Friday , April 28 2017

Google will prevent OEMs from skinning Android Wear, TV and Auto

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Android TV, Wear and Auto, are three of the biggest things to come out of Google I/O this year, along with Material Design, they show that Google is really thinking about the look and feel of their entire product range and controlling the user experience. But with Android, the various OEMs who manufacture tablets and phones have made hay, with the look and feel of those devices, but according to Google’s engineering director David Burke, that’s going to stop.

During an interview with Ars Technica, Burke told them that Google is going to control the interface of their newest Android platforms.

The UI is more part of the product in this case. We want to just have a very consistent user experience, so if you have one TV in one room and another TV in another room and they both say Android TV, we want them to work the same and look the same… The device manufacturers can brand it, and they might have services that they want to include with it, but otherwise it should be the same.

It reads just like the Android One platform which Google announced during the keynote address too. The Android One platform will be stock Android, but with local content made available on each device through the Play Store. Thus allowing Google to control updates, something that’s been a sticking point for some users, and a sometimes laughing point for their biggest competitor – Apple.

Just like the Android One platform, Android TV, Wear and Auto will receive updates directly from Google. Burke described the experience on the Android TV platform as ‘more like Chrome on the desktop’. Chrome of course receives updates every 6 weeks, which resolves bugs, introduces new technology and fixes UI hinderances. This will allow Google to be fluid and dynamic with the platform, something that’s needed while the nascent platforms are in their infancy.

The good news is that OEMs will now compete on hardware, something many Android enthusiasts have been wanting for a long time on phones and tablets for a long time. Hopefully this will lead to innovative new designs for all three platforms going forward.

Source: Ars Technica.

Daniel Tyson   Editor at large

Dan is a die-hard Android fan. Some might even call him a lunatic. He's been an Android user since Android was a thing, and if there's a phone that's run Android, chances are he owns it (his Nexus collection is second-to-none) or has used it.

Dan's dedication to Ausdroid is without question, and he has represented us at some of the biggest international events in our industry including Google I/O, Mobile World Congress and IFA.

  • Ramiro Fernandez

    I’m actually kind of disappointed by this. Android has always been about choices and openness, and it’s disappointing to see google clamp down on that.

    I have preferred stock android since ICS, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the existence of other skins. They bring new ideas to the table, many of which end up in stock.

    So long as there is always the nexus option, I’m happy to let hardware manufacturers skin their devices. They obviously like doing it.

    • kjmci

      But Android is Open!

      Except when it’s not. Totally agree with your post Ramiro. This is a removal of choice from consumers and vendors alike. If you’re committed to Android’s openness, you can’t claim that this is a good move.

      • Stinger

        Android is Open, anyone can use the AOSP for the device and can put any skin they want. Amazon does this with the tablets and phone.

        If you want all of Google’s Android experience you need to play by their rules. The skins only cause issues and delays in get updates and Google is trying to get updates to the user quicker.

        I applaud Google for cracking down on crappy skins OEMs put on there phones.

        • kjmci

          Exactly. Android is Open, except when it’s not.

          • Stinger

            Android is Open.

            There is a difference between aosp (the opensource version) and the extra Google’s ads on top.

            People complain it takes for ever to get updates, so when Google tries to fix this issue, people complain Android is not open.

            If you don’t want to play by Google’s rules go and do your own thing like Amazon did.

          • kjmci

            “There is a difference between…”

            So what you’re saying is that Android is Open, except when it’s not?

          • Stinger

            The argument that Android is not open is crap. Anyone can use AOSP, the opensource project, that they can do anything they want. How is that not open?
            I don’t see Amazon and some Chinese manufacturers have any issues using AOSP

            Why can’t Google add it’s own features that are not open. I don’t see HTC, Samsung etc apps being open.

            If you want the Google services, there are some rules.

            I have a open drivers licence but that does mean I can do anything I want on a public road, I have to abide by the rules set by government.

          • kjmci

            So Android is Open, except when it’s not. Gotcha.

          • I think what we’re saying is Android is open.

            Android Wear, which is a different platform, is not. At least, not in the sense you’re referring to. It’s open source, yes. But it’s not open to OEMs modifying it at their whim and fragmenting the user experience which, in this case, Google wants to control.

