(This is a guest post by Dave D. from ThisGreenMachine.com. The original article can be found at this link.)
As T-Mobile announced itís new top tier Android smart phone (T-Mobile G2) on Thursday, I saw something I had not seen in a very long time. If you donít own an unmodded Droid or Nexus One you might not recognize the skin being used on the G2. Itís a bit modest in looks, and might lack a few features of itís relatives, but itís blazing fast and receives updates more quickly than others. You might have heard of it before Ė itís called stock Android 2.2 (Froyo).
After the success/failure (depending on how you look at it) of the Nexus One, I didnít know if another stock Android device would be released until Android 3.0 (Gingerbread). Like a breath of fresh air, the T-Mobile G2ís most outstanding characteristic is itís clean taste. In a world filled with too many toppings and fillers, vanilla is my flavor of choice: comforting, familiar, and without unneeded calories.
Donít get me wrong, I love that there are skins available to give the user a variety of options Ė not everyone prefers the stock experience. Personally, I have always been a man to choose function over form, and while most skins do improve certain aspects of the UI (e.g., media player, contacts), they also add bloat, not to mention significant lags in OS updates due to a need to tweak each skin. Take for instance the Droid 2. As previously reviewed, with a much faster processor than the Droid 1, we should have seen an increase in performance, but instead we found it to be sluggish and only slightly better. With only so many ways to design a slate device, manufacturers are veering away from their core competency (hardware), looking to differentiate on the soft side. A note to manufacturers: Let the coders code, and you stick to making great hardware.
True to form, the Android community has responded to problems with the skin experience with the development of custom launchers. Are you using the latest Cyanogen Mod rom? Then you are probably using either Launcher Pro and ADW Launcher, which have gained notoriety due to their ability to be highly customized without all the bloat. But, this too has its flaws. As managing editor of Engadget, Nilay Patel, stated last week during Engadgetís weekly podcast: Do we really have to rely on a launcher created by some guy in his basement to give us the better Android experience than carriers and manufacturers?
So whoís to blame? Many point the finger at Google for not better controlling the ecosystem. Comparisons of the market place to the wild west often ring true. In a strange twist of fate, Androidís best feature is also becoming its worst enemy: openness. By allowing carriers and manufacturers complete creative control, Android is quickly morphing into a road fragmented into many different paths.
Hereís my solution. With the release of Android 3.0 (Gingerbread), any phones that include Google apps such as Gmail and the Market must ship with stock Android and stricter minimum hardware requirements. Google must work with manufacturers to develop existing skins into applications that can be downloaded and updated from the market. Smart phones can ship preloaded with a skin, but the user should be able to uninstall it if desired. Manufacturers will be allowed to limit access to skins to their devices.
Sounds almost too simple, doesnít it? By effectively turning a skin like Sense UI into a large custom themed launcher, the user has the option of running stock on any device if they choose, and manufacturers get a differentiating edge. System updates will only be delayed from carrier tests, and skins can be updated later via the market. Yes, I realize that a minimum hardware requirement may initially contribute to fragmentation, but at some point, a hardware refresh is necessary in order to keep up with software advances. If the bar is set high enough, hardware will last for years instead of months.
While there is no single, easy solution for such a large problem, many are hoping that Android 3.0 (Gingerbread) will be a big step in the right direction. Skins do bring variety to the Android experience, but also create a lot of baggage. Even with all of its quirks and issues, we have to give credit to Google for sticking to its guns. Under mounting pressure and backlash, Android remains as open as promised. Letís hope that carriers and manufacturers donít close the door.