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Android 4.0: A New Android from a New Google [Opinion]


This week Google announced the latest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich. With the announcement came a number of revelations about the philosophy being pursued by Android’s lead designer, Matias Duarte. Joshua Topolsky’s exclusive interview with Duarte was extremely helpful in understanding the ideology that influenced the massive changes made in Android 4.0.

The first major change in ICS is the new UI. Rather than keeping the same Phone, Apps, Web launcher from Froyo and Gingerbread, ICS offers the option to have any four applications on the launcher, two on either side of the Apps button (which has also been redesigned). Above the launcher you can see a thin line separating your applications from your homescreens. That line doubles as a screen indicator, glowing in one of five spots as you flip between homescreens. Rather than add a search widget, Google has opted to place Google Search on the forefront, making it the header of every homescreen. This is exactly the sort of subtle polish that Android enthusiasts like myself have been clamoring for.  

Google has made no attempt at hiding the Tron influence that began in Honeycomb and has continued in Ice Cream Sandwich. In Topolsky’s interview, Duarte specifically stated that the new UI design came from a desire to do something that was not trying to replicate the world (Apple) and not trying to overemphasize digital simplicity (Windows Phone 7). The elegance and beauty found in Android 4.0’s design was indeed a reaction to the philosophies of Microsoft and Apple. Google, a company primarily identified with search, has realized that design is almost as important, if not more, as functionality.

Making things simple yet beautiful is no easy task, but Duarte seems to have been able to steer Rubin’s team towards creating a UI and UX that gleams with polish. Gone are the days of grey app drawers and unmatched color schemes. Ice Cream Sandwich is the first release of Android that offers a level of polish and synergistic user experience that rivals Apple’s aspirations of beauty and Microsoft’s aspirations of simplicity.

Rubin’s team hasn’t just improved the look of Android, though. Android 4.0 offers new features that are built into the system to make the whole experience less dependent on third-party apps. Features that were once only available in custom ROMs or skinned versions of Android, like taking a panoramic photograph or dismissing individual notifications, are now built into Android by Google.

The result of all of these changes has been to create a mobile operating system that looks stunning and feels feature complete. Google has been increasing the functionality and beauty of many of its products over the last year, but the changes to Android stand out from among the rest. As Duarte claimed in his interview with Topolsky, Google has been hard at work over the past year transforming Android from a powerful, yet cumbersome OS to an operating system that people will love.

Why has Google been so aggressive in their changes to Android 4.0? Obviously Android has been competing with iOS and to some extent Windows Phone 7 and Blackberry to offer the best mobile experience possible. Part of the reason to innovate is simply to continue to improve their software faster than their competitors. That said, I believe there are two more important reasons that pushed Google to really change Android’s look and feel.

The first reason for these massive changes is fragmentation. Every manufacturer from HTC to LG has created their own skin to go on top of Android. In the days of Android 1.6 this certainly made sense, but as Android has evolved and become more polished, the justification for delaying updates in order to skin Android has diminished. Rather than force manufacturers to stop skinning Android, Google can influence the manufacturers to stop because the UI doesn’t need any more enhancements. In order to ensure that every phone released receives updates for eighteen months after release, it seems more and more likely that Google will have to enforce a no-skin rule. The easiest way to make this argument is to make Android an OS that doesn’t rely on third-party customizations to be both elegant and powerful.

The second reason for Google to push for these massive changes is litigation. Google’s manufacturers have been involved in massive lawsuits with Microsoft and Apple over the past few years. While Google has avoided litigation with Microsoft and Apple directly up to this point, it cannot escape litigation forever. With partners like Motorola threatening to sue other Android partners and Samsung starting lawsuits with Apple abroad in response to Apple’s initial litigation, Google has to do something to avoid legal battles. Google purchase of Motorola was almost certainly a response to the threat of civil war between Android partners, but how should Google deal with Samsung fighting a losing battle against Apple? Samsung has already decided that it will change the Galaxy Tab in Australia to avoid infringing on Apple’s IP, but that may not be enough. Google may have decided that the best solution would be to offer an operating system that did not require manufacturer customizations for OEMs to consider it competitive.

Google is entering a new era. The company that makes its money primarily from search advertisements is out to change the way we work, play, and communicate. Google needed its manufacturing partners to help spread Android as the Lingua Franca of operating systems, but now it’s time to take control back. It’s possible that the Nexus program has always been about putting Google back at the forefront of innovation instead of relying on the manufacturers. The fact that Google purchased one of its OEMs is evidence enough that the game has changed. Google is positioning itself to defeat Apple in the mobile space through quality and utility from the top down, rather than through manufacturers. Android 4.0 is just the beginning of a whole new Android and a whole new Google.

