive posture around the impact of a resurgent Microsoft.

Google splash screen branding in Sheets (image: Ewan Spence)

Google splash screen branding in Sheets (image: Ewan Spence)

Splash screens can be a useful tool to remind users of pertinent details around an application. A larger icon in the same style of that in the app launcher is a notable confirmation of the application that you have opened. The only other bit of information in Google’s new splash screens is the Google name.

Google already exerts a significant amount of control over the look and feel of Android handsets that sign up for Google Play certification, such as the placement of a Google search box, where applications and widgets can be found, and visible Android branding when handsets are booted. Apparently the teams at Mountain View want a few more opportunities to remind users that the handset they have is focused around Google, and are sneaking this one through the system via an app update rather than something lower down the software stack in the firmware.

Google even promotes this use in the Material design guidelines (with my emphasis added):

Branded launch screens are a good way to portray a brand while the app is loading. Take advantage of the loading time to display your logo or other elements that improve brand recognition. Avoid using text on this screen except your logo and, if applicable, a tagline.

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This isn’t about the market share of Android – that’s pretty much a given, with only Apple’s iPhone a getting anywhere close to the numbers of Google. For me this is about the battle to be the cloud service provider that is uppermost in the consumer’s mind. Cloud storage companies such as DropBox are on the rise, and with extra services including photo and data backup can be seen as a commercial threat to Google.

Microsoft’s renewed focus on the cloud has led to it releasing software on Android and iOS that makes use of its own cloud services. Last week’s release of Office for Android smartphones increased the pressure from Microsoft on the competition. A reminder that Google is behind many of the popular acts on an Android smartphone builds affinity and association between the user and Mountain View. That the  apps involved are in direct competition with Microsoft’s Office and Outlook based applications is not an accident.

(Now read how Microsoft is demoting its Lumia hardware in favour of the cloud).

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