            Android remains open, and claims to the contrary really are ill-informed. Whether different platforms — Wear, TV or Auto — are open or not are completely unrelated matters Kieran, and frankly, you should know better.

          • Andrew

            I still dislike this route Google are taking.

            Google claims they’re wanting to create a consistent experience. Consistent to who? The people who purchase Nexus devices? What about Joe Public who purchased an Xperia Z2/Galaxy S5/HTC One? How’s the consistency of Android Wear to their phones, which it always has to be linked to?

            Don’t you think Sony could create their own Timescape UI in the same vein as their phone UI, so then the user would actually truly have a consistent user experience?

            Google harping on about this consistent user experience is bollocks. If they were serious about it, then they’d go with the Microsoft approach and lock the Android UI on all phones/tablets/watches/tv and have OEM’s compete just on hardware. THAT is a consistent software user experience.

          • I think the nature of Android Wear especially lends itself to restrictions against OEMs doing their own thing with it. If OEMs want to do their own thing on a smartwatch platform, they can roll their own, as Samsung, Pebble, Sony and others have done. If you want to deliver an Android Wear watch… makes sense that it should run Android Wear. If you want a Timescape watch, or a TouchWiz watch.. then maybe buy Sony’s proprietary watch or Samsung’s .. these options are open to consumers. If you’re buying an Android Wear watch, one assumes its because you want Android Wear, not someone’s interpretation of it. Shrug. Just how it appears to me.

          • Andrew

            Well the same argument could be made for Android phones then. “If you’re buying an Android phone, one assumes its because you want Android, not someone’s interpretation of it’. In that case:

            – Google should prevent OEM’s from putting their ‘interpretations’ on Android. If you want Touchwiz/Timescape/Sense, then don’t get an Android phone.

            – If OEM’s want to make an Android phone, then the software should look exactly like a Nexus device.

            Different views on the same issue I suppose. To me this is a glaring backpedaling of what Android was originally intended to be. The philosophy of Android on phones and on Android Wear are completely different. Personally I’m not a fan of the change in direction.

          • “The philosophy of Android on phones and on Android Wear are completely different.” You’ve nailed it, Andrew. They’re different platforms, with different goals in mind, and so a different philosophy.

            Google might like to take back control over Android, but they can’t. Who knows if they actually would want to.

            They’ve made it open, available to everyone, and to try and change that now probably wouldn’t work, and would be a virtual act of suicide for the platform.

            The same argument could be made, yes. However, it’s not really a valid comparison. Android has been around for years and years now, and is established as an open platform. Android Wear has been around for a couple of months, and has only just now been released to consumers. It’s not been introduced by Google as an open platform (as Android was under the guise of the OHA); it’s a Google product, which can run on hardware created by OEMs.

            Chalk, meet cheese.

          • Andrew

            Fair enough. I personally would have liked to see what HTC/Sony/LG/Samsung could have done with Android Wear, but alas, we’ll never get to find out.

            Seems like Google are backpedaling on their ‘open’ mantra day by day.

          • Damien Xenos

            I agree. Part of what made Android great is the innovation provided by partners such as HTC/Samsung/Sony/LG et all. Things that get incorporated by Google at a later date. Recent example i.e. Knox getting rolled into Android L offering for business functionality.
            This innovation will potentially be foregone. This helped Google and Android get ahead of the game over Apple.
            I would have thought that limited battery life for wearables was incentive enough not to stray to far.

          • MrJayTee74

            Isn’t that exactly what they are doing with Android One

          • kjmci

            I respectfully disagree, Chris. As more and more of what were Android’s key features move under the banner of “Google Play Services” there continues to be a fracture between Android (AOSP) and Google Android.

            AOSP is ostensibly open, there is absolutely no denying that. However so many people who say that Open is good, Android is Open, therefore Android is Good wouldn’t dream of foregoing the Google Play Services that make up modern Google Android.

            My comment was trying to highlight this inconsistency where people will say that they love Android and everything it stands for, while clutching their closed-source Google Play Services cards to their chest.

            I stand by the claim that you cannot praise Android for being “open” while saying that vendors have no right to skin Android themselves. That’s what open means. You cannot have one without the other.

