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.
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.
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?