  • Anonymous

    I still don’t get why Google bought Motorola Mobile…

    • No one really knows, so choose the answer that sounds good to you: Google just wanted their patents, Google wants to make their own hardware, Google wanted to stop Moto from suing other Android partners, etc. 

  • Anonymous

    If you didn’t read the linked article from above about ICS you should!

    Since no one I know shares my passion for technology and devices I’ll rant here.  I’ve had my OG droid for 2 years now.  Although it has been a great phone it is so slow and dated, I need Galaxy Nexus!  I really enjoy my Android phone and it’s connection to my google services, but still have an appreciation for the refinement of the iphone.  However, I just can’t go that locked down and I’m so glad Duarte doesn’t like the faux design principles of iOS.  I’m glad someone thinks that trying to make a modern piece of tech look like some old non-tech object is a horrible idea (no dis to the amazing late Steve Jobs).

    I’m very excited to get my hands on a device that has Android’s power, but is refined for new age style – no book case with shelves, no typing sounds, but yet more polished than previous piece meal Android.  I knew there was something I didn’t like about Android’s and iOS’s style, Duarte made it clear for me.  Luckily for me my last Verizon upgrade is Nov 1st, just bring the ICS.  I hope you other Android lovers can appreciate my child-christmas-like excitment for the Galaxy Nexus.

    I’m so pumped, Is it Nov 10th yet!?

  • Rage

    Pentile display??? wtf! yes that is a deal breaker for me. let the flames begin. let’s be honest, you put a retina equivalent display on this puppy and nothing even comes close to it.  And no I don’t own an I*hone4/4S but I’ve seen the display and while others come close (Samsung GSII), it is the reference display that others are measured against!

  • Anonymous

    Awesome story, no one else can compare…can’t wait for an ICS ROM!!!

  • LiterofCola

    Dear interwebs,

    can I haz Nexus news nao?

  • Anonymous

    What is p3droid talking about where he was saying “don’t sell your VZW phone to get a nexus, that would be a bad idea” ?? Hopefully it’s still coming to Verizon

    • LiterofCola

      It is

      • Anonymous

        Better be or I will hulk smash everything!

        • LiterofCola

          If it doesn’t, and VZ pulls another GS2 on us, I will not be upgrading my contract.  Sadly, I’d probably think about Sprint, with their lesser quality network and all for their GS2

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous


  • I think that manufacturers should provide two updates: One without a skin, stock ICS, soley for the purpose of getting it on their devices as soon as possible, and whenever it’s ready; release the skinned version.

    • There are many people out there that would go nuts if the update killed Sense, Blur or TouchWiz. Remember that most Android owners are normal people who dont care about ICS, Gingerbread or Froyo. They want a device that they like and that it works. Changing the interface without notice would be a bad idea. Now, making it an option to download if you dont mind stock, then that is a good idea.

  • Google has made this versions so simple/beautiful that I can’t imagine the phone manufacturers having to spend too much time customizing.  Or atleast that’s what I’d like to believe.  I just want ICS and my custom icons on my galaxy nexus and I think I’ll be fine for like 6 months =p.  If I was being nit-picky i’d say I would just like google to make their icons more uniform with eachother.  I know that is one of the things that seperates ios and android but different sized icons bother me a lil.

  • Why does every conversation about the iPhone have to trim into a debate about Android being better I’m tired of showing people the light that have been in the dark to long they refuse to listen and see the truth I guess when a drastic change light going from dark to light hits your eyes it kinda hurts so you close your eyes to shield yourself from the truth a bit longer.

    Sign: Dejuanxg™ A Mad Man With
    Bionic Close In Hand!

  • Peter Smoke

    You are coming to a conclusion that Google has said is not their intention, Andy Rubin and the entire dev team behind Android love open source and android is built to be customizable. How could you or anyone for that matter, think that their vision is to eliminate OEM’s ability to make android their OS? If you remove this then OEM’s will shift to supporting their own platforms. An excellent example of this is Samsung keeping Bada on the back burner; just like many of us android nerds who love to flash custom roms and make android our own personal OS, the same can be said for OEM’s making these phones. Oh and Google’s approach to tackling fragmentation? Lengthen the release cycle for new version of android to 1 year http://androidandme.com/2010/06/news/interviews/android-will-move-to-a-yearly-update-cycle/ . Not allowing OEM’s the freedom to make android there own is BAD for android.

    • There is a massive difference between open source and custonizations that delay updates and give Android a bad name. Just because something is open source doesn’t mean Google has to allow the carriers or manufacturers to do whatever they want. It’s in Google’s best interest to ensure that each and every Android device offers the best experience possible. Skins have been threatening that interest for years.