            I have absolutely no problem with Google choosing to take Android down a more closed-source route, I genuinely think that it’s the best direction for the platform.

            However, what I do have a problem with is people laughing at Microsoft or Apple’s “walled gardens” as the bricks are being piled around them higher and higher with each Android release.

          • Kieran. We’re talking about different things here. Android is open. Android Wear is not.

            You can argue till your blue in the face about whether you consider Android is open or not.

            Android, as a platform, is open. It’s a fact. It isn’t ostensible, and it certainly isn’t subject to your whims or interpretation.

            AOSP is open source. It is available for free, for people to modify as they see fit, and to release as they see fit. There’s nothing ostensible about it. I don’t see any iOS source anywhere, nor Windows sources either. They, too, have their equivalents of Play Services, but their underlying platform, too, is closed source.

            Which one offers users more choice? Which one offers a platform open to OEMs to play with as they see fit? Android.

            Does Android Wear being closed mean that Android — as a platform — is any less open? No.

          • MrJayTee74

            Run your own OEM skin over the top. Just make sure you have a app marketplace and services for all the stuff you are now not getting from Google, ala Amazon

        • Andrew

          So now we’re applauding Google’s walled garden?

          And not everyone likes Google’s UI/skin the most. THAT WAS THE POINT OF ANDROID BEING OPEN – CHOICES!!!

          I sure as hell don’t think Google’s UI is best. I don’t like the Nexus 5 UI and think there are at least two OEM’s who are making better UI’s than Google are (HTC/Sony). Not everyone agrees with me, and again, that’s the point. People have the choice to purchase a Nexus 5 if they like that the most, or purchase a HTC One with its software feature set if they like that the most. I would have liked to see what other OEM’s come out with for their phone software design, but we’ll never get the chance now that Google have taken the Microsoft route.

          “Android is Open” – except….when it’s not. Just as kjmci has said.

      • MrJayTee74

        It’s only a removal from “vendors”/OEMs. You can still put custom firmware/ROMs on as best I understand.


          We have not gotten any such confirmation from Google. And we asked. Directly.

    • Mark

      I think its a good thing, I much prefer stock android too. Fast smooth and no lag. If Google want to dominate this emerging market it must control it like they have with Chromebooks and Chromecast.

    • JeniSkunk

      I disagree.
      I’m of the opinion that Google has finally done the RightThing from the outset, with these new Android device series.
      For far too long, device updates have been lagged to Hell because of how deeply manufacturers sink the claws of their damage to Android into the OS. And then to add to that, not quite recent or not Flagship devices are not updated to latest OS, simply because the manufacturers can’t make the update with their bloated damage fit.
      It’s time and enough that this abuse by device manufacturers was bought to a stop.
      Hopefully Google will have the courage to also add Android L to the list of No More Skins.

    • Andrew

      Completely agree Ramiro.

      Pretty disappointed to see Google locking down the OS. Who’s to say HTC, Sony or Samsung can’t come with some really beautiful Android Wear UI? Or some really great Android Wear features?

      I agree Google should have gone the Nexus route. Have a ‘stock’ Android Wear device which is the benchmark, then let OEM’s make whatever devices they want with the UI they want.

      I find it funny that Google are saying they want a consistent experience. I’d imagine a more consistent user experience for a user would be to have a Touchwiz phone along with a Touchwiz watch. Moreso than Google’s version of a watch linked to a TW/Sense/Timescape phone.

      The whole point of Android was for it to be open and consumers have the choice to go with what they enjoy. Might be a surprise to Google, but not everyone might like their design for the watch/tv.

  • I think it’s probably a good idea to keep Android Wear free of encumbrances at the outset. As time passes and there’s better understanding of the platform and more powerful, more efficient SoCs in the watches they could open it up. You just know Samsung is ready to fill it with more bloatware than it can handle.

    Also, the Android Open Source Program is just a shell of it’s former self. It’s all about Google Play, Google Now, etc. These are closed source. Deal with it. Microsoft and Apple are seasoned opponents that wont be beaten by a purely Open Source platform. Linux is proof of that. And no, I’m not a Linux hater but if things don’t make money for an investor they don’t get to be number one.

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