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Android Fragmentation is Much More Than Just Numbers, It’s About Skins Too [Opinion]

Most of the time that fragmentation is discussed it is in direct reference to different versions of Android running on different handsets. The cause of this fragmentation is usually identified as the sundry skins that manufacturers develop in order to differentiate their devices from others and create brand awareness and loyalty. Though critics and users have often called for stock Android to be at least an option on Android handsets (if not the standard), manufacturers like Motorola, HTC, and Samsung have continued to create more and more invasive and intricate skins on the devices they offer to consumers. Though a lack of updates is certainly reason enough for users to be upset, a more important issue may be the very different experiences that are presented to consumers because of these skins.

If the average consumer were to pick up the HTC Sensation and then pick up the DROID Bionic, they might be inclined to believe that the phones run totally different operating systems. And in a sense (no pun intended), they do. A phone made by HTC and running Sense offers a completely different experience than a Motorola phone running Blur (or “Android with Motorola Enhancements” as Motorola inclined to call it these days) or a Samsung phone running TouchWiz.

These manufacturer skins have altered Android so much that something as simple as unlocking your screen is a fundamentally different experience on different Android phones. On a stock device like the Nexus S I simply slide the lock tab to unlock the screen, but on a TouchWiz device I push the lock screen away or complete a puzzle, on a Sense device I slide down the lock bar or slide the lock ring upward, and on a Motorola device I slide the lock tab which also varies in location from device to device. In other words, the first screen that a consumer sees in a store when looking at an Android phone can be completely different from the Android phone next to it.  

The Droid X2 is only a few months old, and yet the Droid 3 has a completely different lock screen. On first glance a consumer might be convinced that the Droid X2 and Droid 3 are made by different companies because of how different the lock screens are. On a device with TouchWiz 4.0 there are additional sliders for missed calls or new test messages, yet these features are completely absent from any other Android lock screen. It gets even worse on an HTC device. The image above shows all of the possible lock screens you can select on the HTC Sensation.

I like being able to customize my device, but there comes a point where these skins aren’t just differentiators. They are creating a completely different experience, and by proxy a completely different OS. Sure, I can play Dragon, Fly on my Droid 2 or on my Droid Incredible and get the same experience, but when I hit the home button I’m greeted with a very different home screen on each device. On my Droid 2 I have a row of 4 buttons, three of which are customizable, whereas on my Incredible I have three buttons on the bottom, none of which are customizable. The polish of HTC’s widgets is incomparable with the widgets offered by Motorola or Samsung (or Google for that matter).

In a community like Droid Life, skins can be somewhat irrelevant because many users hack their phones and use custom ROMs or use a home replacement app like ADW or Launcher Pro to hide the manufacturer’s home screens, but to the average consumer the notion that the HTC Sensation and the Samsung Galaxy SII both run Android is asinine – they do not present the same interface in the least. When someone buys a phone like the Sensation they get Android, but they get the Sense interface too. I’d wager to say that a lot of consumers buy a Sense device because it looks pretty and polished and pass over a phone like the Photon because it doesn’t have a giant, magnificent weather widget for a lock screen.

The community has called out manufacturers for putting skins on their devices that delay updates – the question is, does the problem run deeper than updates? Is there a difference between someone who loves Android on the Samsung Galaxy SII and someone who loves Android on the HTC Evo 3D? Would Android be a better platform if Google stopped allowing customizations like Microsoft has with Windows Phone 7? Does Sense or MotoBlur or TouchWiz make an Android handset better or worse? Should Google stop offering Google services to devices that offer such a vastly different experience? There are no definite answers, but I think the questions are important ones for the community to ponder.

My first smartphone was the HTC Touch Pro2. It ran Windows Mobile 6.1 (though it was eventually updated to WinMo 6.5). Anyone who ran WinMo 6.5 knows that HTC TouchFlo 3D (the precursor to Sense) was near essential to make Windows Mobile useful, though my TP2 did suffer from slowness because of the skin. When Android first came out it needed a lot of polish. How many of us would be comfortable going back to the Éclair interface? My Droid Eris originally ran Android 1.6 – there is no way I would have found Donut’s interface likeable compared to what iOS was offering at the same. In the Donut and Éclair eras, skins like Sense made sense (pun intended). It made sense to make Android look prettier and in many ways easier to use, but can anyone honestly say that Gingerbread is that confusing to use? It’s not my favorite UI, but it is leaps and bounds away from the drudgery that was Android 1.6.

