How TouchWiz, Sense UI, and other OEM skins are a benefit to Android

by: Brad WardMay 23, 2013


Those among the tech crowd love the stock Android experience and tend to shout belligerent remarks against anything that isn’t stock Android, such as Samsung’s TouchWiz interface and HTC’s Sense UI. While stock Android offers an immaculate, unadulterated, and bloat-free Android experience, TouchWiz, Sense UI, and other OEM skins also have a very important part to play in the world of Android.

A smartphone for everyone

While there are many reasons why Android is a great operating system, there’s one in particular that sticks out to me: open source. The benefit to Android being open source is that a number of manufacturers can create their smartphones based off of Android while offering a different experience through the use of a custom skin, such as TouchWiz or Sense UI.

Consumers who aren’t fond of stock Android still have other experiences they can try out while staying within the Android ecosystem. Let’s face it, not everyone is going to like a pure Android experience, and not everyone is going to like TouchWiz, Sense UI, Motoblur, or some other OEM skin.

One of the reasons why many people use Android over iOS is the fact that Android has so many faces thanks to the variety of Android ROMs (stock and non-stock) that can be further customized by each user. Not including jailbreaks, there isn’t another iOS device in the world that offers a different UI experience while letting you stay in the iOS ecosystem. That’s where Android has the upper hand.

While many see OEM skins as a plague to Android, they’re actually a benefit. In the end, there are more Android users than there would be if stock Android was the only experience available. After all, how many Android-powered Galaxy S4’s did Samsung sell this month?

Stock Android, TouchWiz, Sense UI, Motoblur, and other OEM skins all are very beneficial to Android. This stock Android versus [insert OEM skin here] feud is pointless. In the end, Android, as an operating system, wins.

samsung galaxy s4 vs galaxy s3 s4 touchwiz oem skin aa

The “bloat” problem

As I mentioned earlier, folks, stock Android offers an immaculate, unadulterated, and bloat-free Android experience. On the other side of the spectrum, TouchWiz, Sense UI, Motoblur, and other OEM skins are loaded with unneeded bloatware.

It’s the one downside to OEM skins, and there’s really no way to get rid of the bloatware, as it’s installed on a device’s /system partition. You could root your device to dispose of it, but that’s hardly a solution for the everyday consumer.

Here’s the kicker though, the only people that really hate bloatware are among the tech crowd. I’m going out on a limb here, but I’d say bloatware is useful for the average Joe. Features like S Health, S Voice, ChatON, and dare I say Group Play, can be found useful among the everyday user. Sure, the tech crowd and some consumers know that there are better alternatives in the Play Store, but this isn’t the case for the large majority.

With that said, bloatware isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Believe it or not, it can be beneficial to Android. When HTC announced the One, its flagship for 2013, people were very interested in features like HTC Zoe, BoomSound, and BlinkFeed. The hardware? Not so much. The large majority is more interested in features and software than hardware.

Another example is Xiaomi’s Mi2S smartphone running MIUI atop of Android that are selling in droves. While they’re unfortunately not available on international markets, the smartphone is still extremely popular among Chinese buyers. Considering it’s wild success, you’d expect that the buyers really enjoy MIUI, which can also be flashed on supported devices.

That said, the more appeal devices like the Galaxy S4, HTC One, or Mi2S have, the more people are going to buy them, thus benefiting Android even further.

Android robot logo 3 1600 aa

The Kindle Fire’s rise to popularity

Let’s briefly look at the Kindle Fire. It’s running a forked version of Android, but despite that, the family of tablets is very popular and is selling extremely well. In fact, for Q1 2013, Amazon ranked fourth among some of the top dogs in the tablet market after Apple, Samsung and ASUS.

Stock Android isn’t present on any devices in Amazon’s Kindle Fire family. So why is it so popular? Amazon offers some good quality tablets running a forked version of Android for cheap. As you can see here, Amazon’s most expensive tablet, an LTE-equipped 64GB Kindle Fire HD 8.9, costs $499. Alternatively, an LTE-equipped 64GB iPad costs $829 with similar specs to the Kindle Fire HD. The difference in pricing is stunning.