      • To a certain extent, yes. However, if HTC, Motorola and Samsung would dedicate more resources, then it would not be so bad.

        • Then what would not be so bad? The update cycle? That’s not enough. Skins cause fragmentation in the OS, but also in marketing and consumer presentation. I’d much rather just let manufacturers offer Widgets and wallpapers, but nothing more. If people want their launcher, put it in the Market.

  • Great read.

  • Anonymous

    Beautifully written my friend!

  • Anonymous

    Well written article and I agree with a lot of the points made.  I think that until Android OS is the same with all phones, we’ll always have this fragmentation that hurts us more than you would think.  It’s a step in the right direction removing all manufacturer skins and hopefully everyone follows through. 

    They should be selling their phones based on the specs and brand loyalty, not what they screw up an already incredible OS. 

    I think that all manufacturers would sell their phones equally without their own skins on the phones.  I highly doubt the majority even realizes it when they purchase a device that it has a skin slapped on top of Android.  They simply think it’s Android.

    Hopefully all these guys realize this and we see a straight Google experience like we’re seeing on the Nexus.  It’s a way to make all updates come to phones equally, less bugs and a better experience for all users.

  • hatethanet

    Good article. OEM skinning sucks and makes the software update process so sh*tty.

  • Elrutt

    here’s my question, and maybe this has already been addressed. With the new android os will there still be the ability to run aftermarket launchers? i am running go launcher on my tbolt and prefer it to sense. no use for SEVEN home screens. when i get to a device w/ the sandwich, will i be able to customize it more than what google has done?

    • Of coure, you’ll always be able to choose a different launcher.

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    I have got to say this article made my year. Really great job Ron.

  • I’m even more excited to get this newupdate than I was for my OG!!!

  • Anonymous

    Ron, I think you’re a great addition to DL. I’ve enjoyed every one of your opinions so far, great writing man. 🙂

    • Tomgillotti

      I agree. I like this article and its perspective.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent article by the way!

    Google needs to strong arm these OEM’s cause these custom skins take forever to get out. All google phones should come with stock Android on it with the option to update to say:sense, moto blur, etc. when google releases 4.0 next month it should be available for phones that can handle it. Let the OEM’S skin it if they want to but we shouldn’t have to wait, they take forever. You know the OEM’s take forever skinning the update, if the dev community puts out roms before they do!

  • Ajan

    Does Android 4.0 provide built-in Bluetooth tethering (DUN or PAN)? I need low power tethering and can’t use a USB connection.

  • Kierra

    Voice recognition NEEDS work. Android is full of cool ideas but they are sometimes left unpolished.

    Sorry I dont have my rose colored glasses on. I really like Android but cmon. 

  • I have to use Launcherpro on my droid Incredible, because I’m really not a fan of HTC sense.  The customization’s that these home replacement apps offer are amazing, but one thing I noticed is that a lot of android users are unaware of these launchers, and what they are able to do.  Android gets a lot of criticism of being ugly, and mostly its because of these skins that are on Android phones.  I have my phone set up pretty nicely ( functionally, and visually ) but i wouldn’t expect new and even some existing android users to know how to set their phone up.  Which I feel could be a bad thing for android, seasoned owners of course know with any android phone sky is the limit to what it could look like and function ( ISN’T ANDROID THE BEST ) but a lot of consumers buy things based on initial first impression, the look of the phone and the look of the OS.  Even with the bare bones stock android launcher, it still needs some sprucing up.  I personally have no problem with it I actual enjoy setting things up myself, but for others it would be like going into an art store and buying a blank canvas with a frame to hang up on your wall.  With ICS I see this hole being filled, so far it looks amazing, and visually pleasing.  When I upgrade to the galaxy nexus I don’t think i’ll find myself needing Launcherpro anymore.  But Its a great thing of having the option to change back just in case, and that’s how it should be, no skins unless we want it.  Google should tug the leash a little on these manufacturers, it would be better for them as well.  I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of people out there who want android but avoid certain manufacturers because of the skins, even though they love the hardware of the phone.  They are missing out on potential customers. 

  • Anonymous

    If you think that Ice Cream Sandwich is going to cut down or cut out skins, I believe you are sadly mistaken.

    Just as their are UX changes to Honeycomb, there will be to Ice Cream Sandwich as well.  Manufacturers are NOT going to just suddenly given up on their “differentiation factors.”

