back to article Google risks OEM wrath for unified Android UI plan

Conflicts of interest with Android supporters helped kill Google's Nexus One project, but that is not stopping the search giant embarking on another bid to keep Apple-style control of the Android platform. Google is reported to be planning a unified user interface that will be imposed across Android products, ending the …


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  1. Ryan 7
    Thumb Up


    3rd-party overlays are a plague upon smartphone users!

    Death to HTC Sense on all platforms!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      You've obviously never used it, have you?

      1. Ryan 7

        Used it.

        Hated it.

        No point splintering the dev community.

        Now who's the idiot who didn't check their facts?

  2. Allan Rutland

    Good and bad really

    Simple solution (ish) is that all the custom elements from HTC and Moto all go onto the Android Market as a download...personally I wouldn't want to lose Sense as it's a great addition over the stock Android experience, but can see how it's slowing down updates and keeping the platform unified. But HTC's Exchange app and other utilities are far superior to the ones on the default Android anyhow, so adding them to the Market wouldn't be a bad thing for everyone...if a little counter productive for the OEMs.

    WTF as frankly I like both sides of it, can't win either way I guess.

  3. Gizzit101

    Praise be

    The whole "fragmentation"/"legacy" issue has been caused by OEMs and carriers trying to differentiate their offerings by adding unnecessary bells and whistles. In addition, they have, in some cases, been subtly crippling some aspects of platform functionality.

    Let them differentiate purely in terms of hardware offerings and price points.

    I'm using a Nexus One running "Froyo" build FRF72 - and that's the way it should be for every Android device - the latest updates available without carriers and manufacturers placing roadblocks in the way.

    I would have thought that Motorola especially should be grateful for their first successful handsets since the RAZR - rather than throwing hissy fits and threatening to leave the OHA and develop their own o/s, unless Google ditched their direct sales model.

    Android is a massively dynamic platform, and that is its principal strength.

    Bring on the Gingerbread

  4. IT specialist
    Thumb Up

    The Android UI is now better

    Ever since Android 2.2, the default Android interface is better than the OEM skins.

  5. DZ-Jay

    What's that?

    What's that you say? So there's actually a benefit to Apple's tactics that is not just to piss others off?


  6. Eddy Ito

    Commoditization highway

    Windows dominance in the PC space helped drive the commoditization of PC hardware forcing makers to compete solely on terms of price and specification. It is understandable that the handset makers don't want to run into the same situation but it already loping down that road at a good clip. We are already seeing the similar things starting to drive differentiation with MHz & Megapixels. The problem is that once a phone is fully featured the only place to go is commodity unless one can either innovate / acquire new differentiators or establish a dominating brand presence, which really only buys time for innovation / acquisition. Notice that Apple has been playing this latter card quite well as it morphed from computer maker into CE wizard.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    UI performance?

    "However, Apple levels of UI performance are almost impossible for a platform that is geared to a wide variety of devices and vendors" - too bad that on any recent android phone the UI is slicker and faster than Apple iphone 3x (haven't seen the 4 so can't comment on that, but I also haven't seen the EVO 4G). At least with the leaked froyo beta, the android flies!

    1. Mad Hacker

      Android UI lags a lot compared to iPhone 3Gs

      I've used Android 2.1 (HTC EVO 4G) and iPhone 3Gs and can say that Android is considerably slower in response. Most people have never used both (they chose what they wanted before they went to the store to buy one so they didn't really compare performance.) I have seen (although not used hands on) Android 2.2 and it appeared to be much smoother and quicker then 2.1 and will bring Android into parity with the iPhone 3Gs UI speed. To say the Android 2.1 UI is as responsive as the 3Gs iPhone is simply a lie.

  8. Steen Hive


    "However, Apple levels of UI performance are almost impossible for a platform that is geared to a wide variety of devices and vendors."

    Arguable. The android kernel is a fork - it can mature outside mainline and become very performant on it's target devices. Whether it can ever be re-merged back is another question though. Of course dalvik will always suffer the virtualization bottleneck that iOS doesn't have to contend with, but I think from a user perspective it will matter little if the graphics subsystem is properly optimized for the respective platforms.

