One of the highlights of the recent Google I/O event was the unveiling of an alternative version of the Samsung Galaxy S4 that runs the stock version of Android Jelly Bean, devoid of any re-skinning on the manufacturer’s part.
In the wake of this announcement, a Dialaphone poll has revealed that a large majority of people would prefer to have the unaltered version of Google’s mobile platform on their handset. This figure is surprising, indicating that even in the face of extensive and well-designed user interfaces offered by smartphone makers there are still many people who would prefer the stripped back, stock version of Android.
So why is Google’s own version of its software so popular? There are a number of factors which could explain the desire that many users have to opt for the pure Android experience, something which is otherwise proven by the popularity of the Nexus range of handsets. Produced by a number of manufacturers, the Nexus series uses the stock version of Android, are often launched alongside new iterations of the platform and are frequently the first to receive updates.
These updates could be very appealing since few smartphone owners are happy feeling that their handset has been left behind. With mobile phone contracts now often extending to two years it is likely that at least one new version of Android will arrive during this time and a smartphone running the stock version of the platform will be able to update immediately. Handsets that have manufacturer-made user interfaces can sometimes have to wait months before an update is rolled out, with some never arriving at all.
With this speedy introduction of new software come other advantages, notably several new apps and services that are only compatible with the latest versions of Android and those who use the pure version of the software will have access first. This can further the advantages of updating to a new version of the platform.
There’s also an aesthetic element to the stock Android software that ensures consistency of visual design across a handset’s OS and the apps which run across it. While many manufacturers make great looking user interfaces they can sometimes be at odds with the third party apps that run on them, with app icons in particular occasionally looking badly-sized or out of place.
However, there are big advantages that can come with a manufacturers’ alterations to the basic Android software. As we mentioned, they can look very good indeed, with Samsung and HTC in particular having launched visually impressive versions of their respective user interfaces with their latest flagships.
There are even extra UI elements that can be added that stock users will miss out on, sometimes innovative ideas that many others may like to adopt. HTC’s Sense 5 has several examples of this such as the BlinkFeed feature that sees news feeds and social updates delivered to the homescreen of the HTC One. The UI also includes the HTC Zoe camera functions, greatly enhancing the photographic capabilities of the device. While third party apps can sometimes deliver equivalent services, having them built directly into a UI can be a real advantage.
Following the launch of a new version of Android some manufacturers may take some time to roll out updates, although this can have perks. Early adopters of new software often become de facto beta testers and find their handsets can become dogged with bugs that will be ironed out by the time the likes of Samsung and HTC launch their own iterations of a new OS.
Essentially, we believe that many who want the stock version of Android do so because they like to get to grips with the adaptability and customisation that is at the heart of what the software does. There are definite advantages to having the pure version, especially if you’re technically minded.
However, if a well-designed and feature-packed smartphone experience is what you’re after, and you are not concerned with getting at the innards of you handset’s software then it may be better to consider one of the many, varied and vibrant versions of Android that otherwise exist.