    And unless they rebuilt everything from the ground up and changed how things work, then the lawsuits are not going to go away either.  Just making it look better does not make it any less “infringing” (not that I agree with it, but just that this is not enough to change the current landscape of lawsuits).

    Finally, Motorola never “threatened” that they were going to sue other Android manufacturers.  And knowing now, that when those statements (which were “interpreted” that way) were uttered that Google was already in talks with Motorola Mobility about an acquisition, it is even more obvious now than when those speculations were made, that this is NOT what they were talking about.

    I’ll agree with you that Android 4.0 looks good, and that there is a lot of polish that we as users have been asking for, for quite some time now.  But other than that… we will have to agree to disagree, because while I know you like to fantasize that “fragmentation” and user skins are going to go away, it just isn’t going to happen.

    • Anonymous

      We can dream though! =] Good points. Although IMO, I think Moto was playing a bit of hardball there.. I think they sort of forced Google’s hand. They paid an awful lot of money for Moto at the exact point in time when Moto needed it the most. (Well, post OG that is.) I think some of the words Jha was throwing around helped his cause.

      • Anonymous

        It was also a time when Google needed to do something the most as a lot of questions started coming up when Google gave up on the Nortel patents.  Did they overpay… probably, in order to keep Motorola from shopping itself around.

        As for dreaming… certainly no harm in that… but to believe that this is going to “force” anybody to no longer make skins as Ron suggested… yeah, that isn’t going to happen.

        • I don’t think this alone will force it. As I said in the article, I think this will form the basis of their argument. In the end, if they want to end skins they’ll have to pull the Market from any phone that is skinned.

  • guest

    What are everyone’s thoughts on the Nexus not having an sd card? I’ve been looking forward to getting this phone but I am really used to having a sd card with my OG.

    • Why do I need an SD card slot.  I think I’ve taken the card out of my current phone maybe once in the past 2 years.  What is the point of needing to take it out?

      • Kierra

        Just like I have never pulled my battery or never used an extended battey…

        • Anonymous

          I do both…. Frequently. I travel a lot and having loaded cards with movies and tv shows is a great thing. Being able to change my battery to watch those shows on a flight to Sydney, warrants both. Aside from that, everyone is touting cloud storage but all companies except sprint have data caps except sprint. Not a very nice to force people into using more bandwidth.

      • guest

        I’ve never taken mine out either but I’ve sure used the hell out of it. 

    • Kierra

      I care thats why I’m getting a Razr ,but most ppl on this site practice fanboyism and will just say its not a big deal…

  • Anonymous

    Ron, I agree with a lot of what you said. But I think you’re missing a big point about manufacturer skins. Sure, one of the reasons that they add custom skins onto their phones is to theoretically increase usability and add features that stock Android lacks. But in doing so (and this I believe is the point that you missed), they’re trying to make their phones stick out from the crowd. Android is great, but manufacturers don’t feel that they can compete sufficiently only through hardware. With more and more manufacturers producing more and more top-level devices, this is unfortunately true. They can’t compete on hardware alone, because they’ll lose the fight in no more than 5 weeks. This is where software plays a role in their mind. HTC thinks people love Sense. Same with Motorola and Blur. While some people may be brand loyal for these skins, most aren’t. But these companies don’t understand that, and they continue to push their custom UIs thinking that people love them. Making stock Android look better isn’t going to reduce their want (or need) to compete with other manufacturers in a different way. It’ll only make people like us yearn for stock Android more. To solve this whole problem, Google needs to not prohibit custom UIs, but mandate an easy on/off toggle switch.

    • I covered that aspect of it in a previous article so I skipped it here.

  • Mr_Snrub

    A world without different user interfaces?  Then what would us drones have to argue about?

    Oh wait.

    • Anonymous

      Actually, if you read some of the idiots (like cnet), then the argument starts to become, “but all these devices are so alike” (just look at some of the whining about Android tablets, and how similar they are).

  • Christopher Cook

    How did I never hear about Motorola thinking about and/or trying to sue other Android manufacturers? Can anyone point me to any articles about this?

    • Anonymous

      Sanjay Jha started talking about it shortly before the Google deal was announced.

  • LiterofCola

    great article

  • Anonymous

    Excellent article, Ron. Thanks.

  • Braston Bland

    Interesting article. I liked it.

  • Jon

    Everyone should watch the Ice Cream Sandwich reveal video from about 23:20 in. That’s when they show off Ice Cream Sandwich OS. I was really surprised at how much they’ve done. I have an Acer Iconia Honeycomb tablet and I can’t wait to get ICS on this thing! It seems like Google Is really on to something here that not only eclipses iOS in functionality, but also in ease of use, sexiness, and user wow factor. It looks to be that good! 