As Google continues to improve the polish of Android I don’t think skins will be necessary anymore. In fact, I think Android skins like Sense, though gorgeous, will be detrimental to Android in the long run. The only commitment that Google has gotten out of manufacturers has been to support devices with updates for up to 18 months, but often those updates are impossible to accomplish because of the skins. When my Droid Eris was updated from Android 1.6 to Android 2.1 I loved the new Sense features, but my phone was doggedly slow (often the phone would ring several times before the screen would respond to my finger’s demand to answer the call). I think Android will be better off if Google begins pushing for a consistent UI across devices. Manufacturers can differentiate through form factors, not skins, that way updates come faster and having an Android phone doesn’t mean dozens of drastically different experiences for consumers.

If the message from consumers to Google and manufacturers has been a demand for updates, then the message to Google from manufacturers has been that the only way they believe they can compete is if they skin Android to the point that their experience is vastly different (and in their eyes, superior) to another manufacturer’s skin. This doesn’t lead to the united front against iOS and Windows Phone 7 that Google wants and Android fans envision – it leads a confused consumer base a system fragmented by both updates and experience.

What do you think? Are skins good or bad for Android? Should Google exert more control over user experience? Does a phone’s skin impact your decision to buy it or not? Sound off in the comments to let us know where you stand on Android skin fragmentation.

  • Anonymous

    The funniest thing about the editorial, is that it proves to the manufacturers that their “philosophy” is dead on.  The idea is that the manufacturers do not want to be “interchangeable.”  They want to add that feature, or lock screen, or way of doing things that will make them your “preferred” device.

    If you like Sense (I don’t, but I know many do), then you may like that lock screen or that (bizarrely made) launcher on the screen, or the massive clock/weather from doom, then you will not want a phone that doesn’t have it,so the next time you will (in theory) reach for another HTC device, and not just another Android device.

    It may be what “purists” like least about many Android phones, but the market is responding, people find the one that they like best, and they buy it… far more often than they do iOS, Windows Phone 7, WebOS or anything else these day.  Why would you then break that?  To be more “true” to Android?  And to what end?  There are options and choice, and that is what Android is supposed to be about.  You want a “pure” Android phone… well there are Nexus phones out there for you.  Want a phone that LOOKS like iOS without giving money to Cupertino, buy a Samsung.  Want simplified and colorful?  Then an HTC Sense phone is for you.  Want a “bare knuckle bucket of does” industrial design, Motorola has your covered.

    And since (as far as I know and at least in theory), the skins do not affect what can run on a particular version of the OS… NO!!!  It does not lead to fragmentation!  Fragmentation is an issue unto itself (and greatly overblown).

    As for your justifications… I came from a G1 running the initial release and then CUPCAKE even before DONUT… and no, even then I didn’t think that skins were needed.  Was it as “pretty” as iOS?  Certainly not, but there were apps and widgets and such that gave me that ability.  And nothing convinced me it was better (particularly Sense) until the OG Droid came out.

    Google can’t claim “open” and then tell the manufacturers how to be “open”  with their devices, they can lead, they can suggest, they can try to work out “agreements” and they can even “bully” by withholding the market from some devices, but you can’t tell these players that they can’t differentiate themselves.  Do that, and then you are no better than WP7, and what manufacturer wants to bet the bank on that?  Think about it, “build a phone that is so much like everyone else that it would be easy for a consumer to choose somebody elses device next time?  Does that sound like a wise business decision?

    Android is flourishing.  It ain’t broke.  Don’t try to “Fix” it.

    • Anonymous

      Amen!  Someone here gets it. 

      If everyone ran vanilla, people would complain they all look the same with a (you have to admit) dull, boring look.  Plain vanilla Android is just that:  PLAIN!  If you like plain, buy a Nexus.  It is what all the geeks want: a developer phone they can play with until their bootloaders fall off.

      The skins are now finally getting useful.  The new blur isn’t that bad.  The social integration is really starting to function like it should.  Don’t like it?  Don’t buy Motorola.

      The Galaxy SII is selling like hotcakes.  Would it sell the same if the advertisements were just a vanilla home screen with the Google search widget and the stock icons?  HELL NO!!!  They made it look more like an iOS device and you know what, IT’S WORKING FOR THEM!

      HTC has one of the better overlays setting it far and apart from other devices.  And you know what?  It is working for them!!  They are reporting record profits year over year since Android came along.

      I am so sick of hearing everyone constantly complain.  No bootloader lock.  No skins.  No this.  No that.  If you want plain, buy a Nexus or iPhone.  These manufacturers have the right to make the phone what *they think* will be a winner.  If they all looked the same and had similar hardware (as so many do these days) there would be nothing compelling to buy them.  It would be like 40 iPhones with slightly different sizes, shapes and processors.  WOOPEE!!!

      And Kellex, do you really think the average Android user even knows there’s different skins?  They pick what “looks cool” and that is their phone for the next 2 years.  They don’t play with new ones like you every other day.  They could care less.  If in 2 years they buy a different manufacturer Android phone, they just think its the “new” version of Android.  

      Sorry for the vent.  The beauty of Android is in its diversity.  It would never have made the name it has today without the skins.  And you can bank on that.

