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Comment: Round & Adaptive icons mark the sad end of distinct icon designs in Android

Be together. Not the same” remains a fairly fitting tagline for Android as it aptly describes the diversity found in the hardware and software experiences for Google’s mobile operating system. The statement also perfectly describes distinct parts of Android today, including the new Adaptive Icons found in 8.0.

With the new 8.0 feature, it’s easier than ever for icons to be displayed in a “variety of shapes across different device models.” While a win for customizability and (to some extent) uniformity, it is far from an excuse to lazily drop your existing icon into a circle…

The latest app to draw ire for this offense is Amazon’s Kindle app. In an update yesterday, the app on a Google Pixel running Android 8.0 places its old icon into a round circle. The company didn’t even bother to drop the 3D-bezel from the Ice Cream Sandwich era.

Then again, Google is also remarkably guilty of this offense when they placed many of their apps, especially the Play Store family, into a round circle. The move was particularly egregious as those apps already had a distinctive triangular shape that appropriately fit the brand quite well.

Adaptive Icons are likely born out of how major OEMs like Samsung already place icons in squircle-shaped containers. Rather than providing varying solutions, Google opted to do the background work to deliver a more consistent experience for end users.

F for “F-fort”, Amazon

However, while technically fitting the “Be together. Not the same” tagline it greatly diminishes the variety to four set shapes. While it is the solution that scales the best, it utterly removes the distinctness of certain logos. In fact, it greatly reminds me of all of Google’s apps on iOS.

Take Slack for example, the communication wunderkind has a very iconic logo and until recently used that directly as their app icon. Now, the company adopted a round icon on all devices that incorporated its older shape, but is less distinctive and stands out less on a homescreen.

The Google AdSense icon is another example of a brand that has a genuinely distinct shape for its logo. It would be a great shame for it to be shrunken down — and therefore loss detail — so that it can be placed in a circle. Or take Google Photos. I fiercely love that distinct, pin wheel icon, but when in a circle, less so.

I can see that Adaptive Icons are really a solution to a problem born out of OEM customization, but it’s clear the direction in which Google is encouraging app icon design to move. And while developers always have the option to buck it, I will regret the death of unique icon shapes on a very unique platform.

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Avatar for Abner Li Abner Li

Editor-in-chief. Interested in the minutiae of Google and Alphabet. Tips/talk: