Should OEMs Ship Android Devices with Barenaked Android?

November 22, 2011
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    With so many customizations that ship together with every Android device in the market, it’s funny to know how users tend to either love or hate the way their devices look with the manufacturer-determined, built-in user interfaces.

    Companies such as HTC, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, and Motorola have their own style of providing users with their very own signature UIs and skins. But still, many consumers prefer to be left alone to do the choosing for whatever customizations consumers want to put on their devices.

    Freedom and Choice

    Android is all about user choice and freedom.  If manufacturers and carriers force their respective customizations down customers’ throats without providing customers an easy way out (i.e., no rooting, no hacking, no modding, no typing of terminal commands, no voiding of warranty) of the choking experience, Android’s lofty ambition for upholding user choice and freedom is defeated.

    Yet, on the other end of the stick is Android’s being open even to manufacturers and carriers.  With Android’s being opensource, anyone–users, manufacturers, and carriers alike–can take the Android source code, modify it according to their needs, and distribute it.

    There is a seeming conflict between users’ needs for vanilla Android and manufacturers’ need to differentiate themselves from the competition.  Is there a possible middle ground where the two can meet?

    Vanilla Android

    There seems to be one: ship Android devices with barenaked Android and with no manufacturer or carrier customizations.  Starting from that, several possible options/scenarios have been offered by many minds around the Web.  PhoneDog sums up the most frequently suggested ones:

    • Give users the option to choose either stock or a custom skin at initial boot
    • Ship all devices with stock Android and offer Sense UI, TouchWiz or Motorola Applications Platform in Market as a free download for specific devices
    • Ship all devices with stock Android and offer the skins in Android Market as paid widget and app packages for all Android devices, irrespective of manufacturer
    • Ship with a custom UI but allow the user to opt out

    Shipping vanilla Android on every Android smartphone and tablet will put a clear face on Android.  With the current practice of preloading manufacturer customizations, first-time Android users would hardly know who or what Android exactly is.  For HTC users, is Android HTC Sense?  For Samsung users, is Android Samsung TouchWiz?  And so on.

    But, by shipping vanilla Android on devices, people could immediately see Android face-to-face, and get the option to dress up Google’s robot with custom-made dresses from their device’s manufacturers.  That is choice.

    Add-on Value with OEM Skins

    It may even be great if manufacturers offered cross-device custom UIs and skins.  Many people, in fact–and rather ironically–have frequently wished for HTC Sense on their Samsung devices, or for Samsung TouchWiz on their HTC devices.  Modders and hackers have succeeded, though, in cross-porting the various custom manufacturer UIs to several devices.  And what’s even greater is that other custom, non-OEM-made versions of Android also exist (as custom ROMs)–which tend to make Android devices perform much better, too.

    Shipping out barenaked Android devices is not an entirely bad idea but a great way to bridge gaps between customer needs and OEM needs in realizing how they can fully adapt to Android’s flexibility.

    Do you like the idea of Android devices being shipped without OEM UIs and software included? Have anything to add to the list of suggestions?

     

     

     

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    Comments

    • Mqabandi

      I like the hTC Sense, hTC graffics are much more attractive than Androids

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gary-Downes/100001811702298 Gary Downes

        HTC Sense is Android…..

    • Dru

      Good Article! Hope there are some OEM devs looking as this… another suggestion could be that users are offered a choice of two ROMS from the website; one with pure android, and the other with all the OEM customization.

    • Amine Elouakil

      I don’t think OEMs needs to remove their UIs especially in the case of HTC because:

      -Sense is pretty easy to use and much more appealing than the Android stock UI

      -It is the most innovative UI out there, and I somewhat feel sad for HTC because not only their UI is being riped of in terms of graphics, but also in terms of innovations, for exemple: before the android market website, you could log on to the htcsense.com, and download/buy apps directly from the website the htcsense.com still offer other functionalities that the competition doesnt have, another exemple would HTC watch few months after it was introduced, Google introduced their movie section, in terms of functionalities, the lock screen and opening apps directly from the lock screen is a feature that now being used in other UIs and also ICS… The camera app on ICS has too much innovations that were introduced before in HTC phones like the mytouch4g …..

      Well I think manufacturers needs to differentiat their products from other manufacturers, but this comes at prices, which is related to updates but even in the case of pure android that probleme would persist diffrent hardware for each phone

    • Anonymous

      pretty good article. I feel like there should be a required option on skinned devices to switch to stock, should they want to. They can bury it in the settings menu or even required a special code to unlock it to keep the non tech savvy from activating it by mistake. Its pretty insane you have to void your warranty by rooting to get the UI you want on a supposedly open platform. I don’t think it will happen but I can dream.

      it’ll be interesting to see what manufacturers do with ICS, since really, vanilla android isn’t so ‘vanilla’ anymore and has a lot of the manufacturers customizations built in.

    • Scott McConnell

      OEMs do need a way to stand out from the crowd and UI is the obvious way to do it, however, it seems to make a lot of sense to have the different options (Sense, TouchWiz ect) available for download in the market. Not only would this allow users to upgrade to the most current version for their handset but if it was open to all handsets would allow more people to get the OEMs user experience which could drive future sales for that OEM.

      It just makes sense to allow people to opt out if they so choose, I agree with the article that choice is what Android different from IOS devices. I have an HTC device and have no issue with the Sense interface, but I also have no choice without rooting my phone. I would be happy to try TouchWiz and see if it was better but who is to say that I would not go back to Sense.

      This will become more important as time goes by and I think that in the end OEMs will be forced into including a “vanilla” version of Android with new handsets.

      A solid article!