      • Anonymous

        No, I don’t think the average user knows there are different skins. I made that specific point in the article – the different skins contribute to consumers believing that different Android phones actually run different operating systems (and in a sense, they do). I agree that average users make their decisions on what looks cool and what works, hence the issue: are skins becoming a problem or not. As I stated in the article, I don’t think there’s an easy answer to the question, but I think it’s something the community should be thinking about as they promote Android – are we promiting one OS, certain skins, etc. Thanks for the thoughts.

  • Anonymous

    Probably the best article I’ve read on dl.
    It’s the reason after 5 droids I got an iPhone . I remember going from o.g to dinc thinking damn android really improved only to find out it was a skin. Skins are what made me stop buying moto phones left my x soon as htc put out a phone( tb) after no update I decided I’ll give up 4g and android for apple. Vowing to return for nexus if it ever comes to VZW.

    • Anonymous

      “I remember going from o.g to dinc thinking damn android really improved only to find out it was a skin”

      You just totally blew your whole argument there.  What YOU SAID was that the skin made it seem like “android really improved” from the *vanilla* OG Droid.  How very interesting yet counter to the point you were trying to make.

      • Anonymous

        No, actually I had two points first as stated in the article sense skin was better than stock in the beginning . Second the lack of timely updates which drove me away. I felt like I wanted a timely update I had to buy a new phone.

  • Anonymous

    Just give the end user the ability to make the decision what they want on the phone they bought.  Pure and simple, you turn the device on set it up and there should be the option asking you do you want to run stock Android or the Manufacturer skin.  Each choice can clearly identify the benefits of the choice.  Down the line if you want to change your decision you should be able to change on the fly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/RyanMcCall Ryan McCall

    why doesnt google just implement its own skinning system like in cyanogen and make blur, sense, etc. irrelevant? 

    • EC8CH

      Great idea, but it won’t stop manufacturers from thinking they need to screw with the software to “differentiate” their products from their competition.

    • Anonymous

      They should and I believe they will. Course, that won’t change all the under the hood “enhancements” OEMs make.

  • Anonymous

    Who cares about the skin?  Its what makes Android Android…I dont want every single phone to look the same… Thats what the iCrap is for!!
    Most well written apps work on TW, Blur or Sense right?  So who cares?

    • Anonymous

      Running vanilla does not make every phone look the same.  It allows for personal customization, instead of the one-size-fits-all from each company they try to shove down our throats.  I went from the OG Droid to the Bionic and even with running Launcher Pro, am having issues adjusting to Blur.  I know it’s better than the old version, but I want the ability to run it either way.  Give me a Blur skin option not a have-to!

      • Anonymous

        When they are sitting on display at your local phone store, the heck it doesn’t make them all look the same!  Put a vanilla Android phone next to an iPhone at a local VZW store.  I guarantee your idea would give Apple more sales.  Remember, not everyone in a VZW store is a geek that gives a crap if it is vanilla Android or not.  They pick what they like.  And that eye candy is what is called the skin.

  • Jester4281

    With the market having many options that replicate the common, favored skin options, I personally feel stock ANDROID is the way to go, get it out to the end users across the board, not this handset then that handset. Let companies like Beautiful Widgets, AWD and all the others make $.99 – $3.99 for giving users the option of the skin appearance, while allowing google to get the improvements in our hands/handsets faster.
    With Android being as open, and as far as it sounds, continuing open, the developers will provide and comply with skin options/request for the end users.
    Stock Android = faster updates to end users and more money to developers making skin type widgets, seems like a win, win.
    Side note: you really want to speed it up, STOCK ANDROID WITH NO INPUT FROM VERIZON as far as restrictions and bloatware, that would really make for a fast update process.

  • Anonymous

    Skins are great! People love them and many will buy an HTC product because of Sense. However the problem is the deep integration of all the sense stuff that makes removing it a terrible terrible idea. I have a thunderbolt running CM7 because the battery life is better and I like many of the stock android apps better than the Sense or other replacements (plus all the customization options in CM7) But my next phone might run great with the skin and it could be a wonderful experience. All I really ask for is for the skin to really only be skin deep so it can be turned off.

  • Anonymous

    a lot of these phones are starting to look very similar and have very similar specs.  so i think they have no choice but to differentiate on the skins they package with their phones.

    • EC8CH

      laptops run windows

  • BionicCommando3214

    I think the skins are fine, and can offer a lot of functions and improvements for many users. Every manu should be allowed to present their hardware and their vision how they want. Not every phone user wants a “vanilla” Android.

    They should be able to be disabled however, and would be preferable to have them seperate from the OS as not to impede OS updates. More of everyone gets what they want. Sounds more of a longterm implementation issue rather than a need for heavy handed regulations by Google.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t forget other fragments like markets, or platforms like nook and amazon, let alone the TV side. It is kind of starting to look like a mess.

