Android Rant – Samsung, HTC, Motorola: Back Off!

Do you have an HTC phone? How about a Samsung or Motorola device? If so, a lot of you are familiar with the way manufacturers put their own overlays on user interfaces: HTC Sense, Motoblur, and TouchWiz are what I’m talking about here.

Today’s rant comes in by saying this: manufacturers need to back off on the custom UI overlays. I’m not saying I don’t like them. Heck, I do like at least one, HTC Sense. I have an HTC Hero, and I enjoy all the features that come with it, and think it’s great.That being said, I use a custom ROM that gives me a stock Android interface. What I have a problem with is the fact that manufacturers have a need to try and make these UI overlays mandatory. While I suppose it may be their choice to embed it so deeply on their devices, I feel that the manufacturers should make their overlays optional.

There are a couple of reasons I feel this should be done:

  1. UI Overlays delay the release of major Android updates. When a new update is available for Android, say, from 2.1 to 2.2, if you have a device using one of these overlays, you have to wait for the manufacturers to get the update and customize it to work with their proprietary UI. This forces consumers to have to live with bugs, device issues and speed lags even longer.
  2. Some consumers simply want the option to use vanilla (stock from Google) Android… myself included. I like the speed of it: much faster than the experience when using Sense. HTC Sense tends to eat up spare memory, and I’m not too keen on that.

Like I said, I’m not saying I don’t like these UI overlays. I simply think that the manufacturers should give users the options to shut off these overlays without having to hack their devices or download home screen replacements to do it. I know they’re probably just trying to keep us loyal, but hey – we already bought their device, shouldn’t that be enough? So, manufacturers, if you’re listening, take this to heart, and give us the freedom to choose what our open-source experience should look like.

  • The device makers do have to differiante from the (Android) competition. I think there is no other option than customization through a custom UI and more. Providing a Vanilla Android Home Screen should be done, but wouldn´t spare them the update process or make it faster.

  • Chuck Angel

    I absolutely agree. There should be an option when you first power up an Android phone to run a proprietary setup or generic Android and then clear instructions on how to change that setting if you choose to do so. And, the point about this slowing down the rollout of updates is spot on!

    The cellphone manufactures should be smart enough to recognize that the popularity of Android is due in big part because its an alternative to the over-controlling nature of Apple. So, how did they lose sight of that fact? They’re only shooting their best marketing tool in the foot.

  • Vatazhka

    Bullshit! It’s marketing decisions which delay upgrades. Motorola Milestone is a good example – its US counterpart (Motorola Droid) has been upgraded long time ago, yet there’s no upgrade for Milestone. Interesting enough, Milestone’s successors featuring Froyo have been announced shortly after the company delayed Froyo upgrade for Milestone.

  • ExiPhoner

    Totally agree, but they also need to stop releasing so many devices and concentrate on the ones they have out already.
    The Galaxy S has the potential to be a great phone, but it has numerous well known software faults that continue to frustrate users months after release – and 2.2 is delayed yet again.
    So why is Samsung releasing even MORE versions of the Galaxy, if it can’t even support the ones that it has out?

    Contrast this to Apple, who aren’t perfect, but at least you know that if you buy an iPhone 4, you are going to get the latest updates as soon as they come out. Buy an Android and you have no way of knowing if your handset is going to get updated anytime soon, if at all.

    Even now Apple only has 4 generations of phones to support – HTC and Samsung are spewing out up to 4 new devices a month, despite the fact they can’t get their existing ones updated. Then there’s Sony…. still releasing new sets with 1.6 on them…

    As a former iphone user who switched to Galaxy S I can tell you that this is a major source of frustration – it was the one thing that put me off switching for a long time, and to be honest, sometimes make me thing I made the wrong choice.

  • grumpy

    The iPhone comparison is right on. the manufacturers customizing the phones the way they do is a large part of why people root their phones. Now, some are trying to develop anti-rooting technology to lock the cuatomer into the proprietary UI even more.

