The new Android 13 themed icons want to give your home screen a more consistent look. Instead of letting all apps display with their colorful icons, the new optional mode for Google Pixels and the other best android phones creates a monochrome look that is supposed to give you a consistent home screen. As beautiful as it can look when all your favorite apps support it, there are still a lot of issues with themed icons. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
To understand what’s going on, we first need to look at the history of theme icons, starting with the so-called icon packs. These are essentially apps that contain custom icons for as many apps as possible on your phone. Often they can only be applied when you use a custom launcher, which replaces the original home screen on your Android phone. However, some phones come with home screens that can work with custom icons. Pixel Launcher is not one of them.
Google tried to fix this problem with android 12. Here, the company first introduced a collection of custom monochrome icons for its own apps on Pixel phones. Unlike icon packs, which allow endless customization options and hundreds of different styles to choose from, Google icons are tailor-made for the company’s new visual language. material you.
The Material You theme engine analyzes the dominant colors of your wallpaper and assembles an appropriate theme based on it, immersing your app interfaces in that color palette. It’s a constant reminder of what wallpaper you’ve set, and it’s supposed to give your phone a personal touch without you having to get knee-deep in theming everything yourself.
Theme icons, then, are based on the same engine and just offer a look that makes them fit into your wallpaper. All the icons come in the same color, and you can only tell them apart by the different logos and shapes on them, as well as the names labeled.
When you only rely on Google apps or go out of your way to add only Google apps to your default home page, it creates a beautiful look that matches your Google-issued wallpaper and widgets. Google thought of this system later android 13. The company made it possible for third-party developers to add their theme icons using a standardized API. This could pave the way for easily customizable home screens, but that still doesn’t solve my biggest problems with the system Google has decided on.
No themed icons makes it much easier to spot which is which.
My problem with theme icons is that they are too small and too much. For those who want to theme their devices, the option to only use wallpaper-based colors for the icons and still have to use what the app developers provide could be a turn off. Many people who like the theme also rely on third-party launchers and third-party icon packs, making them a different target audience than what Google has in mind.
Then there are the people who just want their phones to work. They’re happy enough using their device out-of-the-box that they wouldn’t think about changing settings like always-on display, quick-toggle order, sounds, or security options, let alone turning on themed icons. At best, people might be interested in changing the color of the interface that is pulled from their wallpaper, which can be done with 16 theme options in Android 13.
Themed icons, as they exist at the moment, would probably come across as an unnoticeable mess to these people, who, I’d say, are the majority of smartphone users. Why are some of the icons based on wallpaper colors and others not? Why would I change the way I use my home screen just to make it look prettier with icons I can’t tell apart? Google apps are hard enough to tell apart because they all use the same colors, and themed icons don’t make things any easier.
This leaves only a small target audience for themed icons: those people who love the Material You theme and want it to extend to every app they use on their phone (and yes, I’m part of that group).
It’s nice that Google offers this fan service for those who love the design the company created, but Google is also forcing other app developers to participate in it. Otherwise, Google fans are left with messy and sketchy home screens, making them want to stop using themed icons sooner or later. And that would also hurt further adoption, as developers would have even less incentive to create their own monochrome icons, no matter how easy they are to make.
Compare this to the image at the top of the article!
Things would probably be a lot easier if Google automatically created themed icons for all third-party apps. I think this would be pretty easy to accomplish. All apps need high resolution assets for their notification shade icons. Better, these have to be monochrome by design. Why wouldn’t Google take advantage of that resource and use these icons to quickly have 100% support?
Sure, you may have to get used to app icons looking slightly different that way, as many apps don’t 100% match their app icons with their notification icons. Still, people will know what apps these are. After all, people see these icons in their notification shades all the time.
Instead, Google chose to go down a long and winding road that may or may not end with 100% support, leading users to other solutions and thus further hurting the adoption of theme icons.
But who knows, maybe we’ll do it as a Android 14 Featureor maybe it won’t come until the Android 15 update in 2024. After all, Google also forced its customizable icons on developers after allowing them to use their old icons for a long time by simply putting existing icons into rounded shapes on Pixel phones (and other shapes on other phones). I, for one, can’t wait for Google to do this with themed icons. As fast as developers are adopting themed icons right now, I’m not sure this momentum will sustain, and I’d love to have a consistent home screen, no matter how difficult the situation is for other users.