  9. Giles Jones Gold badge


    One interface is needed. If OEMs are so frustrated they can write their own OS or contribute open source code to the Android project.

    It might also stop brain dead programming that causes security or privacy risks like this:

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Something like this cannot happen with closed platforms

      Having a single interface dictated and implemented by Apple would make such issues impossible right?

      Have a look here:

  10. Charlie Clark Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    More opinion


    "Apple levels of UI performance are almost impossible for a platform that is geared to a wide variety of devices and vendors"

    This conclusion is drawn at the end of the article without any supporting arguments in the article itself. It is, therefore, merely a statement of unsubstantiated opinion. Not good. My understanding is that, at least in terms of performance, the Google UI is comparable to iPhone on comparable hardware if not usability. In fact performance is heavily dependent upon the degree of direct access to the graphic hardware especially on such specialised hardware as the ARM ecosystems where the CPU cannot compensate for missing hardware or poor coding as well as the bloated x86 can.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Users vs. buyers

    It's funny to see that after so many years someone still fail to see the benefits of a standard UI interface. On you PC noone would ever dream to move all the standard features around. But on phone you have to fight your way to the features you need for each new phone you get.

    The reason is phones has more "buyers" then "users". And eye candies are a powerful incentive to buyers. iPhone home screen is one of the worst designed I ever saw. Basically, it's Windows 3.1 Program Manager, very little useful informations there. But its graphical design and lots of colours has a powerful appeal on people buying candies, it talks to the children inside of you, not the adult mobile phone user.

    Good luck to Google, this time I agree it has to impose a common UI - it is far better for uses, as long as it is not a Windows 3.1 interface with fancier icons.

  12. The Original Steve

    Terrible idea

    The current system seems to work. I've used both HTC Sense and the default UI and personally I'd probably not use Android if I has to use the stock UI.

    HTC Sense make the handset on par with the iPhone in terms of usability, smoothness and overally UI experience. I couldn't care less whats running under the hood as long as I have the 'freedoms' that Android provides such as running any app, customisation, freedom of hardware etc.

    Android is a great platform, but the stock UI is poor compared to HTC Sense and the iPhone. Currently an application that works on stock UI will work fine on HTC Sense, and I'd presume other UI systems like Motoblur too.

    Why Google would want to do this is beyond me. With Windows Phone 7, RIM, iPhone and new symbian (that looks good / usable) next year they'd be mental to start enforcing their own UI. It hasn't been great so far...

  13. kurkosdr


    Woohoo!!! Google is bringing Linux fragmentation to the smartphone world! A truckload of different APIs for the developer to support, a truckload of different UIs the user has to choose from, and it's all going nowhere. I bet some freetards are celebrating this kind of "freedom" right now.

    I am surprised (and appauled) about how tech hournalists/cheerleaders post numbers about Android's market share, like the "Android" is one solid thing. Well, it's NOT. At least not for the user. Go and post the numbers for all those Android's using different UIs seperately, and you will see it's way below iOS's market share.

    In fact, most people do NOT know they are getting a Android smartphone. People can't really tell the difference between LG's pseudo-smartphones, and those Android smartphones will the different UIs on top of them. "This thing has apps?" "I thought only the Iphone can do it" "You mean my backflip uses the same platform as this HTC?" "No way!"

    If these guys from Google had any brains, they would trademark the Android logo, force manufactures to not change a thing and provide upgrades, and then advertise the OS to make people want it. This would force the manufacturers to roll out complete Android phones. But nooo, they just put some code on the server, so Android basically evolved into free technology for the phone makers to loot as they please!!

    Lock this, change this, remove this, screw updates etc....

  14. Sean Timarco Baggaley

    Good, consistent user experience design requires full control.

    Who knew?

    Oh, right: Apple. And pretty much every user interface and experience designer on the planet.