    There is a reason that Android is the #1 operating system for smartphones by a country mile. This update will only further solidify this marketshare lead. 

  • Anonymous
  • its definitely the education connection commercial girl!!

  • Cisco

    My Bionic is rooted already. Should I unroot it before the Android 4 update or won’t it matter. I only rooted it to turn on the hot spot feature.

    • You should be fine, but you’ll probably lose root when the update rolls out next year. 

      • Anonymous

        If Motorola has their way I bet he will.  I wish Motorola put more effort into decreasing bugs in their updates than they do in trying to fix root exploits.  Unfortunate.  

  • Anonymous

    well said! I’ve said it a few other times today but I think that if manufacturers still want to have a custom look (especially on older models for upgrades) they’re going to have to back off the core/framework mods and are going to become literally just a skin/theme consisting of their own launcher, widgets, apps and theme. just like now you can take a AOSP ROM and theme it to look like SenseUI. I’d hope they’d avoid doing this to new phones though their desire to stand out against the other OEMs makes me think they would. but hey! I’d take near vanilla android where I only need to freeze some bloat and install the APK for the real launcher any day over a full on UI cluster-frak!

  • FortitudineVincimus
    • No need to apologize. 

    • Anonymous

      Do you ever have anything nice to say? Get off your horse ‘bro’.

  • Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    From what I can tell from the SDK and system dump, you should theoretically be able to ‘freeze’ any app on the phone, even the ones in the /system/app… so, you would be able to freeze all of the blur on a Bionic and have ‘stock’ 4.0.
    But the phone has so many Blur framework dependencies, I don’t see how it’s possible that all this freezing would help…
    It’s a step in the right direction though, good to get the bloatware out of the way.
    I can’t wait to hold a Galaxy Nexus… Google, take my money!!!

    • KevinC

      Blur, Sense, TouchWiz, etc are integrated into the OS, you can’t just turn them off.

  • holy crap ron.. you can write!
    great read man. 

  • Doug

    *shiver of excitement,… so excited.

  • Bill

    RIP iOS.

  • Anonymous

    Great article, enjoyed reading it.

  • Mr ilheis

    Unification and elegance is key and that is what will lead Google to victory.

  • Tommy Thompson

    Why can’t HTC, Moto, or Samsung keep stock android but offer their custom launchers and UI’s in the Market? Free for those with that specific brand and charge for those who have a Samsung device, but want Sense?

    • With the bloatware blocker on ICS you should be able to have some control over the UI. Hopefully it allows users to go stock Andriod alltogether, that would be cool.

      • Fattie McDoogles

        I wouldn’t put all my eggs in that basket. I wonder how closely Google worked with Verizon or other American carriers on this OS. As nice as blocking bloatware sounds lets be honest… do you really think Verizon will let that feature be included? 

    • Anonymous

      makes sense to me. can’t for the life of me understand why they never did that? They’d make money from people who want their launcher, give the people who want stock their wish, and get rid of the confusion that non-tech android noobs face when trying different android phones that look completely different. Can’t tell you how many times Ive heard the chump at best buy telling somebody “this is a sense android phone”… Somebody wrote an article on DL a few months ago about how the skins are more of a “fragmentation” problem than anything else… I completely agree

      • I wrote the fragmentation article as well. That article and this one definitely go hand in hand. 

        • Anonymous

          I thought so. It was a great article. The vast majority of Android users are not visiting DL, theyre just learning their new phone. And somebody who goes from the Incredible to the Bionic is going to have no idea wtf is going on.
          On a different note, Ron, what do you think of both the RAZR not having a removable battery, and the Nexus not having expandable storage? I’ve been whining about this on DL/Engadget for days now and haven’t gotten any input from the people who are in the position to write an article (I could write one, if you want… seriously, I’d love to lol) My $.02: It’s a mistake. Whether there are practical reasons or not, allowing the end user to do whatever the hell he/she wants has been a staple of Android, setting it apart from iOS… removing that flexibility is a mistake…

          • I’m fine with the first decision personally. Having a built in battery allows manufacturers to put in a larger battery that won’t need replacing. As for the lack of expandable storage, that will become less of an issue as more things are stored on the web, but I wish they would have offered the option. 

          • Madcow06

            Agreed about the battery. I know there are people out there that do carry an extra battery out of necessity. But in these days who isn’t by an outlet, in a car, or by a computer at some point in the day to charge a phone if needed. I’ve always been able to get at least a full day out of first my OG Droid and now my Droid X, just hoping the same for the Razr or Nexus.