All in all, the diversity of manufactuers and OEM skins are benefiting Android in a lot of ways. While a stock Android experience is one of the nicest UI’s out there, it’s not the key to Android’s wild success that continues to spread like wildfire. It’s a team effort.


While my preference happens to be stock Android, it’s hard to overlook the part that OEM skins play in the Android world. Even though some of the Android skins look like they have a cartoon-like theme or seem childish (the list of complaints could go on forever), that’s what’s awesome about Android: the diversity, smartphones not for a small group of people, but for everyone. Different smartphones that will fit all kinds of personalities.

What do you think of TouchWiz and OEM skins in general? Do you think they benefit Android at all?

  • rfrost

    SKINS should be an API layer in Android that can be TURNED OFF with a single click of a button to return every user to STOCK ANDROID.

    The OS should NOT be touched to make Skins – all mods should be done in Apps only.

    This is something that Google should look at – and All phones should have a ‘Return to Stock’ mode to allow stock experience to be a default if a user wants that.

    • Sadly, that’s not going to happen.

      • Lowry Brooks

        Agreed. The OEM’s will not want that to happen at all..

    • Google is trying to solve this issue. Everything in Android is an app. So I don’t think it will be hard to do.

    • nicedudex26

      you are right there should be an option to enable stock when we want and go back

    • Remember how Google applauded Facebook Home and told every one how this is what they intended Android fore. How they hope more manufacturers do this. :/

    • gommer strike

      and would that benefit the AVERAGE user – your grandmother, your old pappy who still reminisces of WW2…you know, *those* people.

      point is, the non-techies who honestly don’t know, nor care, what hardware or software is. They don’t, and shouldn’t care. They aren’t techies and view us nerds playing with your phones wasting time when shouldn’t we be doing something useful, instead of fiddling with a phone.

      • On a Clear Day

        Exactly. One of the reasons became popular and remains in some circles is that it was reliable; did as advertised and didn’t cause people headaches. Do the majority of people who have iPhones use even one quarter of the various programs etc they could avail themselves of – or even know they exist to be used; or care that they might exist? No.

        Sometimes “a cigar is just a cigar” and “a fancy phone is just a fancy phone”.

    • JosephHindy

      So what you’re saying is that Android should have one single uniform operating system and all else is just bloatware and gets in the way.

      You know Steve Jobs said something to that effect once. Android is about customization. If you want “one OS to rule them all”, then you should really buy an iPhone. No OEM skins (or any other customization) to worry about.

  • dandroid13

    I already had devices with Motoblur, TW and a GNexus, and I think skins make the UX easier for the commom user…

  • Luis Augusto Fretes Cuevas

    “Features like S Health, S Voice, ChatON, and dare I say Group Play, can be found useful among the everyday user”

    This is just untrue. ChatON is not used by anyone, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger or anything but ChatON is what the mainstream consumer uses. Group Play is a gimmick that will never be used, S Health is the only valuable addition. And those are applications, not skins, people has less of a problem with installed apps than with the awful skin themselves.

    If you were going to argue in favor of valuable addition from OEMs you should have pointed out how pathetic Android’s default camera app is, and how good OEMs’ camera software can be.

    One thing worth mention is that skins are not the caused, as is sometimes argued by the media, of slow updates, updates are slow because they need to workout drivers and actually complicated stuff.

    • terminator

      Exactly. And implying that the everyday user or non tecchies love bloatware is silly. EVERYONE should have the right to get junk off their phones

  • Jivester

    I would be fine with your argument except for the fact that fit average users it nearly impossible to buy stock phone experience. Although I like where it is gong with nexuses and stock (perhaps multiple) flagships it is still not way fit the average consumer. They have to be bought off the web unseen, not in the stores. Even nexus devices are $150 more than flagships on contract. And people can’t help each other with sync issues (which is super simple on stock ) and folks get siloed by OEMS. Your argument would work better if we had at least equal access to good stock phones.