    Apple tried licensing their OS back in the 1990s. It was not a successful experiment. Google didn't learn from Apple's past mistakes and have simply repeated them.

    Google should never have licensed Android to others. Instead, they should have designed and sold their own phones. (They could still have had a Chinese manufacturer actually *build* the things, but it'd be the "Google Phone".) As it is, they're just duplicating the mess that is the PC market in phone form.

    Other manufacturers have had plenty of time to build their own Linux-derived phone operating systems, as Nokia have done, but few of them really understood the fundamentals of good design. (Nokia do know how to make a good *low-end* phone, but that's not a high-margin market.)

    1. James Hughes 1

      If Google had done that

      Android woud never have taken off. They would be suffering the same fate as WinMo. In fact, I don't think Android is licensed - anyone can actually use it without licence. That is why so many phone manufacturers ARE using it.

      Other manufacturers have actually tried their own version off Linux on phones - few got past the prototype stage AFAIK. At the time (2-3 years ago) the effort involved was very high (and you needed a decent processor for the linux overheads) - nowadays you just need to quickly port Android to your hardware - why anyone would develop there own OS at this stage is beyond me.

  15. NX1977
    Thumb Up

    users want unification

    Let Google pump out the updates, and the manufacturers & telcos pump their add ons separately.

    Buyers don't want to be waiting for Android updates simply because the manufacturer doesn't care, or would rather they buy another handset. HTC hero & Samsung i5700 galaxy owners are still waiting for 2.1 with no dates in sight.

    Let alone froyo or gingerbread!

  16. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    ui performance?

    puhleeze. I think it's as simple as, get a low end android phone and the cpu is slower and screen is smaller. Get a higher end one, certainly google can match apple on ui performance. I've seen an iphone, that bar is not as high as ppl like to think.

    i think this is smart of google. They shouldn't add any roadblocks to skins, but making the google ui as nice as possible is smart.

  17. Svein Skogen

    I'll maybe consider android

    I'll maybe consider android. When it doesn't upload everything in my messages, call-history, contacts, calendar, whatnot, kitchen and sink, to google.

    If an android device comes along that understand that I don't want google to have copies of all my information, I'll consider the device. Until then, it's just as irrelevant as the cupertino trash.


    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Anonymous Coward

      @Svein Skogen

      Um... Get a clue.

  18. Disco-Legend-Zeke


    ...had similar problems with OEMs dolling up the Windows UI, and was partially successful in controlling them.

    Unfortunately, many brand name machines continued to be slowed by manufacturer's (cr)apps.

  19. Mr. Omega

    Not so bad

    This article is a little over the top. HTC Sense and MotoBlur are replacements of the Android shell, not of the underlying GUI (which can still only be skinned). If you are writing a bog standard app, it is irrelevant how it gets launched. What you are most concerned about is the fragmentation of Android SDK versions, plus screen size variations and differences in hardware and input capabilities. The shell should, and currently does, make little difference.

    Granted, if you are writing shell extensions (i.e. widgets, wallpapers, etc.) then you are going to want to write to a single spec and you may end up with fragmentation if you relay on features of a particular shell that isn't in core Android. I believe this is what Google is trying to achieve by making sure manufacturers can still replace the shell while keeping an API so that those new shells can still host developer shell add-ons. That is nothing like Apple's control-freakery. And remember, Apple barely lets you extend the shell anyway (you can put badges on your app icon - that's it).

    So calm down.

  20. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Google is right, Motoblur is crap

    I specifically bought my Motorola Droid to avoid the Motoblur crap. I just wanted an Android phone with a slide keyboard.

    You wouldn't believe how much US cell operators can fuck over a phone with branded crap. T-Mobile made my old Nokia almost useless. It's why my Droid is my first subsidized cell phone in 12 years.

    Hell, the MyVerizon app on the phone is the most unstable app I've ever seen. Sometimes you have to launch it 2 or 3 times to get the UI to appear. Then you'll select something, and it'll half-update the screen. Not to mention it's 1 or 2 days behind the website. It's easier to just visit the Verizon website from the phone. Their programmer monkeys must be from the same tribe as their customer service and store idiots.

