Some folks love customized skins like HTC Sense and TouchWiz. They feel that these customization add extra value, or that they simply look or work ‘better’ than stock.
For those of us that don’t have the same love for custom skins, we pretty much have two options: flash a custom ROM or get a Nexus device. That’s just the way it is, as most manufacturers continue to ignore vanilla Android. The big question is why.
TouchWiz is at the heart of Samsung’s mobile strategy, but that didn’t stop Google from announcing a version of the Samsung Galaxy S4 that runs on vanilla Android.
Pure Android runs faster, gets quicker updates and arguably looks better too. Not to mention there isn’t a bunch of bloat taking up more space on your phone.
The demand is there, at least from the hardcore crowd. So why haven’t more vendors ditched their custom skins?
Setting themselves apart from the rest of the pack
The most obvious reason is that it gives manufacturers an easy way to make their devices different from the rest of the crowd. Without Sense or TouchWiz, HTC and Samsung would have little to set themselves apart from each other outside of specs and design aesthetics.
For devices like the Samsung Galaxy S4, it is also about creating custom software that allows the use of specialized hardware that isn’t recognized by Android in its default form. It remains unseen right now, but it is possible that some of the GS4′s special features won’t work with stock Android.
Once upon a time, a case could very well be made stating that custom UIs made Android “look and feel better”. That was in the days of Android 1.x and 2.x – a lot has changed with Android ICS and Jelly Bean, and Android has now matured into a very beautiful stock experience.
The partnership factor
Custom software allows the vendor more control over the experience, too. They can use this control to rollout updates at their own pace – and delay some updates, if needed, in order to push users towards newer devices.
They can also work with partners to put on
bloatware special apps like Facebook, though obviously they could still do that with vanilla Android, it just wouldn’t be ‘true stock’.
I could certainly be wrong, but I have a feeling that a manufacturer’s custom UI and software generates profit through these kinds of deals that goes way beyond just the money made from selling the device to customers.
The carrier factor
Creating a stock Android phone isn’t enough to win over buyers, it also needs to be unlocked and modder-friendly. The problem with that is that carriers HATE unlocked bootloaders. Carriers such as Verizon give plenty of official reasons why they want to prevent you from unlocking bootloaders such as “giving you better customer service” and “protecting your devices”.
The reality is that that carriers often have specialized software that they don’t want you removing. They also are concerned that custom ROMs could somehow be used “against the network” or could allow you to bypass guards they use to prevent things like tethering without a special plan.
Bottom-line, carriers would be less receptive of manufacturers that pushed Nexus-like devices. Of course that argument doesn’t completely hold water either – considering the Nexus 4 is currently available directly from T-Mobile. Both Sprint and Verizon also once carried the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.
So what’s standing in the way of more Nexus-like devices?
All of the factors listed above are understandable, but remember: this doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” game.
Manufacturers could easily do exactly what Samsung is doing with the GS4, release a Nexus-like variant alongside a customized UI-based model. Even if carriers weren’t interested, they could always take to Google Play or their own websites to sell their stock Android phones.
Okay, but then what is really standing in the way of more Nexus-like devices? The unknown.
The Nexus line has been extremely successful so far, but a large part of that could be due to Google’s aggressive pricing, especially with the Nexus 4. With the Samsung Galaxy S4 “Google Edition”, the same kind of price cuts aren’t present. That makes the GS4 an important experiment.
Will hardcore Android fans still flock to it? If they do, I suspect that more vendors will be actively interested in creating their own Nexus-like devices, whether they sell them through Google Play or not.
How about it, would you be willing to pay full price for bloat-free vanilla Android versions of devices like the HTC One and Sony Xperia Z? Do you already plan on snagging the vanilla Android version of the Galaxy S4?