  • Paul Allen

    I see your points, but as a new Android user who spent 4.5 years on iOS,
    I must say it feels a bit like false advertising. I understand a
    carrier’s need to keep a subsidized phone locked to its own network
    until contract expiration. However, as you yourself said, people equate
    Android with open source and, therefore, it at least ‘feels’ like a
    violation of the spirit of the open source philosophy to deprive
    customers of the option to convert their Android devices back to stock.

    think in the end, Android has more to offer but I’d be lying if I said I
    didn’t miss Apple’s practice of protecting users from carrier
    bloatware. I set up my Yahoo mail account in the Galaxy Note 2’s email
    app and the first thing I got was an email from Verizon informing me
    that my Yahoo account had been successfully set up with vzw-dot-net
    (whatever that is). Is Verizon reading my email? Is Google, Samsung?

    being 100% sincere when I say that switching from Windows to Mac was
    less intimidating than the switch from iOS to Android. I think a big
    reason for that is, if you get five different Android users together,
    odds are their devices (and OSes) are going to be so different that one
    person’s experience (and advice) will be of little use to the others.
    And for new users, these OEM skins are a big contributor to that
    confusion. Maybe I’m just a rookie in need of a little more seat-time
    but there’s no need for manufacturers and carriers to make the
    acclimation phase any more difficult than it is already.

    • Infinite7154

      I don’t think your average person who steps into Best Buy or the carrier store even knows anything about Android being open source. All they care about is does the phone work and get me on Facebook. I’m a big fan of vanilla Android but there are some things that the OEM skins add that I like. HTC’s weather widget, Motorola’s 3 ring clock, and Touchwiz’s ability to turn off sound with the palm of my hand. A lot of widget’s are out there that replicate the experience provided by the skins but the average user doesn’t want to install widgets, create home screen, change rom’s, root, undervolt/overclock; they just want the damn phone to work.

      • gommer strike

        yup excellent reply, the everyday joe is NOT going to undervolt nor install custom kernels.

        They just want a phone that WORKS. They do not understand what a force close is, nor should they need to.

        • smokebomb

          Although “force close” is probably the most self explanatory error outside of ‘fatal error.”

    • gommer strike

      And to counter that, “freedom” also means letting the manufacturers make the phones *as THEY please*. We the consumers get to choose which phones we buy. If we don’t like the skin, we vote with our wallets.

      Meanwhile the average, non-techie, everyday user walks up to the store, tries the phone, sees if he/she likes it and the feature set. All those nerdy stats about processor this, memory that, blah blah are all just baffling noise. They just want a phone that feels good and does what they want it to do.

  • Peeyush Malik

    I think that this article could be made better by adding a poll asking readers which skin or stock android they like….

    • tomn1ce

      also a choice if you’re running a rom on your device..

      • gommer strike

        and also a choice for those of us who rooted, installed every ROM under the sun, got tired of the random features that doesn’t work, the weird force closes, the niggling lack of QA on custom ROM’s, and are just feeling fatigued from flashing flashing flashing.

        • gear4

          if that’s what happened to you, you used a bad ROM on a bad phone

  • Ruzveh

    “When HTC announced the One, its flagship for 2013, people were very
    interested in features like HTC Zoe, BoomSound, and BlinkFeed. The
    hardware? Not so much. The large majority is more interested in features
    and software than hardware”

    Well i dont agree to the author over here. When i buy the phone i want all the latest hardware into it and thats what HTC One is providing it. I dont know how many have bought HTC one for their skin and built in sw? Weird if u did.. Same features can also be found in non flagship phones of the same company. Think something like this.. We use Windows Xp & Win 7 on our computers. We all use different HW, right? We all use the same OS but still everyone’s OS looks different, why?? Yeaa coz it has some cool themes attached to it and some great customisation which can be done at user level and not manufacturer level where they force us to use what they like.. Hope this clears your doubt?

  • I like the Samsung’s Smart features very very much. I wish Google would add at least the Smart Stay to the pure Android. Also, the quick settings are best in Touchwiz. Most people pay attention only to the look and forget about the features and convenience, that 3rd party vendors offer in their UIs. For me, number one UI is Touchwiz, then comes AOSP and then the rest.

