Military time has its positives, but Android has always had its flaws in the experience
As someone who was born and raised in the USA, I like to use 24 hour time. It’s a long story, but to some extent on hand, I find it a little annoying that many Android phones won’t show an AM or PM signal unless you dig a little – that kind of defeats the whole point of information a smartwatch can get Good, for example. Anyway, for the longest time, Android 24 Hours users have had to deal with a somewhat uncomfortable interface in determining the times of calendar events, appointments, and so on. But thanks to some work by Google’s Material Design researchers, that interface is set to change soon.
Until recently, when setting the time in 24-hour readouts, users would need to select the hour from a two-ring analog clock with hours from 1 to 12 on the outer ring and from 13 to 24 on the inner one. Once the users choose the hour, the interface moves to setting the minutes. However, those with larger fingers have known the frustration of touching the wrong watch because the targets, especially on the inner ring, were so close together—they would have to tap again on the hour field and then re-select the watch they actually wanted to place.
Android has provided this interface in one form or another for many years. We actually spotted an example from 2013 via the old Google OS blog that flipped the position of the clock rings.
The Material Design team attempted to address the accessibility issue of the two-ring 24-hour clock in 2020 by rolling out a single-ring clock interface that only displayed even-numbered hours between 2 and 24. This was part of a broader time redesign – Choice of User Interfaces While the rest of the group stuck around, 24-hour clock users demanded the return of the old two-circle clock wallpaper – apparently, they weren’t too happy with having to infer the position of individual clocks.
The researchers decided to delve into this issue with a comprehensive, limited study, and put 50 people through timekeeping tests using a variety of different watchface-based designs — out of 50 original drafts, four made it to the candidate stage — followed by surveys.
The conclusion the team reached was that no 24-hour clock face design was intuitive enough for users to set the time accurately and reliably. Considering the rarity of such a design in physical watches, this really shouldn’t be surprising.
So, the Material Design team moved to making the numeric input option the new default — introduced with the Material Design time picker update in 2020 and users can tap a keyboard button in the clock prompt box to access it if it’s not already default. The digital entry will live alongside the users current analog clock wallpaper on a 24 hour basis. Since the team collects data about user behavior, the company may decide to default time settings to the digital input.
It remains to be seen if there is a future without a 24-hour face on Android, but I, in my ambivalence, also wouldn’t stand by to watch analog watch faces disappear, so… there is that.
Updated: 2022/12/04 19:24 EST BY JULES WANG
An earlier version of this story indicated that the digital input option was introduced more recently when it was actually introduced during the 2020 Update. We apologize for the error.
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