We’re big fans of tablets, but most of the Android slates we’ve seen haven’t really differentiated themselves for the way they looked on a software level. While Google has evolved the Android platform on phones, it still doesn’t feel amazing on tablets, but at least one developer is working on a solution.
Originally starting as a Kickstarter project, Chameleon is a home screen replacement for Android on tablets, attempting to make the main screen you look at much more functional than what it normally is.
This sort of technology is actually fairly common on Android, but only on the smartphone version, where it’s possible to take any Android handset – be it one you spent $99 on or $999 – and change it to look like something else, say a Windows Phone 7 device, iPhone clone, or just a different experience altogether.
Designed as a larger version of its smartphone-brother, Google’s stock Android home screen – which few manufacturers seem to customise on tablets – is pretty much designed for program shortcuts and widgets only, and generally doesn’t look as informative or functional as one might.
When you pick up a tablet, it’s possible that you might want it to be like a beacon from the future, showing you the information you want on the go – such as emails, weather, a clock, and social networking feeds – in one screen.
Chameleon Launcher aims to do all of this, pushing the information you need in special widgets that you can throw on the screen in a design you want. You can change the sizes of widgets, potentially showing more information, and there are “conditions” that make the main home screen change.
For instance, we have our basic home screen for all times of the day, but then we can also tell Chameleon that when we wake up, our home screen should show just weather and emails, which it can do. At night on Mondays when we’re in the mood for a bit of current events, we can tell Chameleon to change home scenes at 9.30pm, and our special home screen made for ABC’s Q&A programme can come up automatically.
Chameleon is a reasonably playful home screen concept that allows you to make all of this happen. Programmed in HTML5, it’s been designed to take a specific set of widgets made for the app, which can be resized and reordered based on how you want to display the information.
Screens can be made for different purposes, such as home and work, and automatically triggered based on wireless networks you’re connecting to, times of the day, and even GPS locations, or you can just swipe across the screen to get to another one, switching manually.
Your information shows upon the screen in a fairly clean way, with news feeds, emails, tweets, Facebook updates, the weather, a clock, YouTube, and Instagram all catered for, with calendar info and music controls coming soon. Applications outside of the screen can still be loaded through a menu, with an icon at the bottom allowing you to search through your apps in an easy left-to-right scrolling manner.
The Chameleon system is pretty new, and as such, still has its share of bugs here and there, with screens sometimes refusing to refresh or change orientation. Still, it’s a good sign of where Android’s tablet home screen needs to head to be more functional.
We’ve even tested it with tablets ranging in size from seven inches all the way to 13, and it’s still a usable concept, making good use of lots of screen real estate, showing lots of information in an organised manner and making it possible to have a clean desktop on a tablet.
It’s not for everyone yet, but if you have an Android tablet and are interested in seeing how the home screen can be better handled, it’s an easy $10 buy on Google’s Play Store, which should improve with time.