Last Updated: April 1st, 2011

For everything that we love about Android – openness, customization, large selection of devices, etc. – there are things that we hate about it, too, like fragmentation and manufacturers pre-loading devices with crapware and (some) custom UIs. It seems, though, that Google is looking to change all of that. Insiders from companies “in the Android ecosystem” have told Businessweek that Google is starting to crack down on changes that manufacturers are allowed to make to Android. This includes more than just interface tweaks and added “features”, and it is said that Google wants to be more selective with hardware, as well.

The purpose of the (seemingly) sudden shift in Google's practice is to combat the most talked about flaw in Android – fragmentation. In the past, Google has worked with specific chipset and handset manufacturers to release pure Google Experience Devices for new versions of Android – the Nexus One (Qualcomm and HTC; Froyo), Nexus S (Samsung; Gingerbread), and most recently, the Xoom (Nvidia and Motorola; Honeycomb). Because of this, these devices have always been (or will be, in the case of the Xoom) the first to receive OS updates, while other manufacturers have to ensure that all of their custom software plays nicely with the new OS. This has left some waiting for months to receive updates to the newest versions of Android, while others were just left behind for good. By taking more of a “Nexus approach” in the future, Google will be able to reduce fragmentation, and manufacturers will be able to release handsets quicker. Google has already started to display some of this behavior by holding the Honeycomb source code so it doesn’t get ported to devices that aren’t meant to run the tablet-specific OS.

Some manufacturers are not happy with Google’s decision to take control of their own product, however. You see, before getting the okay to work on an Android project, manufacturers have to detail what they plan on doing and get approval directly from Andy Rubin. This creates an interesting situation for companies like Facebook who may be working with hardware manufacturers developing new features for Android devices, since giving up future plans to direct competitors is generally not the best business practice.

What does this mean for consumers, you ask? First and foremost, it means quicker turnaround times for OS updates. It means less confusion and hopefully more Google Experience devices. I say that we, as a whole, embrace this new direction for Android. We’re all going down the same path, and now we will be able to go at the same pace.

Sources: Businessweek, Electronista

Cameron Summerson
Cameron is a self-made geek, Android enthusiast, horror movie fanatic, musician, and cyclist. When he's not pounding keys here at AP, you can find him spending time with his wife and kids, plucking away on the 6-string, spinning on the streets, or watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on repeat.

  • Truth

    To me one of the best parts of android is being able to load custom UI's. If they take that away by locking down the source codes thats going to be a major blow to android in the developers community

    • Cameron Summerson

      I think you may have misunderstood. They're not looking to lock down the source code or take away custom ROMs, just streamline releases.

      • Duffin

        Right, it looks like they want to either encourage or require manufacturers to make their phones more like the Nexus series of phones: no skins, or at least skins that will still allow users to easily update without needing to wait for the manufacturer to do it for them.

    • zofo

      My hope would be quite the opposite--that custom UIs that are forced on users (e.g. Sense) may become more optional, which would be a dream come true for me and the many Android HTC owners who actively dislike Sense. Alternatively, it would be a benefit for those who just don't care as much about UI tweaks, and would be thrilled to simply have better speed/performance from the lack of additional UI overlay, as well as better reliability; HTC makes heavy modifications to some of the base Android apps, and there consequently some very annoying bugs that Google simply has no ability to fix, but for which they are sometimes blamed by default.

      Users don't know where the Google ends, where the HTC/Samsung/Motorola/etc begins, and where the carrier finishes things off (Nascar crapware, etc). Would you always want to have to somewhat blindly trust your software/hardware partners and dev community to not churn out crap and tarnish your brand, or at the base level complicate the product support model (which does nothing but hurt users)? There has to be a little give and take between all parties.

  • http://trueacu.com acupunc

    From what I've gathered much of this has to do with Google protecting their search engine and ad network on devices.

    It seems impossible for them not to allow OEM's to modify Android because they need to integrate proprietary software into Android, especially for business. I don't see how they can make OEM's stop that since Android can't incorporate the proprietary software from firms like Cisco for business. The best they could do there is require updates to be done within a certain period of time.