    The openness and freedom of Android is what attracts most owners. If the manufacturers continue this way the what’s the benefit over an iPhone? Answer:NONE!

    iPhone’s are solidly built phones. Their justification for tight controls is to “enhance the user experience”. This seems to be the same excuse handset manufacturers are using for their Android skins.

    Hmmmmmm, is Steve Jobs secretly a major stock holder in Google?

  • ExiPhoner

    Jojo – surely that would be the point – Vanilla upgrades could be made available to those who want them much quicker, with the option to allow Manufacturer modifications later if that it what is holding them back.

    Its pretty clear that Samsung, HTC, Moto and Sony can’t cope with the situation at the moment, which is leading to extended delays in getting updates out, and it seems like the don’t actually care- they’d rather develop yet more handsets rather than provide proper support and upgrades for the ones they already have out.

    Don’t forget too that Cell Operators also like to screw with the firmware, adding further delays and frustrations. In the UK we’ve had operators adding content to phones that users didn’t want, and in another case a German language update being forced out to English users.

    The great myth about Android is that it’s the antidote to Apple’s locked down system – in reality Android users have not only Google, to contend with, but the manufacturers and networks too.

    With HTC now adding anti-rooting firmware to the list, Android is in of danger losing its appeal as the ‘people’s choice’.

  • ExiPhoner

    ..another quick thing – the rant suggests that these customisations may be intended to create customer loyalty – if anything they are doing the opposite. Who would buy another Sony after waiting so long to get 2.1 (not even 2.2!), or a Samsung after the constant delays with 2.2?

    To be fair HTC seem to be the least worst.

    Maybe Google needs to take a hard line – these manufacturer issues are bad for ALL Android suppliers, as it makes the whole process look haphazard and amateurish. I bet Steve Jobs is loving it.

  • grumpy

    Unfortunately Google’s N1 was a disaster when looking at the sales figures. The phone is still considered one of best but Google dropped the ball in how they marketed.

    Imagine if Google had released the phone compatible to all carriers with vanilla OS. Selling through carriers as the Google branded phone with requirements it be sole without the skins. With the increasing popularit of Android OS I think Google would have a pretty strong bargaining stance.

    Maybe then the carriers would get the point. Otherwise, what’s the advantage to Android phones to iPhone with a CDMA iPhone in the very near future.

  • The_Omega_Man

    With the phones coming in the way they are today, that doesn’t seem to slow down sales of android phones. This tells me that the majority of android owners don’t care about custom ROMs or Stock Android, as they have never seen it! The modder community has rapidly become the minority in the Android world. That minority does not spend the most money compared to the users. This is a business not a hobby to the carriers and manufacturers. You can and should blame every donut brain who has bricked their phone and then took it back seeking a waranty replacement.

  • curse

    “ExiPhoner Says:
    Who would buy another Sony after waiting so long to get 2.1 (not even 2.2!), or a Samsung after the constant delays with 2.2?

    To be fair HTC seem to be the least worst.”

    I wish you were right there.. Though, I own an HTC Tattoo, the phone HTC forgot they made.
    I have now bought myself a Galaxy S, at least it will get an update, I rather see they fix the bugs then push out something that might not work, as they did with the original 2.1 on it, first thing anyone has to do on the Galaxy S is to install a lag fix because of Samsungs crappy file system, to install a lag fix you have to root it, so even if you’re not interested in custom ROMs or hacking your phone, most Galaxy S users got it rooted.

    I like HTC Sense, can’t stand TouchWiz and have never seen MotoBlur but I don’t think it’s bad that the diff manufacturers try to difference themselves from the other.
    And really.. if you don’t like Sense/TouchWiz/MotoBlur, it’s easy to install any other launcher as AWD, stock or LauncherPro, etc

  • Ammar

    curse Says:
    “And really.. if you don’t like Sense/TouchWiz/MotoBlur, it’s easy to install any other launcher as AWD, stock or LauncherPro, etc”

    Yes we can, but the preloaded UI will still be running in background, eating up the precious memory. And without root, there is no way to disable them.