  • http://www.facebook.com/borgey401 Andrew Borges

    If they feel the need to put those AWFUL skins on devices there should be a on/off toggle. I think it’s absolutely insane that we can’t get a single nice Vanilla Android phone on VZW (besides the OG Droid). Think about that, it’s INSANE! When I first purchased my OG Droid I thought I would be a Motorola fanboy for the rest of my life. Because, they didn’t put some stupid skin on it and left it somewhat open for the developers to do their thing. While the average consumer was also very happy too. It was the perfect situation. But now the only Vanilla Android phones out are the Nexus branded ones. IT SUCKS, while I love the look of Sense UI and think it’s the only one worthy of being on Android they all should go. Google needs to let US HAVE FULL CONTROL. Which means we can either pick  if we want the skin or not when we buy the phone or have a damn toggle on/off. Bottom line……….

    • Anonymous

      Go into business and make vanilla Android phones.  The geek world awaits your creation.  But after that 5% of Android users buy your phone and proclaim your merits, the other 95% of Android users are going to buy what looks the best….and it won’t be yours.

  • Unexpected62

    It would be sweet if on initial configuration you could choose stock or skinned… or disable in settings, or something. At minimum for tech people unlock the boot loader so we can remove it ourselves.

  • http://profiles.google.com/gonnadie4thegov Jeremy Wray

    Phones should release with the stock Android UI, then when first activating the phone it should give the option to install a Sense, Blur, TouchWiz, etc that is availble through the market. That way updates are handled differently and everyone gets their choice. And since the market has evolved so much now that it can detect what phone you have they can have the updates and downloads seperate for each device so the device isn’t running a newer version it can’t handle. And that will also make sure that TouchWiz stays on Samsung devices just as Moto to Blur and HTC to sense.

    But does it really matter what mine or anyone’s opinion is? Until Google puts their foot down (which i don’t see happening for alteast a few more years if ever) the manufacturers will not change what they are doing.

  • http://www.kevinkuramura.com KevK

    Google cares that phone manufacturers choose Android. If skinning is what they like about Android, Google basically has to let them skin.

    Phone manufacturers care about winning over the common customer in the store, and delivering an experience in line with that customer’s expectations. They do not exist to please us techies.

    What the customer cares about varies drastically. Reader’s of DL care about performance and features, which rely heavily on updates. I believe the average consumer doesn’t give a rat’s ass whether they have the latest update as long as their phone does whatever they bought it for: make calls, send texts, occasionally browse the web, etc.

    All we can do is try to spread the word and get more people to understand our stance. Don’t be a dick about it of course, but there are a lot of people out there who would care about this stuff if they just knew a little more. I think.

    We techies are a minority and are hard to please. Kudos to blogs like DL that give us a voice disproportional to our numbers. It’s the only way to influence what phones fall down the pipeline to us.

    Also, will you guys please proofread your articles? It’s a little embarrassing.

    • Anonymous

      I appologize for the couple of typos. I’ll try not to miss those in the future. Thanks for the input!

  • Guest

    I like the ability for users to customize their own skins. I don’t necessarily think it’s bad that manufacturers have their own individual skins it just becomes a problem when these skins cause delays on pushing out updates. Having the ability to customize the Android OS is what is so great and fun about the operating system. With out the ability to customize our phones we’d be stuck with a boring OS like the Apple iOS. Bottom line biggest issue is the ability to push out updates. This is the biggest issue facing Android in my opinion.

  • KevinC

    Those of you asking for some type of on/off switch for the custom UIs really have no technical idea of what these companies are doing.  They are modifying core pieces of the operating system to deliver a different experience to their end users.  To provide some sort of switch between stock and skin would require them to package 2 full versions of Android on their phones.

    • Anonymous

      Yes, because no one here has ever installed a custom ROM.  ROM manager allows this.  Create an app for the skin that backs up, saves, flashes the new ‘skin’ or vanilla version, reboots, brings back all of the backups…

      If you did this at initial boot up for a new activation, at least people could choose then and would not have to worry about the backups part.

  • Anonymous

    The greatest thing about TouchFlo 3D on the TP2 was that you could disable it without the need for hacking or registry edits.  Google needs to exert influence with the carriers and manufacturers to at least allow the skins to be disabled by the user.

  • http://www.facebook.com/BenBGriffiths Ben Griffiths

    Skins should be like widgets.  They SHOULD NOT run all the time without permission.  If you can make a widget I like, it will live on my home screen – If it has your logo on it, I am fine with that.  But if I hate what you make, it is in the trash/permanently deleted.

    Same with the screen switcher animation, the App Drawer, the icons at the bottom of the screen – why should they control it, when they can give us freedom to select how we want it to look/run?

