Aviate Makes Using Your Android Phone Way Less Irritating

Unless you're a tech dork, organizing and searching your apps is a pain. Aviate does it for you.

Natural user interfaces like Siri and Google Now aim to "disappear" by understanding you perfectly or anticipating your technology needs before you have them. I don't trust them. You know who already understands me perfectly and anticipates my technology needs? Me. Not a "digital assistant" who can never spell my wife's name right. Still, wouldn't it be nice to have a phone that is, if not as smart as a human, perhaps as smart as a dog who knows to bring your slippers in the morning when you wake up? That's the promise of Aviate, an Android app that watches your app-usage patterns, and displays only the apps that you're likely to want in common situations.

Aviate takes over your (probably horrendously cluttered) Android phone and auto-organizes it for you--no more sorting and searching apps. But its most interesting feature is "Spaces": It's a little bar at the top of your phone homescreen that senses when and where you are (for example, at work or at a restaurant) and surfaces the handful of apps that you're likely to be interested in. If Google Now comes off like a benevolent (but sometimes creepy) HAL 9000, Aviate seems more like that family dog. It's lightweight, attentive, and what it sometimes lacks in "intelligence" it makes up for in good behavior.

Mark Daiss, Aviate's co-founder, is refreshingly open about this. "Aviate can and will get your context wrong at times. In addition, users sometimes just don't want 'contextual information,'" he tells Co.Design. In earlier iterations of Aviate, the app strained too far to be too smart--and inevitably failed, which left users more annoyed than they were before they agreed to let an app "help" them. "What we learned in the process is two things," Daiss says. "First, oftentimes users just want to get to apps they already know they want, like Gmail and Facebook. The second is that, if Aviate was wrong, it was really, really obnoxious to users because it was taking up 50% to 90% of their homescreens."

The solution: Scale back and aim for base hits rather than home runs. Aviate's team shrunk "Spaces" into a thin strip at the top of the screen, which meant that the amount of "contextual info" it served up was limited, "and if it's wrong or users don't want to engage with it, they can simply ignore it," he says. But if it's right, "the user can take an incredibly easy gesture--swiping down--to get to that information quickly if they so choose."

Technology that overpromises and underdelivers--i.e., most "intelligent" or "natural" UIs--bugs people because they learn that they can't trust it. But if the design sets expectations appropriately, it creates space for us to forgive technology's mistakes while appreciating its successes. You wouldn't expect Fido to plan your schedule for the day, but it sure is nice to have your slippers delivered to you when you roll out of bed. If Aviate can deliver the Android equivalent of that experience, it'll feel like man's (and woman's) best friend. Which is way better than a solicitous but stupid assistant.

[Read more about Aviate.]

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8 Comments

  • Libnys

    Hi all, installed this app a week back and waiting ..... Can any one send an invitation to libnykattapuram@gmail.com ? Thanks in advance...

  • Roxanne Arballo

    John, using aviate, my only problem is that my volume up/ down won't change. it stays on silent! does it go to silent when my alarm is set and on?
    please help with this and my Samsung galaxy 3s.
    is the aviate intended for more saavy computer users?

    thanks, Roxanne in San Diego, CA.

  • Will

    You clearly don't use Android. What cluttered screens? You know you can have the top 5 apps you use on the home screen and that's it.

    I tried Aviate and it's an unoriginal piece of trash.

  • 21tigermike

    Presumably this 'theme' or 'skin' (like all the skins that came before) will kill battery life, yes? Android 4.4 is pretty damn good, btw, you shouldn't really need an app like this.

  • Darren Jackson

    I'm appalled at the blatant non-objective reporting and hasty generalizations of "android phones." Not to mention the lack of understanding of what Google Now actually does while you're dismissing the function altogether. I expect more from Fast Company and I'm sure how such an erroneous and emotionally subjective article made it to the web past your editors. Shameful actually. Aviate is amazing, can be very helpful and if anything shows the true power of android: the sheer customization and personal affections one could change with launchers and new UIs. That's why Android (which you're touting weak assumptions about) is the reason Aviate exists...because it's so expansive it can't summarized like you are trying to do. Pitting it against stock Android makes absolutely no sense. Also, Google Now is not the same as Siri and is definitely not the same as what Aviate promises. False comparisons.

    This writer should maybe stick to science, tech and design and leave the actual reporting to credible journalists.

  • Darren Jackson

    Maybe the very last sentence is a bit much, but the rest of my comment is a pretty valid perception of this article.