In a way, it is to be expected but will still worry some long-time Android fans. Google engineering director David Burke has confirmed that the user interfaces for its next Android platforms will all be developed and curated by Google, not OEMs. While it sounds a bit restrictive, it also tries to address one of Android’s most criticized flaws: fragmentation.
Android fragmentation is a natural but somewhat unfortunate by-product of the platform’s nature and birth. In order to penetrate the market faster and wider, Google gave OEMs some leeway in adopting Android. OEMs, on the other hand, had to think of ways to differentiate themselves from competitors. This resulted in dozens of skins, device form factors, bloatware, and other features or misfeatures that did distinguish products but also marred the image of the platform itself, giving everyone, users as well as the OEMs that made them, a more difficult time than necessary.
However, that is something that cannot, or should not, happen on the new platforms that Google unveiled last week a Google I/O 2014. Though it might be a bit debatable on a smartwatch, as products like Pebble and Samsung’s smartwatches exemplify, Android on a car and in a TV needs to be the same Android no matter what. For one, it’s a question of expense. It is far easier to replace a smartphone or a smartwatch whose interface and user experience you don’t like than a TV or a car. For another, it is almost inconceivable to have to retrain users in one manufacturer’s Android TV or Android Auto interface when they switch over to a different brand after a number of years.
And so Google is putting its foot down hard now that it can. I might be a bit too late for Android, at least in the immediate future, but not so these new Android implementations, which yet to have actual products by the end of the year. For these devices, the UI will all be Google. The updates will all be Google. The core experience will all be Google. But that’s not to say that manufacturers won’t be able to inject their own brand into the product. Like in the case of the first batch of Android Wear smartwatches, LG and Samsung have differing feature sets, with the former adding a World Clock app by default and the latter integrating a heart rate monitor. Sadly, this isn’t the end of bloatware at all.
While this news might be great for Google and majority of users, it’s a mixed bag for OEMs and somewhat of an omen for some Android fans. While this frees up manufacturers from having to maintain and roll out software updates themselves, it also removes some freedom in imprinting their uniqueness. Gone will be things like TouchWiz, Sense, or whatnot. They will then just have to compete on the merit of their hardware alone as well as the services and add-ons that they offer. For some users who have been fearing as much, this could also be taken as signs of Google flexing its muscles and testing its OEM relationships towards imposing an iron grip on all of Android in the future.
VIA: Ars Technica