    More powerful processors and more RAM is NOT permission to go hog wild on memory occupying skins and bloatware.

  • Eddie

     this is one of my favorite DL articles to date. Like many other commenters, I believe the skins should be optional. It would be nice to have a skin selection screen in settings, and even nicer of the android development community was able to port these skins so you could run any skin on any android device. 

  • gdigenis

    i think that if oems want to offer skins that is fine, as long as they also provide you with an official stock android rom that you can download from their site and install without voiding your warranty.  as grizzly atoms said a few comments ago, an on/off switch would be nice, but personally i would like to be able to flash a stock rom.  it would be nice if we were given the ability to flash these skins like they were a theme, with the ability to revert back to stock when we felt like it

    • Anonymous

      I like that idea a lot. Another way to do it, when activating your phone you have the choice for stock Android or Manufacture Android skins. I would also have the instructions of how to install the stock rom on the phone, might even bring more into the rooting community.

  • Skunk13

    Great article!
    Skins = BAD I should be able to turn on and off at will. They should not be so entwined in the OS.  I should be able to install whatever skin I want! and by doing so makes updating the OS much easier, and if a skin is bad it will make it so that I can still get the newest version of the OS while manufacturers work out the skin bugs, and so in the mean time I can disable them.

  • EC8CH

    If I could buy a phone on VZW with vanilla Android I could vote with my wallet…

  • Klinster

    Try my ADW themes in the market

  • qoncept

    “Different user experience” and “fragmentation” are two entirely unrelated issues. Confusing them shows a fundamental lack of understanding of what the problem with fragmentation really is.

    The point of Android isn’t to give users a common experience between different phones (and it isn’t for Linux, either. What a coincidence, eh?) It’s to give phone manufacturers a platform to do exactly what they’re doing — taking an OS that does all the basics and has a ton of apps that they can lay their presentation on top of.

    It’s all very deliberate. Google took care of making a functional phone OS which for the manufacturers means less work, a proven stable platform and the flexibility to change whatever they see fit. For Google it means a ton of handsets out there to data mine and advertise on.

    Fragmentation is a function of Android versions and software and nothing else.

    • Anonymous

      +1, UX has nothing to do with “Fragmentation”

  • PyroHoltz

    First off, great editorial Ron(whoever you are…?)

    I’ve always preferred the Google Experience over any of the manufacturer’s skins. That main reason is they used to required so much additional performance to make them smooth. But, now with dual core SoCs and RAM coming out of our USB ports, that’s less of an issue albeit still there. I have not owned an HTC device but have seen and played with plenty of the newer ones with Sense 3.0+ and I must say, it’s better than anything Motorola has.

    There are plenty of cool features some of the better skins offer but I would love it if we were presented with an option to buy our phones with or without additional skins at the time of purchase.

    Long live native Android.

  • Sean333

    YES… Skins determine my selection of phone…. if ther is one.. I wont get it… what a shocker it was to go from my OG Droid to my DOUBLED spec DroidX only to find it opperateing slower and more glitchy… took me a yr to convince myself to root the OG droid… 1 day to root the DroidX… Blur, “Motorola experience” what ever you want to call it is a abortion of a UI…

  • Pastadude

    I love sense before 2.0. I feel like sense 2.0 and later gets a bit invasive and in your face. I have a Droid Incredible and just went from CM7 back to skyraider 4.3 and wont look back. Sure the stock setup is great, but those tweaks and adjustments in sense (pre 2.0) are what make it worth it for me. Call mebcrazy, but I love the HTC dialer. I also prefer the Sense Widgets. But I do like a number of CM enhancements. I vote have more control over OEM enhancements to be on or off.

  • Klinster

    I think we need a release date for the Galaxy Nexus. That’s what I think.

  • Rob Meyer

    For Motorola to call it android with motorola enhancements is crap. Give us the option to “rule all machines” starting with the one that you’re trying to sell us!

    • Anonymous

      actually it is called motorola applications platform.

      • James_Ever

        Its called crap that slows the RAM and bloatware on my device but wont allow me to remove it.

  • Darren B

    It’s not just the interface, it’s the way settings are laid out and whatnot as well. It’s ironic that this was posted right now, I’m at work and just got done setting up email on a Samsung Replenish, which unfortunately does not keep email account settings under settings->accounts like a normal phone. I was literally complaining to a coworker about this very thing as I saw this posted.

    I see it as nothing but a bad thing, honestly. They bring little to the table besides confusion, with stock gingerbread offering so much already. 

  • http://twitter.com/danyay Dan

    This is the whole point Google had in mind for Android. In other words, this is by design.

    Manufacturers are able to create their own experiences with Android. In a sense, you wonder if Google or the pre-Google Android company had any intention of consumers even hearing the term “Android,” other than a few technophiles knowing what’s powering it – not too different than us knowing that the Linux kernel powers Android as it is now.