    • nicedudex26

      touchwiz is cartoonish style Samsung need new fresh UI

      • John Linden

        Says an HTC fanboy

        • nicedudex26

          samsuck fanboy

  • i don’t have much problem with Touch Wiz or sense UI skin.. the only thing that i have problem is bolt-ware apps that comes preinstalled and cannot be removed.

  • nicedudex26

    HTC ONE Nexus <3

    • John Linden

      What? HTCrap?

      • nicedudex26

        samsuck troll go home

        • fixxmyhead

          nobody wants htcrap thats why even there own staff are leaving the company.

          • Lowry Brooks

            That doesn’t mean that’s why they are leaving, it could mean that company conditions are awful and HTC has become like Microsoft.

    • gear4

      hehe noob

  • mugnatto

    The day Android become closed and launchers are not allowed, I will surely move to Firefox OS

    • Adolfo

      I don´t know if that was your purpose but your commentary made me laugh

      • Lowry Brooks

        You know that when Android came out, people laughed at it too.
        You reap what you sow.

    • gear4

      you, my sir, are stupid. the only android that’ll be closed, is v3.

  • Sudeepto Dutta

    I was watching a video from XDA-Developers by Azrienoch where he explained us how root can be helpful & not dangerous & also that custom skins by OEM are actually not a simple skin but a whole new OS itself !!!

    Yes OEM like Sammy , Sony customise the kernel also …making it behave differently from stock Android…

    For example , the famous HTC galley error thtat many people complained about is a result of tweaking too much of Android ….

    • SeraZR™

      “Root can be helpful and not dangerous”

      When was it NOT Helpful?

      • gommer strike

        tell that to someone who backed up their stock ROM using CWM, tried to restore, only to see “MD5 sum error”.

        • SeraZR™

          Lol Bad luck dude

      • gear4

        when I got a virus that deleted all my applications (DELETED, not uninstalled)

  • Tech Lover

    Love how everyone here seems techy and therefore doesn’t agree with the author. Yet you are not the general populace and therefore cannot speak on their behalf. I have hundreds of people around me in my plant who have an android phone and don’t give a shit about whether their device is running stock android OS or not. Whether you believe me or not phones like the Galaxy S3 are running rampant around here because of things like the screen size, body design, mrketing, affordability and the appeal of gimmicky features, whether they know how to use them or not. Which none of these have to do with pure android OS. Go figure.

    • stormlcc

      give them a nexus and try for a week, then ask them which one they prefer. i did, and they all chose the Nexus because it’s such a peach to use, no lag, no pause, instant response.

  • Lowry Brooks

    I’ve said this before. Vanilla Android on all handsets would destroy the very uniqueness of Android…

  • Manufacturers are ruining our phones with their custom UI for more then one reason. For example i can not remove Facebook from my Sony phone. You can not turn of Sense on a HTC. To make things worse the custom UI is the main problem why it takes so long to get a new Android version or to get one at all (in some cases). I like what Samsung have done with the S4. My next phone will be a Nexus or some other pure type phone. I had enough of this custom UI sht.

  • I personally think there is room for everyone in the android ecosystem, yes some bloatware sucks, but some is useful. The camera apps on several OEM skins are much better and offer more features than stock android… The majority of people don’t want the ultra minimalist of vanilla android. Most People I know want the options OEM skins provide.

    Me personally I use CM 10.1 but with many apps reinstalled from OEM skins… I replaced my camera, contacts/dialer, SMS, and a few other “stock” apps with versions from OEM skins because I like the interface/quality better…

    But hey, to each their own, that’s the beauty of android… We’re not stuck with whatever CrApple, WindNo’s or BrokeBerry force on us…

  • justno

    Brad quit trying to put a positive spin, some skins are atrocities.

  • nonsense

    Even the author admits preferring stock android. Why do I think he’s out to lunch? Because not only do these skins in some cases cause defects like performance issues but they and the carriers they’re responsible for being beholden to for updates are the underlying reason why we have so many devices stuck WAY behind the curve for updates and still running freaking gingerbread or ICS. He’s making lemonade out of lemons.