    • Tony Bolduc

      The fact that cyanogenmod is so big screams that the phones should come with nothing. Then if you want sense or whatever else you can download it in the market. The first thing I do with a new phone is root and remove all the bloatware. Just sayin ( :

      • http://goo.gl/1056j Ironzey Lewis

        The thing that people seem to not mention about Cyanogenmod is that it is NOT stock android. It may not be as heavily modified as Blur, Sense or TouchWiz but it’s still not stock.

        Android would not be as popular if there were no OEMs to fill in the gaps left in android. Things like the panoramic camera, built in “hipster filters” have been features of the OEMs have had for a while.

        I used to be all “GIVE ME STOCK OR NOTHING AT ALL” until I actually used Sense and nowI have to saw, it’s pretty, it’s useful, and it doesn’t sucks at all.

    • AppleFUD

      There needs to be a way for Google to directly support any device long term–a minimum of 2.5 years to ensure contract coverage and life of hardware, and as hardware increased that life span should be increased even if at a minimal fee, say after 2 years. I would be more than happy to pay for an OS update/upgrade.

      The problem with skins is that they slow down updates and make updates go through OEM’s and carriers which slow down the process even more. This is not optimal for Android as an ecosystem and may often result in poor customer satisfaction.

      Note*
      I’m not talking about requiring OEM’s to go through Google. I’m suggesting that they give Google the drivers and a vanilla version of Android that works for the handset so Google can then offer the option of you, the user, converting to vanilla Android and having Google directly support the device instead of the carrier/OEM. The skinning of Android is a good thing for OEM’s and some of them are starting to offer decent support. However, it makes Android more closed and proprietary than WP7 and right next to iOS.

      .

      When apple & MS can push updates/upgrades directly asap and Android users have to wait, sometimes more than a year, the reviews and consensus over time will become, don’t buy Android because OEM’s don’t support the devices–we have the 3G mytouch and will NEVER purchase anything other than a Nexus form now on, total and utter crap support from HTC–one major update/upgrade in its entire life and it left the device buggier.

      Furthermore, by not having one central OS supplier Android can’t force the carriers to do anything–the carriers force Android OEM’s to do what they want.

      AndroidPolice had an article last night about custom ROMs–the writer argued that it has become too fractured and there are way too many custom ROMs that are total crap–this continues the support issue. Read on any site where an apple fan rags on Android about OS support and an Android fan will say, “just flash a custom ROM.” Yet, there is NO guarantee for support in the custom ROM community because it isn’t focused and is NOT a “product” as many argued on the article last night–it’s donation based and you as the user deserve nothing because devs are doing it on the side thus, like the Linux desktop community Android is nothing more than a fractured mess that is fun for devs, end users be damned.

      The conclusion is, Android OS support SUCKS!

      The ONLY way you will get good Android OS support is by buying a Google experience device–the Nexus line of handsets, and there is currently NO tablet.

      This puts Android is the same craptastic position as the iphone–one choice, one way, nothing else. Sure, Android may be “better” in some ways but this whole issue really limits Android potential and user choice and only devs & OEM’s get to customize it–end users are stuck with what they get–sounds a lot like the iphone to me.

      Ultimately what we will see is, Win8 will be released. It will stomp on the tablet market like Win95 did on PCs. Everyone will get it, except big business. . . consumers will flock to it. Then they will say, well. . . might as well go WP7, and in one year you will see 300+million PC/tablets sold with Win8, 100million upgrades, and more WP7′s purchased than you care to imagine.

      Don’t think it’s possible? How quickly did Nokia’s smartphone line go to shit? How about RIM”s stunted growth?

      Phones are easily replaced in people’s lives. Android doesn’t have the cult like following apple does–those few that are so “I love Android’s openness” are a very very small minority, 200K or so users.

      This is all due to Google’s lack of vision and control–they are working on two operating systems instead of getting Android working on everything and supporting it so users have real choice not just carriers and OEM’s.

    • Anonymous

      take away the manufacturers UIs so you can add DxTop, or Pandahome, or LauncherPro…

    • anon

      Great article!. Love the idea of shipping with stock Android and then allowing the user to customize. Google could probably help with this by providing a way for the manufacturer and carrier to inject info about the customized versions of Android into the setup process and setting up something to collect payment.

    • http://www.androidgenus.com AndroidGenus

      The option needs to be there: Android is based on user choice. You can choose your manufacturer or your phone model. The natural progression is to choose your interface or launcher.

      With ICS looking like the best option so far from Google, I think that OEMs have no option but to at least give users the choice. Failing that, custom ROMs will proliferate even more and OEMs will lose a grip on the sort of things that users are doing with/to their devices. Especially considering how easy it is to install something like Cyanogen nowadays. I take my hat off to those dev teams for the work they do, largely free of charge.

      The customer is always right…

    • http://profiles.google.com/eric.soulliage eric Soulliage

      i just love my HTC DHD , even if i am thinking of going galaxy nexus , i love my DHD because it is heavvily hacked , running sense 3 at 2Ghz presently but i change rom frequently
      having to root a phone is part of the phun , but i will not buy handsets with signed boot loaders and checksummed roms , so here i raise my hat to htc , amd bitch about moto (razr)

      cheers

    • Anonymous

      I have been trying to figure this out as well. I have an Original Droid on Verizon, all stock, not rooted, ROMed, etc, which I guess is a good example of plain, vanilla Android. I love it, but next April it’s upgrade time, and I am not sure what to get. I will spare the examples of phones I want, but I am curious as to what is Android and what is a UI. I’m not sure what to go with, so many people hate Blur but love Sense, which is interesting to me. I am working on learning more about this subject, I’m glad I read this!

    • BahamasGeek242

      I wish all the android phones came stock but that will not happen anytime soon, I am just hoping that OEM’s support the phones for more than a year and push out updates a little faster

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