    It is far too late in the game now to change the core philosophy of what makes Android, Android – primarily because this is what caused Android’s incredible adoption by manufacturers, and then consumers.

    • http://iamandroid.co/profile/rocktoonz Rocktoonz

      That’s probably a large part of why the OG Droid made Android such a huge success.  The name ‘Droid’ became almost synonymous with any Android phone after that (like it or not), whether skinned or not.  It got the name out there.

      • Anonymous

        The OG Droid made Android a success because it was on a major carrier. I am fairly certain that is the only reason.

  • Xailow

    i got the dInc2 back in july coming from a OG droid and i have to say that Sense is amazing. i have thoroughly enjoyed all enhancements and the overall polish. yes i then rooted and am now running sense 3.0 (hella awesome) instead of 2.1 (pretty awesome) but im still enjoying a skinned android experience.

  • Mark Lewis

    Manufacturers should create their custom home screens, lock screens, themes, and widgets as APKs like everyone else.  This would allow differentiation without interfering with Android updates, and they’d be optional.

  • http://twitter.com/ByTheBook4 CrookByTheBook4

    As much as these phones cost, I want all the control. Moto, Google and Big Red have their name all over the phone,not to mention that nice check i write to Verizon every month, let me enjoy my device the way i want.

    • KevinC

      vote with your wallet.  you choose to be locked down, you bought the phone, and paid for the service.

      the phone manufacturers have every right to do whatever they want with their phones they sell.

      • http://profiles.google.com/desmet2006 Alex Fischer

        Not only vote with your wallet, but blame the stupid people who bricked (9 times out of 10 just a soft-brick) their phone and instead of seeking how to fix it themselves, claimed it didn’t work and cried to the manufacturer/carrier to replace it.

  • Anonymous

    Good article.  I think that we might see more phone manufacturers using their own OS in the future. 

  • Anonymous

    capt. obvious wrote this article

  • http://profiles.google.com/desmet2006 Alex Fischer

    I’m hoping that in a future version of Android, whether ICS or Jellybean (or jawbreaker, or whatever it is), there is some sort of built-in android skinning capability, thereby allowing manufacturers to ship phones pre-loaded with their skins that cost money through their site otherwise.  The skin could be unlocked for free if you’re using their product (i.e. sense for HTC phones, Not-blur for Motorola) by the entering of a serial number.  I’m not saying it’s perfect, but something along those lines.

  • Anonymous

    OMG, having the choice is now called fragmentation!

    What about different milks in supermarket, different colors for my T-Shirt… 

    • Zrsjustman

      No, having the choice would be the ability to turn the skins on and off. Fragmentation is referring to the staggered updates for different phones across all the different carriers and manufacturers.

      • Anonymous

        Yes, you are right for the updates.. Seem that we are in a good state: http://labs.chitika.com/MobileWar/

        Fragmetation, as you call it, is worst on the iPhone ;-)

  • Interstellarmind

    skins should be an option, pure and simple. we should be able to turn them off and on as we please. google should enforce that.

    • John

      Disagree.. Google shouldn’t enforce anything.  Manu’s should be allowed to do whatever they want with Android, and differentiate their products as they see fit.  

      What we need is manufacturers to hear the cry and allow their skins to be turned on/off, but Google shouldn’t have a damned thing to do with it.  

      • Romma1

        Maybe they could strongly encourage it at least.. 

      • Anonymous

        I disagree with you, but only because handset manufacturers are too damn stubborn to listen to anyone’s cry for such a feature. Admittedly, we’re a small vocal minority. The average Android user probably wonders “What’s Sense? What’s MotoBLUR? What’s a ‘you-eye’?”

        Because device manufacturers can’t get their sh*t together, Google needs to step in. That kinda seems like what they ultimately did with their Motorola purchase.

        Sanjay: Hurf durf, we have a cool new UI called Blur!
        Sergey: Oh God. What have you done?
        Sanjay: Hurf durf x2, we’ve improved Blur! It’s now MotoBlur!
        Sergey: Damnit Sanjay…
        Sanjay: Hurf durf x3, but wait! There’s more! We’ve totally made it awesome-r, but we’re not calling it Blur anymore!
        Sergey: If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. *opens checkbook*

        tl;dr: In a perfect world, manufacturers would give us such an option. But in reality, Google needs to check manufacturers into the board to get them to fix their sh*t.

        • Anonymous

          and of course you realize that if google stepped in, that would make android non-open source right?

          • http://twitter.com/Druuseph Andrew Sileo

            No it wouldn’t. You can do whatever the hell you want with Android in a general sense but you have to meet certain criteria to get market access. That has nothing to do with the GPL license because the Market is proprietary. Google could tell manufacturers that the only way to get market access is to not use skins and the only reason to work with Android is the market, without the apps there’s no reason to use it and manufacturers would either play ball or go elsewhere. 