          • GotMoo

            I don’t think I’d miss expandable memory…  I haven’t changed the sd  card in my OG droid and it only ran out of space because I had 12 gigs in clockwork backups on it 🙂 

            I still listen to music/podcasts on it all day long, but most of it comes from the cloud.

            With the 4G connectivity of the GN, and automatically uploading photos/videos I don’t foresee any issues with running out of space. Then again, someone also said that about 640K ram…

          • Jjl207

            My question is: Whither the HTC Rezound?  It seems like an outstanding phone hardware wise, at least from the rumored specs, and once the source code is released and say, an ICS-based Cyanogen mod becomes available, the Rezound could be the phone to get.  I am nervous about the lack of an SD card.  I’ve replaced my OG Droid twice, and the fact that all I had to do was pop in my SD card to get my photos and Word docs back gave me a great sense of security.  I’ve backed up my photos to Android and I’m looking at using the AirSync feature in DoubleTwist, but the usability of those two apps isn’t perfect either.  Is Picasa the solution to this?  I would love it if Google would set up a system linked to my Google account similar to the Market where when I log into my Google account on my phone, I have the option of downloading files to the new phone. 

          • Anonymous

            lol itunes for android?

          • Anonymous

            but with out conecting your phone to a computer….that would be nice and free would be even better..To the cloud Alise….dont know about this….I’m thinking of getting  the G-Nexus and the solution for not having an sd card in the device, has me thinking of backing up the data on the sd car weekly maybe or depending how often I save stuff onto it…

          • Anonymous

            Remember…Google has Promised MANY MORE New changes to its product lineup that will be introduced by Christmas ! Rumoured features/products might include : Full Cloud Storage/Access, Music Store (to go along with Movies in the Market?), expanded Google Wallet AND the ” unification ” of ALL services/products. This Could Be even More Influential to Android users & not just your casual gmail user out there now. Google is becoming a “Super Amazon” and ios – style Full Content Provider. It will ALL come together as a GREAT Christmas Present for us !!!

      • Anonymous

        The bb guy is right htcs are sense android phones

        • Anonymous

          problem is there are people that don’t understand that Android is the OS and Sense is the UI. And when the Sense changes the feel of the phone so significantly that you wouldn’t recognize that both a Sense and Blur UI phone were running the same OS, that’s kind of problematic.

          • Anonymous

            But for the manufacturers, that is exactly the point.  They don’t want consumers just wanting an Android phone, they want them to want THEIR Android phone.  So if Motorola looks different, and the consumer says, “no, I want the one that looks like my HTC BlahBlah, then HTC wins”

          • Anonymous

            Exactly. To those of us reading blogs like this, skins are a nuisance (just give us stock already!!). Others may find skins more useful. To take away the ability of manufacturers – or anyone for that matter – to customize android to their liking, would be remove the open foundation android was built upon. Still, I agree that it has gone too far to the left and needs to be recentered. ICS will hopefully do just that.

            If only manufacturers would give us two options for every phone – stock UX and skinned UX. Then everyone would be happy.

          • Anonymous

            Agreed! There must be some way to switch between Stock & Skin.

          • Anonymous

            Actually, I think it’s more like “well, I have no idea how to use that android phone but this one looks familiar so I’ll stick with it”.  It’s a way to keep people stuck in one brand whether they really enjoy it or not.

            there are definintely good points to some of the skins, but it looks like ICS is going to incorporate a lot of them.

      • Jarred Sutherland

        I think the answer to this is that it goes MUCH deeper than the launcher. In the case of HTC, their custom UI has it’s roots deep in Android. You can see this from the ROM guys that give stripped down versions of HTC stock roms. Just removing the UI changes and trying to put in a stock launcher (or ADW or whatever) generally results in the rom not booting and giving all sorts of errors. It has a totally different dialer (with it’s own access codes, etc) and many other changes, so I think delivering it via APK is somewhat out of the question.

        For the easier answer : Because HTC/Moto/Samsung don’t want you to. The UI is their trademark, so to speak. For people who just want a smartphone and honestly don’t care what it is, they stick to what they know. This is why Apple has stuck with the same UI since first release. People LOVE being comfortable, if you make them feel uncomfortable by putting them in uncharted waters (however easy to navigate they may be), they will remember that the next time they go to purchase an upgrade.

        You guys really seem to forget that we are the teeeny tiny group that likes to be able to do whatever with their device. Other people just want a smartphone to browse the web, check facebook, get email, send texts and have a pretty background picture. Beyond that, they couldn’t care less what OS runs the device, how much RAM it has, what CPU/GPU it’s running, etc. We are the minority, that’s the way it is and has been and the way it will continue to be.