    Ask anyone on a 2011 phone who was told by the OEM that they will never see anything beyond 2.3 what they think of this guy’s mentality.

    The OEMs and carriers have a vested interest in sucking at updates because they want you paying for new hardware. Author is full of sh**. Must’ve been a slow news day.

    • gear4

      I have a Samsung Galaxy S1, running Stock Android 4.3, self-ported. it runs perfect, if not a little bit battery drainage

  • nishantsirohi123

    The personalized user interface is the best thing in android,

    this is the strength of android, most casual users are not bothered by it. and that is where the numbers are

    while the skins might have caused problems in past, most makers have sorted out the glitches of their skins and most are constantly adding features, (LG’s current skin has been very well received lately in almost every tech review website), while samsung touch wiz has always seen features added.

    users tend to take things for granted, take the notification toggles for wifi, bluetooth etc, they werent a part of stock android until recently, while it was on most of the devices sold during the days of Froyo.

    The main motto of android was to go open source, and going open source means customization.

    as for the skins delaying updates, more than the skin it is USA system of locked devices with network carriers(and why is that motorola is married to verizon) , that is well the business models for makers to sell more devices, but even in that android devices are better off than other OSes. Apple did update the early iphones to iOS 6 but with several features removed, which is actually pointless, and on the other hand the culling of WP7.x devices, and them being incompatible with WP8 apps. With android you have the option of rooting your device, even without rooting, major android apps work on 2.2 and 2.3 including instagram, whatsapp, skype, Grindr(oops)

    either spend the pennies for new devices or take the pains for rooting.
    and most high end android devices are released with capable hardware, and i do not think that they might be left with older version of OS as ICS was supposed to make updating to next version a rather simpler process

    most companies (including samsung, sony and especially LG) took lot of bashing in past for leaving even their flagship devices for future updates(remember galaxy S, Optimus 2X )

  • Pablo Calero

    some android devices are better than others here a comparition

  • IanDickson

    I think Samsung needs to go back to the drawing board with TouchWiz and figure it out. Stock experience is superior, but since I don’t want to flash my Note II with some greasy ROM, I put NovaLauncher on there. WAY better than TouchWiz, way more intuitive, customizable, etc. AND just as fast, if not faster.

    But Samsung is trying to do the same as CrApple…force the experience on the unsuspecting masses. The people that DON’T know, accept it. But luckily, android has the ability to let anyone explore, without getting crapped on by the manufacturer.

    Soon, though…soon…they’ll have their new OS on the Galaxy phones, leaving android behind…and trick all the sheep out there.

    Just you wait.

  • Jay

    So called ‘geeks’ should never complain about Android UI. Android is all about customization. You don’t like the look, then change it to something you do like. It’s not that hard.

    The truth is, non-geeks actually like Touchwiz. Just look at the sales of Galaxy devices. Skins aren’t going away.

    You know what will be the REAL test, is how well the stock S4 will sell compared to the original TW device…

  • nishantsirohi123

    Besides the android skins provide features that can be added, not available in stock android

    My 3 year old LG optimus one had Wifi, GPS, Bluetooth, Mobile data and sound profile toggles when i first bought it on Froyo

    Stock android only got them with jellybean

    I cannot imagine working without those (the original sony UI and HTC sense did not have them)
    because i prefer a clean screen with as less widgets and shortcuts as possible.

  • RayanMX

    As a power user myself, I don’t care if my Android comes with a custom UI and bloatware, I can take care of that (Even though I love Touchwiz). But OEMs should at least give the option to the average Joe’s and Jane’s to UNINSTALL bloatware as they gain experience and find better app alternatives.

  • Dániel Vágner

    In Android, system apps have system (full?) access, similar to root permissions. Taking advantage of that, any phone that runs non-stock Android, should have an app, what can delete bloatware (what they let you to delete). THEY CAN DO IT!

  • Daniel

    I like HTC Sense on my Evo 3D. I really do. But wow is it bloated, and I wish I at least had the option somewhere to disable it. But, more importantly than that, I wish I had the option to bring my Android phone up to snuff with Jelly Bean, but HTC and Sprint won’t allow that since my phone is outdated now.