          • Anonymous

            Andrew is right. Android is open, but Google’s suite of apps isn’t. Manufacturers have to meet certain criteria to earn the Google apps like the Android Market and Youtube. Google would just need to tighten the requirements to earn these apps. However, by doing so they risk alienating manufacturers, maybe even to the point of some of them just using an alternative market instead like Amazon.

          • Booboolala2000

            Or they could give the software to companies that are running stock a few months before the ones that demand a skin. Like what they did with honeycomb.

        • Chip Cooper

          Do you have a reference to the Motorola purchase; I’d like to read it.

    • Anonymous

      First of all, make all android devices consistent with each other, will have one major impact, it will be easy for a user to switch between manufacturers… there’s no way in hell Moto, HTC and Sammy will like that, they want what Apple have, they want to entangle you within their brand, they want to make a pain to switch to any other builder… and honestly, they are in their complete right to do it, don’t like it?? then speak with your wallet and not buy them anything that is skinned.

      Second, I agree it should be optional to use Android Vanilla if you choose to, and also that you should be able to install whatever you want in your phone, just like we can do it with our PC’s, is just fascist to restrict what I can and can not do with MY phone. But sadly people that think like that are a minority.

      Finally as sad as it may sound, even if it was us the enthusiast that help Android to rise in the beginning, is the mainstream who take it to the top spot among mobile OS, and they have spoken, they like sense, they like touchwiz, and they don’t like Blur (just see Moto crash after the OG Droid). We just have to find a way to keep hacking our phones to do and look just the way we like it… and seriously for me thats like half the fun and joy of using Android :D

      • Toastedpet

        I totally agree with your wallet comment, I feel the same way about Star Wars and the BS Lucas does to my beloved childhood, but its easier said than done when the only phone your carrier provided as “vanilla” Android is almost two years, no longer supported and has outdated hardware. Even thought it was the phone that put Android on the map.

  • http://www.twitter.com/slinky317 slinky317

    My opinion: I think Google will soon change what it means to be a Nexus device.

    It will stop being a singular device but rather become a line of phones. Branding a phone a “Nexus” device (Galaxy Nexus, Droid Nexus, etc) will mean it’s a true Google Experience device with stock Android and quick access to updates. This would mean more people would get Nexus devices on more carriers, and also give Google room for control but not overstep their bounds on those manufacturers who want to implement their own skin. Whether I’m right or wrong, I’m excited for the future of Android and can’t wait to see what it brings.

    • EC8CH

      This is a great idea… 

    • http://twitter.com/NovembersDirge The Observer

      This actually makes a lot of sense, and would be the best of both worlds.

    • mec

      i would approach it differently.  “nexus” branded will be dev phones (as they have been).  “google experience” which has been used to describe the nexus line should be a tag line that only those pushing out vanilla. otherwise saturating the nexus name would create confusion.

      for example:  Here is the droid bionic running android.  Here is the droid brick, a google experience device.

      the latter makes it a marketing term, and those that buy phones and fall in love with the “google experience” will make google experience phones their next purchase.  you can even put a nifty logo on the back that sets it apart.  like the “with google” tagging.

    • Anonymous

      Best idea I’ve seen in a while.

    • Anonymous

      I think this was mentioned sometime ago by someone. With Google promising to get with carriers and manufacturers to help with updates. I think Droid Life posted an article about a possibility of a Google experience device on all carriers. This would be the best way to go.

  • Firelight

    Any skins=bad.  Google stepping up the UI quality=good.

    Just look at the Bionic – super-fast damned awesome device – slowed down needlessly by fancy animations & Moto-enhanced widgets. 

    What makes the i*hone successful among  ALL demographics (young/old, nerd/noob) is the simplicity of the design and it “just works” no matter what carrier it is on.  It’s also what I hate most about it is that the simplicity eliminates any USER customizations.

    If the OEMs would make their skins not skins, i.e. not hooked into the system in such a way that it makes them so bogged down – but instead made their skins like ADW or Launcher Pro: replaceable or able to be turned off then we’d have the best of what all would want.  Those who like the manufacture’s “look” can keep it and we stock-interface lovers can have that without the Blur or Sense hooks getting in the way.

    • Anonymous

      Actually, if you really look at the Bionic, the only things that (allegedly) slows down the system IS the Launcher.  I say “allegedly” because that is the first thing I change (switching over the Launcher Pro), and thus I never experience the lag of the launcher.  The rest of the phone is fast, and not at all laggy. So in reality, with the Bionic, you basically get what you are asking for.

  • Taylor Steele

    Great article Ron, great viewpoint from the average consumer’s viewpoint. I bet a lot of people on here are going to gripe and bicker about unlocking the phone to allow for “constant” updates, but the problem is that the average consumer isn’t going to root, or unlock their phone. Hell, the average consumer doesn’t even know what ADW or LauncherPro is. I agree with your viewpoint 100%

  • Anonymous

    Part of me really hates the skins and the lack of updates. The other part of me screams for google to allow Android to continue as an “Open Platform”.

