With its renewed push for flagship devices free of partner software customizations, like the new Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One, could it be that Google has turned to Microsoft’s Windows Phone for a little inspiration in dealing with the software fragmentation in Android?
Android skins are the bane of the informed user’s existence. They are foisted about the most attractive of devices, demanding that users get acquainted with them instead of Android’s actual interface. For some users, they take up valuable onboard storage space. For others, they slow down the operating system, introducing interface stuttering into devices that have quad-core processors, and thus shouldn’t exhibit so much as a hiccup.
Google has finally gone and done the impossible: convinced Android manufacturers to make versions of their flagship hardware available without the mass of skins and feature creep that they’ve relied on until now.
Finally, users won’t need to look up the instructions for changing the settings in the skin running on the specific device they’re using. No longer will users be kept waiting for months while smartphone carriers and manufacturers deliver the next version of their phone’s operating system. Instead, on these devices, Samsung and HTC will return software innovation responsibilities back to the people who know Android the best: the company who creates the operating system in the first place.
Since Microsoft launched Windows Phone in 2010, it has maintained a chassis specification and specific rules that govern licensees of its Windows Phone operating system. In addition to having to adhere to a list of minimum hardware specifications that allow for a consistent hardware experience even in low-end devices, Windows Phone OEMs are restricted to offering enhancements in applications that run on their devices.
Partners aren’t allowed to replace the operating systems interface, period. Users could switch from device to device, and hardly ever notice any change in the operating system itself. Creating a contact on a Windows Phone 8X is the same as it as on a Nokia Lumia 521. Putting a ringer on silent is the same on a Samsung ATIV S is the same as it is on a device manufactured by Huawei. OEMS are forced to keep their customizations to applications that can only be installed on their devices.
Even better, for the most part, updates or coordinated and managed by Microsoft themselves. While there is some back and forth between carriers and Windows (that first update to Windows Phone 7 was rough and the carriers are still required to approve updates), it’s nowhere near the huge update mess that Android users sometime find themselves in.
Perhaps what’s happening in Android isn’t just the hardware has gotten infinitely better (though it has). Maybe it’s because Google finally wised up and took a page out of Window’s playbook.