    The only other thing they can really do, if they care about the end users, is require that all OHA OEM's optimize stock Android for each device they make and give that to Google to support, and then allow users to convert to that "stock Android" via the market if they would prefer that over the OEM's proprietary Android.

    Nonetheless, I do feel that something needs to be done about updates, upgrades, and overall device support before it's too far out of hand.

  • alex

    Greatest news ever about Android. My Nexus One has a lot of hardware problems that other Android phones don't have. But custom UI and almost no updates directed me to N1.

  • Dark Wizard Matoya

    I suppose that it's too much to hope that this will finally mean the end of HTC Sense, but if it does then I'm all for it. I've never been a fan of manufacturer custom UI's. I don't want Sense, I don't want Touchwiz, and I defiantly don't want Motoblur. I just want the pure Google experience, and if this finally lets me have that then I see it as a very good thing indeed.

  • Eric

    I'll believe it when I see it. Every google high up has clearly stated they will never do this. Sure, people lie. However, I'm more prone to believe this "source" is lying than official spokemen.

    • http://droidsamurai.blogspot.com PixelSlave

      Same here. Every public statements from Google so far seem to be opposite to what this rumor suggests. To be honest, I find that Google actually "likes" chaos in its blood -- call it my conspiracy, but Google seems to be a company who benefits from chaos because it makes money out of data. We need information when there's chaos. And, you know what, nowadays, we search to find information. How many of you use Google to find out information about your Android phones?

      • Duffin

        That's quite a theory you have there, haha.

        • Matt

          That was funny. Very clever Duffin.

      • FX111

        As far fetched as this may sound, I see allot of truth in your statement. We have made Google a very rich company, data can always be sold, Google is very good at selling it and we are very good at giving Google all the data it needs.

  • JoshL

    I feel like their should be a choice within the phone itself. Kind of like a Home Replacement app. Updates from Google will be instantaneous, so you are never behind. And updates for these skins (Sense, Touchwiz, etc) will come a few months after. It just makes sense. No fragmentation, still a variety of choices, and completely different products to increase competition.

  • John J

    OTA Google updates for all phones would be nice. It's ridiculous that vendors can take months / years before putting out Android updates.

  • Trae

    i just want motoblur to die...

  • Trae

    Oh, and service provider bloatware (VERIZON) should die as well. Apple kept it off the Iphone. Why not Android?!

    • FX111

      I would rather have to deal with the bloatware with an open os then having no choice with a locked down one.

  • Ken

    "If we did not act, we faced a draconian future. Where one man, one company, one carrier was the future," --Google's VP of Engineering, Vic Gundotra

    It isn't so much about Google taking control of "their own project" so much as it is about the supreme hypocrisy of it.

    • AppleFUD

      Trolling again I see Ken. . . any chance you can to take a shot at Google, I see.

      That statement and all their actions to date have NO hypocrisy. No where in that statement did he say we need to be x, y, and z. It only says if they don't act there will be "a draconian future. . . one company. . ."

      In other words, they did act and now we have another choice. Even if they close it up totally like Windows and license it out that way at least we still have another choice.

      They aren't being anything like the totalitarian egomaniacs at Apple. They are simply trying to solve THE most pressing problem facing Android, fragmentation. Something I'm sure you have thrown mud at Google about in the past ;)

      Nice try Ken. . . but it's a FAIL nonetheless.

  • Chris

    Custom UI's should simply be uninstallable .apk files. When Android first came out weren't they promoting the idea of a modular interface?

    • Frank Zermeño

      This would be nice. I have a Nexus One but I've seen the horrors of HTC Sense, Motoblur, and the appalling MetroPCS Android UI. Bloatware needs to be easily removable.

      I'm all for "the pure Google experience" on all Androids. There is NOTHING the carriers custom UI's add-on that is worth the space. Every single feature they add is obsolete, as there is already a better built-in Google app for it.

      I laughed when I saw that MetroPCS includes apps for MetroNavigation and Metro411. They might as well throw in a MetroDialer.

