Android Skins: Beautiful, or only skin deep?

Discussion in 'Android News' started by This Green Machine, Sep 11, 2010.

  1. This Green Machine
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    This Green Machine DF News Team Premium Member

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    [​IMG]

    (This is a guest post by Dave D. from ThisGreenMachine.com. The original article can be found at this link.)

    As T-Mobile announced it’s 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 don’t own an unmodded Droid or Nexus One you might not recognize the skin being used on the G2. It’s a bit modest in looks, and might lack a few features of it’s relatives, but it’s blazing fast and receives updates more quickly than others. You might have heard of it before – it’s called stock Android 2.2 (Froyo).

    After the success/failure (depending on how you look at it) of the Nexus One, I didn’t know if another stock Android device would be released until Android 3.0 (Gingerbread). Like a breath of fresh air, the T-Mobile G2’s most outstanding characteristic is it’s clean taste. In a world filled with too many toppings and fillers, vanilla is my flavor of choice: comforting, familiar, and without unneeded calories.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love that there are skins available to give the user a variety of options – 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 Engadget’s 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 who’s 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, Android’s 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.

    Here’s 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, doesn’t 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. Let’s hope that carriers and manufacturers don’t close the door.
  2. mattg1
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    mattg1 New Member

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    I 100% agree I have been saying this since I first got my droid, let people choose if they want these skins. That's why I haven't upgraded because I cant get anything that compares to my OG droid with the vanilla experience (well that and my droid is still awesome).
  3. furbearingmammal
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    furbearingmammal DF Super Moderator

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    Gingerbread is supposed to be a game changer. Let's see if it turns into FroYo.

    I pray not.
  4. Dave12308
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    Dave12308 New Member

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    To answer Patel, YES, we SHOULD have to rely on a launcher "created by some guy in his basement" - that is the WHOLE spirit of Android, to begin with. Open development. The apps included in the Android OS are designed to provide base functionality, and not much more. If you want something better, you do it yourself; or use something that someone else has created.

    I think people are getting too caught up with the iOS type user experience, where basically, WYSIWYG. Stock Android may not offer the best OOB experience, but the customizability is where its true beauty lies.
  5. JonDenver'sCopilot
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    JonDenver'sCopilot New Member

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    +1 Couldn't have said it better myself.
  6. tktouch12
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    tktouch12 New Member

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    i'd like to say i hate all the skins besides sense. i've used them all and i think sense really 'got it right' i like it better than stock or anything else.

    however, if you are on stock, launcher pro is a must. it is the best home replacement, is very customizable, and has great widgets that copy sense.
  7. Martin030908
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    Martin030908 DF Super Moderator

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    Gingerbread is gearing more toward Google apps being updated more thru the Market vs. using massive firmware updates. It's an attempt to consolidate the 'fragmentation'.

    Google will try to create a 'blanket' look but manufacturers (ie HTC, Samsung) will always add in their own UI's. I don't see individual UI's going anywhere. It's marketing for each manufacturer.
  8. Chris-pee
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    Chris-pee New Member

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    You need to have an option. Boot with/without the skin. Simple as that!
  9. Martin030908
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    Martin030908 DF Super Moderator

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    So simple it's brilliant, but we'll probably never get it :(
  10. jamezelle
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    jamezelle Premium Member Premium Member Developer

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    I totally agree with you!!
  11. jroc
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    jroc Well-Known Member

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    What? HTC didnt put Sense UI on it? Hmmm.....okay. Good move HTC, good move.
  12. jroc
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    jroc Well-Known Member

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    Now I just read the G1 was vanilla Android too...WHY didnt Motorola do this with the Droid 2?!?! I'll give them a pass for the X, but the Droid 2 shoulda stayed vanilla too...
  13. alitke
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    alitke New Member

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    I have been saying this ever since my G1.

    Google needs to stay open with android but hardware specifications need to start being made so that people who simply buy a phone b/c its android stop complaining. The majority of buyers view all smartphones as the iPhone. They believe that the phone ships ready to be used for the full 2 years of their contract. Most android phones are currently out of date after only 5 months and many times far less.

    Android is a game changer to say the least but one of the big things that is harder to deal with is the fact that many consumers do not realize what a good processor is, or what internal memory is. They view everything to be like that of the iPhone in the case that it lasts the full term of the contract without upgrades. The iPhone also has updates that go out to every phone at the same time. Android has phones that take 5 months longer to upgrade than others.

