I have been more of a fan of Google's UI standards lately. Their updates to maps and gmail in recent years have been simple and generally quite nice. I actually like their Roboto as a typeface for applications (so much so that I updated the new WorldCat discovery UI system font to it a few months ago). It has universality with just a bit of personality and has clearly distinguishable weights at most sizes. It also has a slightly narrower character width compared to Helvetica. It goes without saying that it's way better than Windows 8's Segoe.
Yesterday, Google announced that they are moving all their various UIs to a system called Material Design. On first look, this seems to be a great step forward for them. Even though Google's web UIs have improved over the years, Android tends to look techie and and just a little bit off. They seem to be saying the right things too. The stated goal of Material Design is to:
For fun, here's a quick comparison of the calendars on Windows 8, OS X Yosemite, and Material Design (or Chrome/Android I guess?).
You might say that this is a bad comparison because Apple's calendar design has been mocked for some time now and has improved only slightly in the last several years. Regardless, the calendar app in each of the OSs offer a slice of the broader UI style. Looking at the three together, Microsoft is still the clear loser (sorry MS, you've come a long way but you still look corporate-boring and tend to be confusing). With the other two, it's becoming much harder to say that Apple is the clear design leader. Apple still has its air of simple sophistication but, compared to Material, it starts to get a slight feeling of chilly Swiss-ness. Don't misunderstand, I think the iOS7 era design is very good. Google has just shown us that we can have simplicity and clarity while still having a little personality and (maybe some fun). The red (+) in the Google app is a great example of simple design that is very intuitive (compared to Apple's simple but buried + button...and who knows what the hell Windows is doing).
Google notoriously don't understand people (anyone remember this or this or seen one of these guys in person). So it's surprising to see them outshine Apple in making an approachable, friendly UI system. Maybe they finally get it. It would be nice for Apple to finally have some real competition in the UI space.