    They're actually pretty good at providing a signal, but that's about it.

    I'm hoping Google beats them about the head with a large stick.

  21. MarkOne

    And that's the difference between Google and Apple

    "Cosmetic UI skins will be possible, but many firms are going further and creating their own sub-platforms. Google wants to deter partners from taking this road by making the default experience superior in terms of handset performance."

    Apple force theirs to be the ONLY one.

    Google encourage theirs to be the ONLY one by making it the best.

    Clearly this is a win for consumers, and Android platform as a whole.

    1. aThingOrTwo

      Google want Android to be the ONLY one

      And what about Google wanting Android to be the only one in terms of underlying operating system so they can generate ad revenue.

  22. Lou Gosselin

    Vague Terminology

    What is meant by "levels of UI performance"?

    "Google wants to deter partners from taking this road by making the default experience superior in terms of handset performance"

    Performance usually refers to a metric such as connectivity, responsiveness or speed. However I don't get the impression that's what this article intended. Is this supposed to be about the quality of the user experience rather than the performance of a handset?

  23. pan2008
    Thumb Down

    open source?

    so much for android being open source! you can't even change the layer! never mind anything else.So open source at the begining to play the fashionable words now we change our mind

  24. Leeroy

    Make them pointless ?

    What exactly is wrong with that ?

    If Google make the best interface then HTC and others will probably use it. At the momont HTC's Sense is a lot better than the generic Android UI and is why i chose the phone that i did.

    On the other side of the coin it would be nice to have updates to the OS when they are first available, instead of waiting months for HTC to "optimise" their Sense UI to work correctly with the new version. (eg bluetooth file transfer would be nice).

  25. Anonymous Coward


    You mean 'locked in' software has advantages over free as in free speech software?

    Sssssh, you'll upset the 'tards.

    1. aThingOrTwo

      Good point

      Highly ranked because the case is never made and never discussed in a reasonable, sensible manner.

      It always ends up with the FOSS community shouting down others and refusing to listen.

  26. Ebeneser

    Talk about mis-representation

    Google decide to polish the Android UI with the help of their new ex-palm ui designer, and some people think its a step towards control freakery a' la Apple. Android is OPEN SOURCE, so people can choose what the hell UI they want. HTC are still free to put Sense on, Motorola can continue to ship BLUR, Google hope that they can make something better so the need to create multiple UIs subsides ... its really that simple ...

    I mean talk about hedging your bets 'Google is reported to be planning' ffs what happened to factual objective based reporting rather than speculative crap who's only intention appears to whip up an inflammatory point of view based on hearsay.

    1. aThingOrTwo

      People can choose…

      HTC is not a person, Motorola is not a person.

      Once you have your phone with the custom UI it is actually not simple/easy for an average person to get rid of it choose something else.

      And while we're discussing choice — apparently the choice to upgrade to the latest version of Android is not a choice some people get without considerable bother, even if there phone is perfectly capable of running it.

  27. Spoonguard

    Vendor Trash

    For every SenseUI quality UI there are at least 3 times the number of Touchwiz abominations. I don't think these overlays are going to be missed much.

  28. J 37

    Probably a good idea...

    Considering the craptacular UI overlays that some devs have put out using the name Android, and by association stinking it up, this is probably a "good thing".

  29. John Navas

    You underestimate Google and Linux

    You underestimate Google and Linux when you say it's "almost impossible" for Google to achieve Apple levels of performance. Achieving top performance is simply a matter of proper design with the necessary hardware specific layers, and Linux already achieves excellent performance on a very wide range of hardware platforms.

    1. aThingOrTwo


      After 10 years of hearing that it was finally the time for desktop linux, I don't think anyone is underestimating linux. In fact, it is consistently overestimated.

      Great in the server room, poor in the home.

  30. Hous0430

    No, Luke, no!

    Google, please don't ruin my hopes of finally owning something that can compete with the force that is known as "Apple", and doesn't remind me of the Gestapo.

