It all started out, innocently, with Facebook's chat heads — an interesting way for Facebook messages to be in your face, immediately. It was clever, unique, and (in most cases) fairly handy. But now comes Tweet Balloon (Figure A) to add more innocuous bubbles to your Android home screen.
Tweet Ballon running on a Verizon-branded HTC M8.
It's simple, efficient, and innocent... for now.
As I spent a bit of time ruminating on the idea of "bubbles," I had to wonder what the endgame is here? At the moment, it's just a fun way of interacting with two immensely popular social networking tools. If these tools gain too much popularity (and if Facebook has its way, they will), the gigantic bubble will pop and drop smaller bubbles all over the Android landscape, including bubbles for:
- Phone calls
Nothing is immune to this clever new metaphor for getting information to your eyes. The developers of the platform will all go "bubble crazy" and re-tool the current notification system. But what happens when every application developer decides to hop on the hayride and "bubblefy" their app? This is a trend that Android does not need.
It's all fine and good with Facebook's chat head concept. I don't mind Facebook chats popping up, because they're easy to get rid of. I wouldn't even mind Google Hangouts adding a bubble feature. But Twitter? No way. If I watch my Twitter feed for more than thirty seconds, I get dizzy from the faster-than-light speed at which tweets fly by. I can't imagine bubbles constantly popping up on my home screen to notify me that @fatflappingmouth just brushed her teeth with a brand new "USB smartbrush" (patent not even pending).
The idea of bubblefying the Android platform also serves to do one thing it does not need — namely, it pushes it away from the world of business. Ultimately, business needs efficiency and reliability, not quirky or cutesy. As it stands, the Android platform is a perfect amalgam of usability and customization. It's fine that third-party apps adopt the bubble idea, as long as the apps that do this aren't mission-critical for business. I don't want to gaze at my home screen to see Intuit GoPayment pop up a bubble to inform me a transaction has been made. I don't care how adorable the bubble is, because it doesn't fit the schema.
I'm certainly not against innovation and creativity. In fact, I applaud it with a standing ovation. However, I also know how app developers can glom onto an idea with the hopes of riding the train of popularity to salesville (understandably so — it's a tough market out there). First, it's Facebook, then Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+... the list goes on and on. Eventually, that trickle-down design could overtake the platform, and you end up uninstalling third-party apps en masse.
Should the bubble continue to gain popularity, I would like to see developers allow users to pin the bubbles to a single page of the home screen. That way, the user isn't inundated with those adorable little round bubbles popping up everywhere.
And, finally, should advertisers decide the bubble metaphor is a perfect way of transmitting their spam to users home screen, it'll be over. When that happens, we'll be searching for anti-malware solutions to prevent "bubble up" advertising.
Again, I will say that I'm not against Facebook chat heads — or even apps like Twitter Balloon. My fear is that this idea will percolate into areas that it doesn't belong, which could knock Android back a few development cycles.
What do you think? Should Android developers and users be concerned about the bubble architecture making its way through the entirety of the platform? Or is this a fad that will fade away like the meme of the day? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.