A lot of people have forgotten about the origins of Android. It wasn’t the prettiest OS, nor was it the most complete. I remember that one of my biggest reasons to avoid it was that the first version of the OS was launched without support for a virtual keyboard. Another was the fact that the UI just looked cheesy even when compared to the Windows Mobile that we had back then. We all knew of the plans that Google had for this OS, but its first couple of iterations were anything but promising.
OEMs like HTC changed that. I still remember how special the HTC Hero was, specifically because they were bold enough to change Android. The first version of Sense on Android may not have been the most fluid, but neither was stock Android. It made Android look elegant, intuitive, and simply delightful to use. Every single OEM followed this mentality as Samsung brought their TouchWiz from Windows Mobile to Android, Motorola brought MotoBLUR, and others. I’m sure some of you either loved or hated one of these, but anything was better than stock Android.
Sadly, as OEMs began losing focus on how important efficiency is to a skin, Google began gaining it. Sense got more elegant and slow, TouchWiz got more childish and fluid, and don’t even get me started about MotoBLUR. Google’s launch of Gingerbread was a dramatic improvement to Stock Android. It was more elegant, and faster than its predecessors, which didn’t necessarily mean fast enough, but it was a step in the right direction. That’s the moment I decided to purchase my first Android smartphone with the Nexus One. I held back from the Nexus One in the days of Froyo, but the Gingerbread update made it worth my money.
The rest is history. Ice Cream Sandwich was a dramatic UI overhaul that rose from the failure of Honeycomb. It wasn’t perfect, but it was futuristic, efficient, well organized and simply striking in its simplicity. It was a necessary step for Jelly Bean to be the success that it is, where Android is no longer about which phone is faster since I can safely say that every phone that I’ve seen running Jelly Bean, runs well.
Recently though, we’ve come to certain crossroads with Android. At times when Android skins have improved in their stability and efficiency, I’ve joined a large group of people that are running CM10.1 on their device just to get some stock experience. Why is that? In the past we considered Stock Android to be superior because it was faster, more stable and fluff-free, but now a days these improvements are available in almost every Android skin, if we don’t include the fluff on the list of course.
This phenomenon has become so crucial that Google is now even willing to sell you non-Nexus phones under the Google Edition brand. The only problem here is that neither phone is relatively affordable, and even if they were, not everyone is at the point where they want to buy a new phone. Their solution is to root, but we all know that rooting isn’t perfect, safe, or worry free.
So, if people today are willing to risk bricking their devices just get a better experience, the question is: Would you be willing to pay for a safe and worry-free version of Stock Android for your current device? Let’s say you just bought a Galaxy S III about 6 months ago. If you were given the option to pay for a legal version of Stock Android at a reasonable price, would you pay for it? I would and here’s why:
I have an AT&T Galaxy S III, a T-Mobile Galaxy Note II, an unlocked Sony Xperia ZL and an unlocked HTC One X all stuck on last-year’s version of Android. Do I even need to say more? It’s not Google’s fault that there are so many middlemen between their phone OS and them. We all know the story of the requirements for carrier approval or OEM enhancements, but then again, you don’t see iPhone 4 customers going through this same problem with a phone that was launched 3 years ago, do you?
It really is shameful that even a Galaxy S II, being the hot phone that it can still be, doesn’t get access to key services like Google Now, that even iPhone 4 customers can receive. I’d rather pay to be out of the control of carriers and OEMs and have only one company responsible for my phone, and have that company be Google.
Even Stock Android can be boring at times, but if I had a legal port to it and I’d have the guarantee that I don’t risk bricking my phone while loading it, then I’d rather have the choice to use Stock for as much as I want, and later return to the skinned version that my OEM provides. Sometimes all we want is to give it a try and if the price is right, I’d rather have the choice to give it a try and go back every now and then, than to know that the phone that I chose to buy just six months ago is still out of date with the new enhancements that other devices already have.
Every time people tell me that Android is open and free, I still chuckle. A friend of mine just left my house after showing me his new Galaxy S 4 Duos that he bought. He’s proud to have the “new Galaxy” with the option for two SIM cards, but you and I know this phone is exclusive to the Chinese market. As a result, even though we managed to make the phone display English as a default language, that was all we could change. The carrier that “owns” this device blocks your ability to install the Google Play Store on it. You’re forced to use their stores, which obviously don’t sell anything that’s focused on our culture. Yeah, he’s got a “new Galaxy” that can make phone calls, but to which he can’t even load Google Chrome on. How open and free is this Android phone? I could give you even more examples.
The bottom line
Google never intended for Android to become as fragmented and broken as it is. Surely the world is full of fans of the platform, but not everyone is willing to spend hours rooting a phone in order to get a better experience on the device that they own, nor does the average user have the skill to do it.
Months ago I wrote a piece asking Google to take responsibility over this. I do wish that they would, but I’ll admit that it isn’t fair to call Google out over the choices that they didn’t make. I just wish that Google at least gave me a choice. That’s what freedom and openness is all about, right?
So if you could pay for Stock Android 4.2.2 on your current smartphone, would you do so? How much would you be willing to pay? Back in the old Pocket PC days, Compaq charged $39.99 for newer versions of the Pocket PC OS to their customers. I would be willing to pay as much as $50 to get this port. Even if I get bored in the long run, it’s far cheaper than having to pay $600 for a new Google Edition phone, or half that amount for a Nexus 4 that has lesser specs than all of the Android phones that I already have. I’d rather the option to get rid of the fluff and come back to it, than to also be stuck with no options for that fluff on a Google Edition phone. Be sure to share your thoughts and amount in the comments.