Virgin Mobile Sheds Off UI Skins,
Goes Virginal (Sort of) with Android

June 11, 2011
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    Sprint announced a couple of days ago that it will release the Motorola TRIUMPH this summer through Virgin Mobile, its subsidiary for prepaid subscriptions. Acute observers at PCMag.com instantly noticed that the Motorola TRIUMPH screenshots that went with Sprint’s media release appeared to show “relatively stock” Android 2.2 Froyo.

    A Virgin Mobile spokesperson told PCMag that the carrier wants to push more consistency into their approach for their Android handsets lineup and, for that reason, the company wants “the true Android experience” to be on all of its handsets.

    “Virgin Mobile USA aims to make available devices that allow the end user to have the freedom to customize the device to their liking,” the spokesperson said.

    A vanilla version (a.k.a. stock version) of Android means that pure, unadulterated Android is running on the device–nothing more, nothing less. Observers and those who have had hands-on experience with the Motorola TRIUMPH, however, noted that Android is not completely virginal on the device, as Virgin Mobile has thrown in some of its own apps onto the phone. Some of the apps include My Account and Virgin Mobile Live.

    Most Android phone manufacturers alter their phones’ Android versions and user interface (UI), primarily to differentiate themselves from the rest. Motorola, for example, has its MOTOBLUR; Samsung has TouchWiz; HTC has Sense UI; and LG also has it’s own UI. Critics have long been ambivalent about such practice, saying it is a double-edged sword–demonstrating Android’s openness and customizability, and at the same time hosting fertile ground for fragmentation.

    Manufacturer-forced user interfaces or skins divide the Android community into two opposing camps: those who like them, and those who simply don’t. Those who use the manufacturer-developed UIs say the software provides what vanilla Android lacks and even polishes stock Android. The opposing camp gripes mostly about the sluggishness and/or instability allegedly caused by the custom UIs.

    Virgin Mobile’s news about using stock Android on the Motorola TRIUMPH will surely bring good tidings to the Android community. However, many are still skeptical about it and are waiting for “hacker-friendly” policies that will truly keep the OS open on the TRIUMPH. For instance, a lot of people are asking whether the Motorola TRIUMPH has an unlocked bootloader, which will make it easy for a tech-savvy user to replace the TRIUMPH’s existing software with a custom (i.e., “hacked”) version of Android.

    Image credits: PCMag, Naomi Ibuki (on Flickr)

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