Photo credit: Sprint.com
Okay, Android is in a completely different place now than it was 2 years ago; there’s no arguing that. Back then, stock Android was barely useable, and extremely unstable. On top of that, Google was confused about the design and usability philosophies that it wanted to employ in Android, making the OS confusing at times even for the more savvy users around. Most importantly, skins made sense back then (pun intended). Skins such as Sense and Touchwiz provided users with a more intuitive and more consistent UI layout, often proving themselves to be beneficial distinguishing features over pure Google devices.
But things change, and Android is now an extremely well thought out and smooth running operating system. Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0) marked and evolution in Android that made everything in the OS seem more deliberate; you felt like you were using the same UI when switching off between the phone and settings app. Then Jelly Bean (4.1) came along with all of its Project Butter goodness, locking Android into 60 fps, and for the first time, putting its responsiveness on par with that of iOS and Windows phone.
This positive progression of Android seems to be clear to most everyone, except of course to phone manufacturers. Samsung and HTC specifically are becoming less and less competitive and innovative as they begin to rely more and more on the distinguishing features of their custom skins. The problem is, custom skins no longer make sense. Stock Android (4.0 and up) has proven time and time again that no skin can match it in plain usability and speed. So what does that leave manufacturers with? Shackles. OEM’s are trying too hard to differentiate their phones with needless and process heavy software features, and this practice is beginning to reach critical mass. If I wanted the smoothest and most reliable Android experience right now, I wouldn’t be considering a Galaxy S3, or an HTC One X, I’d look straight at a Galaxy Nexus. Though it sports lesser hardware compared to the two aforementioned flagship phones, it is twice as responsive simply because it isn’t burdened by a skin on top of its native operating system.
So I’m going to suggest something to OEM’s, something I think should have been pretty obvious at this point: Focus on making outstanding hardware both in terms of design and build quality, and let Google take care of things on the software ends. This way you solve the problem of delayed software updates, and a lack of responsiveness on quad-core phones that match high end laptops from 3 years ago in terms of processing speed. That is how OEM’s can differentiate, by beating Google at its own nexus game. It’s a simple enough concept, and one that has becoming glaringly obvious to anyone who is well informed within the sphere of mobile technology. At the very least (I’m talking to you Samsung and HTC) you could give us an option to disable custom skins.