Samsung, HTC and LG have all added theme support in their latest flagship devices and it seems that themes could be catching on, with Google adding limited support for themes in its latest Android M OS. The theme engine uses the same Runtime Resource Overlay (RRO) that Sony uses to theme its ROMs in Sony Xperia handsets and has since been merged with AOSP.
Like most of the new features in Android M, the theme engine is certainly limited and requires root to take advantage of but it could be a sign of things to come from Google. Limited themes support in Android M will mean that you no longer need to install a custom ROM in order to change the look and feel of your handset; instead, all you need is stock Android, root access and an application like Layers Manager to apply the themes to your handset.
The addition of theme support is great if you prefer to use stock Android with only small tweaks and while the themes won’t be as in-depth as they are on custom ROMs (or even other interfaces), it should offer some advanced customisation for those who prefer to use stock Android. According to the Reddit user who revealed this, he’s already tried adding a few themes using Layers and they were all working fine without issue.
With RRO baked into the core Android M OS, it could be an indication of the future of Android. The presence of RRO could mean we’ll see stock Android come with its own themes engine and it could also mean that we’ll see smaller manufacturers use stock Android and add customisations using a theme. However, it could also mean that Google is simply making it easier for OEMs to add themes to their ROMs – using the built-in engine rather than developing their own theme engine – and won’t offer its own themes manager on stock Android.
One of the biggest criticisms with some OEMs is the look and feel of their interfaces – many people don’t like the look of TouchWiz and Samsung’s icon set as an example – and themes aim to solve this by offering an alternative without voiding warranty or requiring root. Taking the example of TouchWiz, Samsung adds a lot of options and features not present on stock Android and themes allow you to keep access to all of these features while personalising the look and feel of your handset.
As we’ve already seen from the Galaxy S6, themes can also include partnerships with other companies – in the case of the Galaxy S6, Samsung teamed up with Marvel to offer Avengers themes – and the addition of a theme engine into the core Android M code could mean other manufacturers follow suit.
For an entire in-depth look at Google’s new OS, head over to our Diving Into M section.