There’s a very good chance that two Android phones won’t look the same. No, of course I’m not talking about the exterior; I’m talking about the User Interface. That’s because a majority of phone makers want to differentiate themselves from their competition by customising Android’s default UI. A HTC feels that it is adding value by integrating the Sense 5 UI into their recently launched model — the HTC One. Samsung probably thinks that adding a truckload of features to stock Android with their TouchWIZ UI will complement the truckload of hardware features in the Galaxy SIV. So, if these overlays are supposed to improve user experience, why do many people keep praising Nexus phones and stock Android?
One big reason is the delay in getting updated to the next version of Android. For e.g. the HTC One or the Sony XPERIA Z at the moment run Android 4.1, a version behind the most recent 4.2 (which itself is almost half an year old now). And with the expected release of Android 5.0 at Google I/O less than a month away, soon they could be two versions behind. All this while, ‘Nexus’ branded phone users will enjoy the most recent version before others. If you’re wondering why all Android phones don’t update to the latest version as it is released, that’s because the phone maker has to do the extra work of integrating their UI overlay atop stock Android before pushing it to the user. Eventually, they just stop bothering.
Smartphones are being perceived more and more like computers these days; and computers have always had the freedom of choice in terms of software. On PCs, if you don’t like Windows, you can format and install Linux. Even on a Mac, you can partition the hard drive and officially run Windows. I dream of a day when you can do just that on a smartphone. While I absolutely adore the HTC One’s design and hardware, I simply can’t trade-off timely updates in lieu of an ‘enhanced’ UI.
You do have phones like the XPERIA Z running stock Android via AOSP, or HTCs Dev centric portal to help unlock bootloaders, so that other ROMs can be installed. But those things may be too intimidating for many people. Also, they may not be 100 percent functional.
So wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could just “format-and-install” stock Android easily on any phone? And for people who prefer the handset manufacturer’s rendition of Android, they would get that out-of-the-box.
This brings us to our Just One Question of this week, do you even care about Android UI customisations by handset manufacturers in the first place?
Let’s talk about our experiences (good or bad) that we have had with our Android phone till now, with respect to the default UI. Currently being an owner of the Galaxy Nexus, I fortunately have been enjoying timely updates all the way from Android 4.0 to the most recent Android 4.2, and have loved the amazing experiences like Google Now that those updates have given me! Plus, I personally love the way stock Android looks; in comparison TouchWIZ is kind of an eyesore.