If you thought the version of Android installed on the Google Play Editions of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One would be identical to AOSP, think again. Reviewers at some media outlets able to get their hands on test units noted a few, relatively minor differences between stock Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean and the software pre-installed on the Google Play Edition phones. Though not much more than subtle UI enhancements, the incongruities are worth a quick look.
Perhaps the most obvious change is the camera app. Though lacking in new functionality, the Google Play Edition APK features an improved user interface. The new design allows for easier selection of options that could, more often than not, be obscured by users’ thumbs.
It’s unclear why Google decided to update Camera in Google Play Edition phones. Some speculate the move may herald the separation of yet another core app from the Android operating system; Google could choose to make Camera available through Google Play, allowing users with smartphones no longer supported by manufactures to continue to receive updates.
Google Play Edition phones come with a new default background: a red-themed Phase Beam live wallpaper. It’s possible we’ll see this in the next Nexus.
Google’s made a unique boot animation for Google Play Edition phones. It’s the iOS Google+ app’s refresh animation, and does a good job of differentiating the special HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 from their vanilla, Nexus, and rooted cousins.
So, what does this all mean for AOSP? Nothing much, really. The camera app is more than likely either (1) going to be released in the Play store, or (2) coming in a future version of Android. Google hasn’t officially released the red Phase Beam wallpaper for download, but third parties have already made identical backgrounds. And boot animations have always differed from one phone to another. These differences are not cause for alarm – they just are. Android’s open. In time, every Nexus and Play Edition phone will be on equal footing, software-wise.