Is Android L the death of OEM Skins?

As we’ve had the opportunity to review devices manufactured by various OEMs, an interesting trend has begun to surface: OEM skins are getting lighter-weight, and a distinctive and bold color scheme has been evolving.

We’ve reviewed the HTC One M8, the One mini 2, and the Desire 816. All of them run modern versions of HTC’s Sense UI, and all feature very similar distinctive and bold color theming. We just spent a week with the ASUS PadFone X which runs its own “skin” on top of Android. It too features distinctive and bold colors inside its apps. LG‘s devices, despite having their own “skin”, all seem to have the same distinctive and bold colors going on.

We started seeing Google update its apps with these same types of distinctive and bold colorful themes not long ago. Is this a direction coordinated and directed by Google? Perhaps.

At today’s Google I/O keynote we got a peek at “Android L“. It features — wait for it — a distinctive and bold color scheme across all the apps.

Buried deep within what was presented were a couple little nuggets of information. In addition to Android L bringing dynamic shadows and lighting to everyday apps, “L” can also programmatically pick out the best highlighting and contrasting colors from an image. It was also hinted that the colors throughout the UI could be picked up and changed, presumably by OEMs who want to bring a distinct flavor to their devices through a coordinated theme.

Should this be the case, we could see OEMs moving entirely away from their own custom versions of Android, and instead focusing on apps and services to help differentiate devices. Apps and services are much easier to develop, maintain, and update than the core Android OS, and those changes don’t require carrier buyoff before they’re pushed to devices.

I suspect this has been the intent of the Google Play edition program all along.

Now, Google is opening the door to emerging markets with Android One. This program essentially offers carriers in various parts of the world a ready-made reference platform from which they can make inexpensive handsets, and the ability to run a stock version of Android. Google will then keep Android One devices up-to-date just like it does with Nexus and Google Play edition devices. This, in turn, will lighten the load on those carriers, and will encourage them to adopt Android rather than some other OS.

Win, Win. Win!

Running stock Android rather than a customized version would be a win for OEMs who could spend more time developing handsets and apps. It would be a win for consumers who would get more timely updates, including time-sensitive security patches. The stranglehold carriers have on the markets in some places around the globe would be relaxed, which I’m sure they won’t like, but that’s yet another round of wins for OEMs and consumers alike.

Some have wondered if Google might force OEMs to stop applying their customizations to Android. Honestly, I don’t see that happening. However, it’s fairly obvious that Google will make developing, supporting, and updating devices based on “stock Android” much easier than those that are heavily modified. As such, it’s only a matter of time before advancements, like those found in Android L, are the death of OEM skins.

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy". By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video. Read more about Joe Levi here.