Google Snags Palm WebOS Director to Boost Android UX

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-05-27

Google scored a coup by hiring away Matias Duarte from Palm to improve the user experience for smartphones, tablets and other devices based on Google's Android operating system.

AllThingsDigital May 27 broke the news, noting that Duarte led the development of Palm's WebOS user interface as the company's senior director of human interface and user experience. That's how Duarte is listed on his LinkedIn profile as of this writing.

Google confirmed the hire, telling eWEEK Duarte is now the user experience director for Android, but declined to provide more information.

This is a big deal for Google, which has struggled to match the intuitive user experience of Apple's popular iPhone despite regularly pumping out new versions and features for its operating system.

Android currently powers some 60 devices, from smartphones to tablets to set-top boxes. The OS will serve as Google's ambitious Google TV effort to marry Web and channel surfing this fall. But the OS is lacking some of the finer points users of the iPhone have come to appreciate.

For example, the virtual keyboard on Android smartphones for the current Android 2.1 version and even the soon-to-be rolled out fresh Android 2.2 version is a little narrow for most users' comfort.

Conversely, the Palm WebOS UI is largely considered the most gorgeous of its kind, thanks largely to Duarte. Engadget noted in its June 2009 review of the WebOS-based Palm Pre:

"Simply put, webOS is absolutely gorgeous. As far as phones go, it's not just the only device we've seen which competes with the iPhone for looks, but we'd go as far to say that it bests the iPhone in some categories."

While Palm Pre failed in a market dominated by the iPhone and multiple Android phones, there's no denying the device was a winner among techies. Google obviously wants the master designer to work his magic on Android.

The biggest loser here is HP, which acquired Palm with high hopes to expand the WebOS to everything from printers to tablet computers, enabling HP to grab a chunk of a market Apple is enjoying with its iPad and one Google hopes to munch on with Android.

Instead of helping HP with its tablet plans, Duarte will be helping Google push Android onto tablets and well beyond 60 devices into the future.

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