We’ve mentioned it on here before (I think), but a stock version of Android on a smartphone is not a looker. It’d be very difficult to pitch Android on aesthetics against a stock Windows Phone or iPhone because of its utilitarian nature. Android sells 700,000 phones a day because of the OS’s ubiquity. So now that Google’s put some effort into making a beautiful operating system (thanks to webOS’s Matias Duarte), what do HTC and Samsung do? Seek to ruin it entirely.
The problem is really inherent to Android as a whole: because you can throw it on a phone for free and it’s open source, so anyone can add on their own skins and features. Ice Cream Sandwich, which is Android’s latest and great version that we love oh so much is headed to phones with manufacturer-laden crusts of ugly that have carried over from years of research and focus testing. That’s right, if you want a stock version of ICS, your best bet is going to be the Galaxy Nexus or going straight to ROMing the thing out. OEMs also use this as an excuse to upgrade their phones as Samsung recently announced that they weren’t bringing ICS to the original Galaxy S phones because they couldn’t find a way to put on both Google’s core experience and their own skin on top. But why do carriers do this?
The biggest reason is branding. When you buy an HTC phone, you’re going to get Sense, and if you’re upgrading or side-grading, you’re going to have a consistent experience. This carries over to Samsung and TouchWiz or Motorola with MotoBlur. When you buy a Droid on Verizon, as gaudy as the default skin is, it serves as marketing. This is exactly what Windows Phone and iOS don’t allow, but in the case of the former, a lack of both software and hardware distinction is partially what’s kept demand frigid cold. Another aspect is technical: the OEM/carrier bloatware is included not just because of financial reasons, but also to ease use-of-use. How? The best example is trying to load Facebook contacts on a native ICS device, as I mentioned in my Galaxy Nexus review, in that it’s not possible. You have to find a whole other app to do it.
Does letting the OEMs remove much of ICS’s grace constitute good or bad behavior? I think consumers probably won’t care, but we at FEZ probably will.