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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