  • L boogie

    Seems to be a necessary step in the right direction considering how many NEW phones are coming out on one OS when there's one or maybe two more upgrade versions out there AND manufacturers/carriers want to release them at THEIR convenience OR the unbelievable increase in bloatware that has been one of various reasons for fragmentation in Android.... hopefully this would lead down a better road for all in the Android universe

  • Duffin

    The thing I'm concerned about if that carriers will get pissy and stop using Android as much as they do. Especially with that rumor going around that Motorolla wants to build their own OS for their phones now, other companies may try to go back to that era of each phone having it's own proprietary software and that worries me a little.

    On the other hand, I HATE skins and want them to die in a fire, so...

  • Joshp406

    Being as engadget reported this earlier today, being as they're the most i-biased site out there, I'm not believing any of this

  • Marc

    First honeycomb isn't open-sourced and now this. Google is betraying those of us who were sold on its openness. If this keeps up I will be jumping to meego or web os.

    • AppleFUD

      yeah cause WebOS is "open source"?!?!


      I'll take an OS that is slightly locked down initially and then open sourced it that will keep the OEM's in line.

      Or we can just have a bunch of "Android distros" like we have with Linux and 5% market share. . . .

  • NCX

    Sense on Android is what drew me to the platform, without Sense, the platform is an eyesore. and sadly if they lose the ability to put there Sense UI on there HTC android devices, i will be leaving for HTC's custom OS there working on. Don't you guys realize that Android is heading down the path that is now Apple? Its the plan for domination in the marketplace that has lead android to fame, make it open, have massive access to the platform, make it free and open source, then once its dominating the market, start cracking down and be the iPhone Clone. Android was always about diversity and openness. Just look at all the presentation slides of the different android guys/gals, different shapes, sizes, colors. That isn't fragmentation, fragmentation is when your OS doesn't support the same features on all devices, when it doesn't have the same arrangement of capacitive buttons, when your stuck to carrier restrictive pricing on apps, when your stuck to what your carrier says what features you can have. THAT is fragmentation. Custom UI's bring out the diversity of the platform and make the manufacturers have something unique besides there hardware. Without it, it will be iPhone and Windows Phone 7 = UGLY!

  • Toni

    I have nothing against building a rather unified android visual character so that my neighbor who owns a Samsung Galaxy S is no more jealous of the way how my HTC Desire's Sense looks visually because the Samsung UI is nothing more than a cheap and ugly looking iPhone UI rip off. Many people hate HTC Sense for their own reasons, but I'm a designer and I applaud the quality of the visual detailing HTC have achieved in their UI, no other manufacturer is even near to that.

    But Google really need to start hiring some quality designers as to be honest they suck donkey ass at aesthetics. The default Android UI as it is now is nothing spectacular and boy there are some really really ugly moments in it...for example the look of the music player is just God awful and unacceptable just ugly buttons placed at the bottom and BAM! you got yourself a music player...Unless Google are planning to make major improvements in the stock UI, I'd much rather want to stick and shine with my Sense!

  • Tommy

    I think if HTC or Samsung really wants to offer a different UI/home launcher than they should offer it in the market for download. That way we have a choice to have Sense, Touchwiz, Blur, or vanilla google.

  • Asphyx

    I personally take this as Google finally believing that Android is mature enough to start standardizing.

    The whole reason to keep something open source is to allow people to tweak and develop without hinderance.

    And they will still allow that for android itself but the Manufacturers seemingly (moto and HTC most notably) are merely using Android as a base for their own custom interfaces.

    Those should be in/uninstallable not default.

    As long as the public still has access to dow hat it wants I have no probalem with them contractually limiting the hardware manufacturers.

    How many progams work on only specific models when they should work for Android period!

    I know the manufacturers want to differentiate themselves well they should do that with the hardware itself.

    Maybe even take a lesson from the HTC HD and make hardware that can flash and run ANY OS including WP7 android and maybe even WebOS.

    Then the phone is a hardware purchase that makes the OS irrelevant.

    Someone starts developing hardware like that they will overrun all their competition in marketshare and will have TRULY differentiated themselves in a way software alone just can't do!

  • http://www.christiantechsaz.com/ Aaron

    April Fools? :)

    • http://droidsamurai.blogspot.com PixelSlave

      It's posted on 3/31.

  • http://N/a I Name

    The reason is Android core can't handle all this staff and skin.

  • Annoyed

    I hate Google. They r to nosy. Then they push things on u that u never use!