    I am placing the blame on the manufacturers. Although, I completely understand WHY they are skinning android.

  • Ben

    Can we just get a “custom overlay” On / Off switch and stop all the discussion of skinned vs stock?

    • Anonymous

      Amen!

    • Anonymous

      woow i’m still astonished ,I just got a $829.99 iPad2 for only $103.37 and my mom got a $1499.99 HDTV for only $251.92, they are both coming with USPS tomorrow. I would be an idiot to ever pay full retail prices at places like Walmart or Bestbuy. I sold a 37″ HDTV to my boss for $600 that I only paid $78.24 for. I use BidsBug.com

    • TheAndroid1

      To the end user, “open” is only as open as the manufacturer wants it to be.

      • Anonymous

        Wrong. 

        The Android OS is open (the FUD surrounding this issue is highly suspect). Full stop. Also, terrible skins have little to do with the manufacturers — this why the CARRIERS should be the focus of our anger:

        If you want to lay blame on anyone for the bloated skins, it’s the carriers. Verizon and AT&T control 80% of the mobile phone market. Manufacturers are at their mercy. Hopefully Google is gaining enough traction to have a positive influence on future devices, but if you’ve ever taken the time to read up on the history of the telecom industry[1], it will become clear that they are fighting an uphill battle.

        Think back to the OG Droid, an almost vanilla Android experience. Verizon realized the danger in having an unlocked device attached to their network. Users would actually be able to use their phone in unapproved (and innovative) ways that would ruin their business model of charging $35/mo. for tethering, etc.. They were also frightened to see a device that could receive updates straight from Google, which would leave them with too many customers not under contract by the time the device was outdated.

        The carriers are notorious for their iron grip on partners and their partners don’t have a choice because of the market duopoly that exists[2]. Read up on Ma Bell and the anti-trust lawsuit that finally broke them up; that’s the only way we’ll ever see real change.

        [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell_System
        [2] http://video.wttw.com/video/1949293907/

        • Anonymous

          So true.  Manufacturers are definitely a problem to some level but so much of our problems right now are really the carriers.  They have too much of a grip on the market.  Consumers have too few choices and manufacturers are too much in the carrier’s grip.

    • Mikedeamicis

      would not accomplish the goal of expedited updates, since the update would still be bogged down by the overlay anyway.

      to bad it is impossible for a united front of consumers in the land of the sheeple. our ideology is a minority of the market share. these butchered OS’s are flying off the shelf like hotcakes and the profits could not look better. no incentive for anyone in the circle to change the status quo.

    • Anonymous

      Best comment ever!  I am hoping Motorola will do that.

  • http://twitter.com/GRZLA Grizzly Atoms

    I wish that you had a choice of Vanilla or OEM modifications from the manufacturer.

  • http://twitter.com/Jamesdw24 Dillon wright

    I think samsung touch wiz in my opinion is kind of an imitation of ios, LG’s skin is just like touch wiz. And i am not a fan of motorblur at all. I love htc sense on my droid incredible i think its the best skin on android. But I prefer stock android

  • Anonymous

    Ron… Burgundy?

  • Phil Stout

    I hate HTC Sense… I wish I had an official CM build for my T-bolt… I crave Vanilla … Sense makes me hate my Thunderbolt.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Admiral.Obvious Collin Danger-Megatron Kleditz

      it may not be “official” but the CM7 that slayher has been supporting has been stable for months

      • http://profiles.google.com/mr.bones9 Bones X

        Back on to the theme issue, and on CM7, what if a system like the theme engine was default on all phones, giving the manufactures the ability to skin, and the user the ability to select a default Google experience.

        • Adrien Hawthorne

          I think that would be awesome. I mean that is one of the main reasons that I have stuck with CM7 and Cyanogenmod roms from my OG Droid to my Thunderbolt. I love the fact that I can customize it with a skin like that and it look different, yet it is still the same. It doesn’t have different features from skin to skin, just looks.

  • John

    who the hell is Ron?

    • Ben

      And for that matter, who is John?

      • John

        I’m John, so that’s what you call me. That or The Duder, his Dudeness, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing…

        • Anonymous

          If you’re last name is Galt, many people have been lookin for you

        • ChrisI

          Classic!!!!!   +1,000,000

        • Anonymous

          Do you have ANY idea how many people missed that joke?  lol  Awesome and classic all at once.

          • John

            hah. ya…i’m sure more than it should’ve. best movie ever ;)

      • Jason Rosensweig

        Well who is Ben??

  • Anonymous

    I wouldn’t mind them as much if they unlocked the bl