        • Granted

          Yep, forgetting the minority part is a constant annoyance when reading elitist rants from motards. I’m going to go all “The Good Son” on my neighbors dog if it doesn’t shut the shit up. It’s incessant barking is damaging my already fractured psyche.

        •  Excellent point, sir. While in theory having these skins available on the market would be great, it takes away from the manufacturer’s identity. Can you really imagine HTC without Sense? Or Sammy without TouchWiz? Aside from the hardware differences that each phone has, their own UI’s are what make them different, love them or hate them. I left Moto out simply because of the OG Droid, and the fact that I can see with the new partnership with them and Google, Blur going away. I would think that it would be in Google’s best interest to not necessarily keep OEM’s from having their own skins, but rather have them dial the UI’s back a bit, so they’re not so drastically different from each other. As someone who sells for Verizon, I have come across customers who are just flat out confused by the differences between some of the UI’s. Not everyone is as tech savvy as those that frequent sites like Droid Life.

    • Anonymous

      or Google offer the ICS launcher (maybe all the core Google system apps) to install allowing us to choose. problem is average customer has no clue they don’t have stock android until someone like us tells them “oh, you’re running TouchWiz”

    • Anonymous

      Because they are not interested in giving you options.  They do not want “vanilla” devices, they want devices that will (in theory) make users want THEIR devices.  For those that like Sense (though after now having a Thunderbolt for several months, I am more baffled than ever why people actually like it), they want people to not just reach for another Android phone when the time comes, they want you to reach for an HTC phone.

      The tiny crowd that clamors for vanilla is vocal, but statistically insignificant.

    • Anonymous

      I think most people here completely misunderstand the point of skins.  Yes, part of it is to add functionality, but for the most part, the point is for BRAND RECOGNITION.

      Let’s look at 3 phones from yesteryear that had similar specs, and were released relatively around the same time.

      Samsung Galaxy S (I think the Fascinate on VZW?)

      Droid X

      Droid Incredible

      I go into the store, and I see these 3 phones.  I don’t care about RAM,
      CPU Speed, etc.  Screen size doesn’t matter to me, so all 3 phones look
      like decent buys.  How do I decide?  I play with the phones, and
      determine which one I like the best. 

      I decide I like the Sense phone the best so I buy that phone.  I don’t
      care about stock Android, I just care about the user experience.  I’m
      more likely to buy an HTC moving forward because the Moto and Samsung
      phones had crappy experiences. 

      If I had walked into the store and all 3 were running stock Android, I’d
      be confused and would have to rely on the salesman and his bias. 

      Enforcing a single UI (in this case, stock Android) isn’t a good idea
      either.  Anyone remember the old feature phone days?  Remember when all
      phones had a “Carrier UI” that was unique to the carrier?  The UI on the
      Moto RAZR was different on VZW as opposed to AT&T.  I remember
      reading thread after thread with people trying to remove the stupid VZW
      UI on the RAZR (HowardForums FTW!). 

      I think the answer is for the carriers to release a stock ROM for us,
      much like HTC has with the unlock tool.  This is probably the only way
      for us since the OEM UIs are not just uninstalled with an APK.  This is
      why the Moto dialer can’t be ported to a non-blur ROM. 

      • Your argument against a unified UI is based on the RAZR? Seriously? Skins are bad for Android. http://www.droid-life.com/2011/09/12/android-fragmentation-is-much-more-than-just-numbers-its-about-skins-too-opinion/

        • Anonymous

          What I’m saying, (and after reading I feel I should have proof read once or twice since the post was all over the place) is that skins should be optional, but they’re important to the OEMs for the users who won’t be modding their phones… you know, the majority of users.  

          As mentioned earlier, as HTC, I want a user to have loyalty to the HTC Flavor of Android.  I want them to grab a Samsung Android and say “Ewwww, this sucks compared to my HTC.”  In other words, brand loyalty.  So when that user walks into the store, they’re going to walk straight to the new HTC phones as opposed to the Samsung and Motorola. 

          Remember, users don’t care about specs and OMAP vs Tegra vs Snapdragon.  Have you ever heard an iPhone user boast about the A5 in their new 4S?  It’s all about the user experience, and customizing it to their brand so the user will be more likely to buy an HTC vs any other OEM.  

          Additionally, there are some basic features that Google really dropped the ball on.  ICS really SHOULD have smart dialing baked into it.  It’s ridiculous that at this point, a phone OS doesn’t have smart dialing.  Apps don’t cut it… most of them are decent at best.  