  31. Slappy Frogg

    Big difference

    In response to "Apple-style control of the Android platform."

    I feel this comment distracts from the point of the article and is a straw man obscuring the real issue:

    1) Google engaged their "partners" and is now trying to change the rules midstream

    2) This attempt at having more control flies in the face of the "open" nature of the Android platform as trumpeted by Google.

  32. SC Handle


    Google improving the Android UI was inevitable once they made their own device.

    If they improve the quality of the basic UI they can potentially do it in such a way to to make it easier for other companies to skin if they so choose actually helping to reduce fragmentation.

    At the end of the day no-one is forcing anyone to use Android, its just a bloody good platform. And many companies out there that are competitive with Android would not be without. Palm have already proved that the smartphone OS market is quite crowded enough without every man and his dog trying to make their own OS.

  33. gav_taylor

    Ability to disable overlays?

    I think this will end up wishful thinking on both Google and our parts..

    Having played with a HTC Hero for the last 12 months, HTC's inability to update Sense UI quick enough to match Android updates is both shocking and disapointing... watching friends update their Nexus One last month was a painful thing to see.

    I dont think it would be right for Google to ban UI overlays but they should insist on partners adding the ability for users to easily turn it off if they want and maybe even install a vanilla rom to get updates from Google directly!

    There I go, wishful thinking again...

  34. James Hughes 1


    So, Google are trying to make Android as good as possible so third parties find it unnecessary to add their own layers of UI to make up for shortfalls.


  35. This post has been deleted by its author

  36. KnucklesTheDog

    I think this is misleading

    According to the TechCrunch article Google is only trying to discourage home screen divergence by improving the default UI. That is, they will make their home screen so good, manufacturers will not feel it's worth the money creating their own. There's no indication they will try and prevent them technically from creating their own - as you point out it would be very difficult due to the availability of Android source.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Since HTC Sense is what makes android phones that can compete with the iphone why doesn't google just give HTC the resources to release sense with any android update.

  38. Torben Mogensen

    Standard API

    The most important thing is to make it possible for application writers to write an application without having to provide N different versions for different UIs. This can be done by restricting to a single, fixed UI (as Apple did) or by providing an API of sufficiently high abstraction level that the same application can look and feel different on different specialised UIs.

    For example, rather than having the API require the programmer to specify that a menu pops up at a specific place and with specific contents, the API could allow the programmer to specify only that the user should be presented with a choice between a set of options. If this is shown to the user as a drop-down menu, a horisontal scroll menu, a pie chart menu, a number of keyboard short cuts or even a voice interface is then up to the UI.

    I hope Google will do the latter. It can also provide a default UI for this API, but this won't prevent vendors from making their own.

  39. Anonymous Coward

    Mssing the point...

    Google can make the "best" UI in the world - they have the resources and if they have the will they CAN do it,.

    Unfortunately Handset manufacturers don't want the best, they want distinctive and novel - something that will sell the handset to Joe Punter down at Carphone Warehouse.

    If I were running HTC or Moto, the very last thing I'd want to be is a "me too" Andriod UI supplier - where's my differentiator? Price that's where. No, I'd prefer to make (for example) a really good camera phone with a photographic slewed UI and another Music based one (like the old Walkman and Cybershot Phones).

    Google can make the default UI a work of beauty, but only a general one for generalists. Handset manufacturers are simply unlikely to take it up across the board.

  40. Nat Pryce
    Gates Horns

    Microsoft dreams the dream... and lives it

    "On your PC noone would ever dream to move all the standard features around"

    Apart from Windows Media Player, Windows Office Communicator, Office Ribbon Bar, Internet Explorer, etc. etc.

    Not that Microsoft are alone. ITunes, Quicktime Player, Winamp, etc. etc. all ignore the platform's look & feel (feel being more important) and make the Windows experience a case of random button clicking around mystery-meat UIs.

    It makes the Linux GNOME desktop look like a paragon of consistency.

  41. David Simpson 1

    No-one said this was a being forced on OEMs !