    Lets say you are a family of 4 and each member of the family wants a different android phone. So you go home from your carriers store with 4 different flavors of android. Now lets say that mom or dad bought a low end android phone that only has a life of about 3 months and then it is not supported. Do you think that that family will probably ever buy another android phone? I have seen this with the Droid Eris many times in my area. Here only Verizon has service and a large number of families bought the Eris to save money instead of the Droid 1 and what they found was that they phone was extremely laggy and had a very short life. Now AT&T is starting service in this area as they now own Alltel here in Ohio. So what is happening? Well many families are buying the iPhone simply for the reason that they feel it will not be outdated and a waste of money after only a few short months.

    Hopefully this made sense as it is late and I am simply in complete agreement with the OP. As awesome as Android is it will be hard to survive in the minds of the masses as it currently is. In terms of people who view this site, we know the Eris was a low end phone as with many other phones, however, many people do not know what a processor is or if 400mhz is better than 1ghz.
  14. emic
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    emic New Member

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    I think you're missing his greater point which is that we shouldn't HAVE to rely ONLY on a guy in a basement for a better experience. The various manufacturers should make their skins an option and not required. He's asking why it is that the manufacturers don't get involved in the "skins as an app" game rather than "skins as a requirement for this device and only this device" (whether you like it or not). We all agree that Google is all about the openness, so why not give everyone the option to get manufacturer x's skin, guy in basement's skin, or no skin at all. He's not against the guy in the basement, he's just making the point that there should be other options rather than forced skins.
  15. reaper keeper
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    reaper keeper New Member

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    Emic.
    Perfect pirouette!!!!
    That is the point exactly, we need the manufactures in on the “skins” game, not just the guy in the basement.dancedroid
  16. gonnadie4thegov
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    gonnadie4thegov New Member

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    The only problem with your argument is you are comparing free-$100 phones to the $200 Iphone when you say people didn't/don't/can't afford the $200 Droid.

    And look how often Apple updates their OS, maybe once a year? Using the Droid as example since its basically in the same class, Droid shipped with 2.0 last Nov, got 2.0.1 in December, 2.1 in March/April, and then 2.2 in August. So 3 updates and the phone hasn't been out for a year yet.

    But you can't compare Apple to Android in the sense of OS updates coming to all phones. All the apple phones are extremely similar (though the updates that go to all versions of the phone are different and older phones dont get all features just like Android) and there are only what, 3 phones? Look at RIM, their phones are scattered with different versions of their OS and some phones that arn't even a year old wont see the new OS update that they just announced and released with the Torch.
  17. alitke
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    alitke New Member

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    I understand we should not compare the two but we must. You can talk about the differences that make them apples and oranges but to the average consumer they are all the same.

    How many times have you talked to someone in say Best Buy looking at the iPhone or the Android line up and they have no idea why they are different? My boss gets a discount via Best Buy so he buys from there and he will many times send me to pick things up as needed. I only say all of this as my boss and many coworkers are in this group. They have no idea what makes an Android phone different than an iPhone but they DO know that relatives and friends they know keep an iPhone for 2 years and it is the newest one for those full 2 years. They then look at Android and see 10 different phones with all different specifications and looks and wonder why? With more choices also means more crappy phones. My boss bought an iPhone 4G in his own words "because it is the latest one and it will be the latest one until my contract is up." I tried to explain to him the different options of android and flavors but he was thrown off by one thing that I said and that was that more than one phone comes out every 2 years. He asked if his phone could be outdated before the contract was up and I told him yes that was a possibility and that right there turned him away from Android.

    We all need to remember that the majority of consumers do not want to worry about their money being wasted. With all the advertising the iPhone does it makes it look like a great investment that will last. Also think if someone Google's android phones and sees people complaining about their phone being outdated after only 6 months. It would also make them think twice.

    I am not trying to sound like a downer at all I just find that I hear this a lot. I think as the younger generations become the bigger consumers you will see more Android users as the younger generations know what a processor is and what makes a devices faster. Who knows though. Only time will tell.

    In the meantime :heart: dancedroiddancedroiddancedroiddancedroid:blackdroid::heart:
  18. Codiusprie
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    Codiusprie New Member

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    I agree with you. A lot of people are getting all up in arms about things like Ninjablur and Sense and while I do not like custom skins for many reasons, the ability to put a custom skin over Android is one of the aspects of the OS that makes it so appealing to manufacturers. The more restrictions Google throws on Android the less manufacturers will utilize Android. Also only having the market on Vanilla Android phones is laughable and an excellent way to slow the growth of the App market and Android as a whole.
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