*I’ve been meaning to write about this (Stock Android) for a while, ever since Samsung and LG released their next versions of their flagship devices, actually.
I’m a sucker for reviews, every morning at around 5 AM, I’m guilty of typing www.youtube.com in my address bar, either on my phone or on my computer, and sifting through the countless reviews on the various new phones that come out.
Last week was no different. When Samsung launched the S7, I immediately went to my favorite YouTube personalities, Kevin the Tech Ninja and Marques Brownlee (MKBHD) to see what they had to say about the phones. I watched parts of the keynotes on both phones but also wanted to get their opinions.
While I was watching, I couldn’t help but notice that both reviewers mentioned Stock Android in their reviews. Now, if you’re new to this whole Android thing, you wouldn’t know what Stock Android is. Let’s take a few sentences and break that down.
Stock Android is Google’s basic mobile operating system that Google develops to run phones. In the past, Google caught a lot of flack for not offering all the bells and whistles that the iPhone did. (Actually they’ve always offered many of the bells and whistles, Android wasn’t as “user friendly” as Apple competing operating system) And since Google’s Android is open-sourced.(meaning anyone can develop on their platform) Developers quickly created various skins, and functions that improved on what Google created. Phone Makers (manufacturers) such as Samsung, LG, HTC, and Sony also created their own skins that lay on top of Stock Android (overlays) to distinguish them from one another. This is why although you may have an android with the same operating systems (Lollipop), it looks completely different on each phone. Skins such as Samsung TouchWiz and HTC Sense became resource hogs and eventually slowed the processing power down which eventually makes the phones glitchy.
Then there was the invention of carrier bloatware. Carrier Bloatware are specific apps that the carriers (Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile) put on the phones they sell that aren’t removable. A lot of those apps mimic the functionality of what the manufacturers already place on the device and along with the manufacturer’s bloatware, slow down the device.
I’ve always been an advocate of a pure stock experience and the only phone series that offers that experience is Google’s Nexus line. This year, Google released two Nexus devices; the Nexus 6p and the Nexus 5x, both stellar devices in their own right, but I love the Nexus 6p because it feels like a premium device.
Anyway… back to the subject at hand. Why isn’t Stock Android available on more devices? Aside from Motorola, a company Google used to own, It would seem that one of the phone makers would follow suit with this business model.
The tweaks on both the Galaxy S7 and LG G5 are cool, and their cameras run circles around the iPhone in several test. But what about the overall user experience? I could see why each phone maker decided to make their own skin for Android a few years back, but now the stock android experience seems to be a better choice. Google has taken the time to actually consider the user experience and created an operating system that is, in a lot of ways, better than the competition (we’re talking about Apple here)
The point i am trying to make is that while these new phones are beautiful, they aren’t all that user friendly. I went to Radioshack this past weekend and played with the S7 and I thought “this is a beautiful device.” But I quickly remembered,once going through the demo device, why I wouldn’t buy the device. Although there have been great strides by manufacturers to minimize their custom overlays and use Android stock functionality, it just doesn’t compare to a stock Android experience (I haven’t even begun to mention the issue of fragmentation, that’ll be part 2)
I have a simple solution and I would hope that manufacturers will take note. Allow customers the option to get Stock Android, especially if they’re going straight through you to purchase the phone. I do realize that there are some phones like the Edge that stock Android wouldn’t really add value to, but there are slew of people out there who would actually prefer a stock android experience. Instead of spending thousands on developing the distinct skin, differentiate yourselves by design. It also probably means that you will spend less money on R&D of these skins thus helping it increase your profit margins on these devices. The last time I checked a few minutes ago, the mobility portion of your portfolio hasn’t been significant in increasing your stock. (Unlike Apple who has control of their software and hardware on all of their i-devices.)
Darryl Yates ([email protected]) is a contributor to EURweb and various other publications. In addition to chronicling technology via the GoGoGadgetGuy column, he also owns and operates Gadget Guy Consulting. Darryl enjoys educating tech consumers and helping them sync technology with their lives.