    Google's Android team said they wanted to give OEMs a reason not to customize, this is not a new law for Android, Google can't legally stop people from customizing and changing Android.

    They will never force OEMs into anything they don't have the power to, just read the licence conditions for Android anyone can do whatever and they don't even have to share their changes.

    Personally I'm looking forward to what the new UI/UE guy from Palm can accomplish WebOS is spoiled by poor Palm hardware but it certainly looks good.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    This article is very dubious, the basic premise is flawed. Users generally don't care about the skin/wm added by the phone manufacturer. You only find out that you have "MotoBLUR" or "HTC Sense" after you've unpacked your "Android phone", which tends to be what you were actually shopping for.

    HTC are pragmatic, they will suck it down, and just make better hardware. However decent sense is, if there's something better, they'd probably use it.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Confusing for the customer

    I can just imagine joe schmoh in his local Carphone Warehouse trying to understand why his friends phone which runs Android and his phone which runs Android look completely different and why his mate has suddenly got this lovely new feature that his phone won't get for 6 months.

    As to all the mention of the iPad and things "not working". Really? All the iPhone apps I have on mine work just fine, you either run them in the native size or you blow it up, depending on what it is. No big. I've yet to see a single one that doesn't work. And many many of the more useful apps are being ported over pretty quickly so its clearly not that big an issue.

    Open source has its place, and thats firmly in the land of the geek. Start throwing around "forks" and "branches" to the general public and all you do is confuse them and put them off your product.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Fork off

      Confusing for the type of customer that buys Apple gear maybe. But then again those same people get confused by any tech more advanced than an Aga cooker.

  44. aThingOrTwo

    Swimming against the tide… more like swimming with it.

    “though it may be swimming against the tide, at a time when even Microsoft, also accustomed to dictate terms for Windows, has been forced to accept third party overlays like Sense for Windows Mobile”

    Err, but not really, because Microsoft is taking back control with Windows Phone.

    So rather than swimming against the tide, this move by Google would actually be swimming with the tide.

  45. OFI
    Thumb Up

    Possibly in..

    Kind of for this.

    As a HTC Desire owner it has quickly become annoying that I can't have the latest 2.2 Froyo update because of HTC Sense. That said I do like Sense and its apps, as someone suggested a Market download would be a nice way to go about it..

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wrong way to deal with fragmentation.

    The problem is not that Motorola, HTC, and SE have differentiated themselves with unique UI's. It does cause some support problems but the users like it and the vendors love it - they want to do more then just sell hardware.

    The problem is that users of their phones are not getting timely updates to the OS.

    Surely there is a way to deal with the updates problem without throwing out the vendor customizations?

  47. asussex

    From the horse's mouth...

    See the Google I/O 2010 video "Android UI design patterns" at approx. 44mins.

    Q: What's Google's stance on hardware manufacturers overlaying their own UI enhancements over stock Android? Is this something which will be discouraged in the future?"

    A: "We think it's great for ... both the products and for us as designers to see what other people do with it. So, you know, we're perfectly happy with that as the plan going forward."

  48. B 9

    I'm loving this

    Looks like the Android fanbois are going to have to eat a little crow and admit Google is starting to go the same route as Apple, or just be accused of being hypocrites.

    1. M Gale

      Re: I'm loving this

      Google: "We're making a standard UI that's so frigging excellent nobody would want anything else."

      Apple: "We're banning your app because we want to. Oh, and it competes with something we're making. Don't you DARE think of offering customisable desktop icons. Only we can do that.. 5 years down the line.. and you have to buy a new iToy to get it..."

      Yeah, I can see the similarity already.

  49. M Gale

    "However, Apple levels of UI performance are almost impossible..."

    Ye gods, was that statement typed out without so much as a snigger? If not, I'd suggest the author get hold of an iphone instead of just watching the adverts. Then get an Android phone for comparing.

    I'll leave this post with another statement that should indicate the "Apple levels of UI performance":

    Steps removed. Sequence shortened.

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