          The comparison to the OG RAZR days (and every VZW phone after that sharing the same UI) was simply to say I don’t think that enforcing a standard UI across platforms is a good idea.  It makes OEMs really just hardware vendors.  I actually look forward to Moto’s upcoming personal cloud software; it has promise.  If it requires Blur to run, I might be tempted to use a Blurry ROM if I continue to buy Motorola phones.  Additionally, if I don’t like a specific aspect of stock, I lose the option of switching to a different OEM to see if the experience is better.  Instead of getting 3 – 4 different flavors of Android, I get 1… and if I don’t like it, I’m going to an iPhone (not me personally, as a user I mean).  

          Speaking of Blurry ROMs, I’ve been running CM7 on my DX for a few weeks now.  What a crappy experience.  Stock GB really isn’t all that great. I really miss Liberty and I’m waiting for it to be updated.  Battery life sucks, the Stock Android dialer is dreadful, and some of the Blur pieces actually add great functionality.  The Blur Camera is 100 times better than the stock one for instance, and I’ve already mentioned the Blur Dialer.

          Bottom line is this.  It’s not in the OEMs best interest to continue developing and producing Android phones if they can’t create their own user experiences.  Sense is really well made and if HTC picks up their build quality, I might wait for an HTC ICS phone.  Blur and TouchWiz still have a long way to go, but I heard the newer versions of TW were much better. These skins can be removed as seen by our ROM makers, and if the Boot Loader is unlocked, it’s an even easier experience as I learned putting CM7 on my wife’s Fascinate.  Does that clear things up?

          • I’ve said many times before that making skins optional or available in the Market would be a fine alternative. I’m aware of HTC’s and Motorola’s reasons for skinning… I covered those in the article I posted above (http://www.droid-life.com/2011/09/12/android-fragmentation-is-much-more-than-just-numbers-its-about-skins-too-opinion/). I don’t know why you brought specs into the discussion, but I agree with you there. In fact, I’ve made every single one of these points about average consumers in previous articles posted here on Droid-Life. I’m very much aware of what the average consumer wants. 

            I agree that the Blur camera is much better than the camera in AOSP Android. I used to run Fission on my D2 for that very reason – I wanted parts of Blur like the camera and the gallery, but the rest to be stock. That said, everything is different in ICS. Apps like camera, gallery, phone, messaging, etc. have all been re-done and have a much better look and feel to them. 

            I’m aware that it is not in the manufacturers’ best interest to stop making skins (again, please read my article…). That’s why I present it as a problem for Google, not the manufacturers. 

        • Anonymous

          I should have re-read that commentary before typing the wall of text.  

          I disagree with you though.  I think only a small percentage, or a vocal minority, really truly cares about updates and skins.  My wife had no idea or cared that her phone was skinned… she liked it actually.  It wasn’t until her phone started taking a crap on the software side that she finally asked me to fix it (which I did by putting CM7 on it).  She to this day wishes she had SOME features of TW back, but doesn’t want to go fast because her phone doesn’t lag as much.  

          You have to remember, we are enthusiasts.  The majority are the users out there like my wife who just want it to work and play Angry Birds without lag.  Sure, the vocal minority convinced HTC to unlock their bootloaders… but see how successful that vocal minority would be if we tried to take away their brand, or Sense.  Ain’t gonna happen.

  • Azndan4

    But when is it coming to VZW?

    • Anonymous

      november 10th, same date as the razr and vigor.

  • Anonymous

    i don’t know about this article kellex….i’m not a computer scientist

    • Anthony Armando


    • John

      he didn’t write this article.

  • Anonymous

    Great op/ed!! It multiplied my initial excitement of ICS by a million! 
    Android = the very best in form and function!

  • Anonymous

    Android is like that one girl in high school who was really geeky and no one wanted to be around. Who then grew up to become a super hot super model that everyone wanted in bed.

    Yea, I think that sounds about right.

    • Anonymous

      As do I =)

    • I agree!!!

    • Anonymous

      So, you’re basically saying, android is the T-mobile girl…

      • Anonymous

        Nice =D!

      • UndergroundWire

        Or the LG girl. She’s yummy!

        • Definitely the LG girl over the T-Mobile girl.

          • We are NOT having this conversation here. Let’s take it to Twitter! 😛

          • Mommy look, virgins!

        • Huffy

          The Spanish language T-mobile girl is a total p.o.a…….

    • LiterofCola

      yep, basically

    • SugaShane

      This “opinion” brought a single, lingering tear to my eye. It was beautiful. 

  • Dan

    swag on the galaxy nexus

  • Anonymous

    This OS should be the greatest thing to ever happen to a smart phone. So excited and can’t wait for the custom ROM’s to start filing in!!!

  • Jonathan Carnesciali


  • nxusnow