Jun 16 AT 10:20 AM Taylor Wimberly 47 Comments

Google’s goal for Gingerbread? Make those “skins” pointless

With the pending release of Android 2.2 (FroYo), Google has pretty much addressed all the core features the community was asking for. So what is the main focus for the next version of Android? According to TechCrunch, the Android team is “laser focused” on improving the user experience for the next release (codenamed Gingerbread).

In the early days of Android, Google encouraged handset makers to add their own customizations and the result was the UI layers like HTC’s Sense, Motorola’s Motoblur, and Samsung’s TouchWiz. Now Google wants to improve the user experience to a point that ends the desire for handset manufacturers and carriers to create their own.

Whether you love or hate the custom UI skins, I think we can all agree that they slow down the update process when a new version of Android is released by Google. It took HTC around six months to upgrade their Sense UI phones to Android 2.1 and we are still waiting on Motorola to send out the Android 2.1 upgrade for all their Motoblur devices.

Another reason to focus on the user experience is all the non-smartphone devices that are targeting a release later this year. Tablets, TVs, and other gadgets will feature displays much larger (or smaller) than a phone and the user interface needs to adapt accordingly.

Overall I’m quite happy with the user experience delivered in Android 2.2, but I would like to see a release that allows handset makers to modify the look and feel of Android without having to change the underlying framework. I don’t want to see custom skins disappear, but we need a better system that allows users to receive firmware updates in a timely manner without waiting on the handset maker to update their code.

What user experience changes would you like to see implemented in the next release of Android?

Source: TechCrunch

Taylor is the founder of Android and Me. He resides in Dallas and carries the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and HTC One as his daily devices. Ask him a question on Twitter or Google+ and he is likely to respond. | Ethics statement

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  • http://www.thisiscourtney.com Courtney

    I’d be willing to give up custom skins for faster operating system updates to more devices. It’d be great if they could find a way to make custom skins and quick updates work together.. maybe some day.

  • http://Website Gus

    I would love that Android 2.3 would have a sim toolkit.

  • http://Website Keith

    If carriers are reluctant to leave the stock Android interface alone, I hope Google requires them to leave the stock Andoid interface at least as an option. This way the carriers can continue to build their own UI’s (if they must), but it leaves the ‘Google Experience’ as an option for those of us that want it. Perhaps Google can make this a requirement in order to carry their trademark.

    This solution may not help with the updating problem, but Google’s supposed to slow that down soon anyway.

  • http://L33.me Lee Graham

    This is absolutely PERFECT! Some of the UI/UX & carrier managed OS upgrades things really have been my only real complaints. This could possibly solve both.

  • http://Website Matt Fisher


    • http://Website Matt Fisher

      Nevermind. Sorry. I’m a bad reader.

  • http://Website Zlander

    They should make htc sense the default ui

  • http://Website Zer0-9

    Without actually having 2.2 to play with some of these may be addressed.

    1) Enterprise level control. Corporate adoption would be higher if additional security and control could be implemented on each endpoint from a server in much the same way that BlackBerry currently functions.

    2) Easily customized home screen/navigation bar. Having the ability to change colors or load custom XML files to determine the look and feel of many basic UI components. A feature only available to root users.

    3) VOIP/UMA operation

    4) Control what apps are allowed to automatically start up. Many manufacturers include apps that the individual consumer will never use, but they spawn processes and take up RAM and CPU time. Other times the consumer may install an app that has functionality they like, but don’t often use. Being able to limit whether or not an app may start a process on its own would help keep phones running smooth.

    5) Contact Management: It is currently very cumbersome in stock Android to sort the contacts by groups. Certain custom UIs have improved this experience but they lack compatibility with other apps that are based on stock Android.

    6) Application Management: Similar complaint as with Contact Management. Trying to sort applications into categories means placing them in folders on the HomeScreen. Having them sort automatically into the categories they had in the Market (or tag based) and being able to sort/display only certain categories would make finding applications a bit easier. Being allowed to hide application shortcuts would also be nice for those applications you can’t remove, or those that are only widget settings and the like.

    7) More control over locking/unlocking behavior. Timeout between screen power off and actual screen lock, what actions will wake/unlock device, behavior while on a phone call, sensor threshold adjustment. (Droid frequently wakes while on a call, causing the user to accidentally hang up for example).

  • http://Website Joseph

    I think that they should include themes with froyo like dofferent system colors. Red and black green and red like how the mtouch slide is

    • z0phi3l

      Pretty much all I want them to do too

  • http://Website Phil

    I have hard time understanding why the skins are not just that….skins. I’m not understanding why Google hasn’t made a solid interface for replacing common components and widgets (UI…not the desktop ones) with different ones or different styles. I’m also not understanding why some of the custom UI’s reach so deep into the OS that they can’t upgrade without breaking them. The more I use Sense the more I’m like….ok this is basically replacements for many of the stock apps. Theres really no reason a person shouldn’t be able to download an “app pack” from the market that would totally remake your phone. Sense should be a downloadable app. Google is on the right track with the way they made all apps equal and replaceable. It seems they need to go a few steps further to really make the OS completely skinable.

    On the other side of that though this MIGHT just cause the OEM’s to back away from Android as they don’t have much of a way to compete with each other except on hardware. I suppose they could continue to feel that they are competing on hardware and skin but functionality would easily be the same across all devices. And if done right they would face competition from the market as well.

    • http://Website brian

      Totally agree. I really do enjoy the sense UI on my Evo. I also like that I can turn it off and go stock Android. I think HTC and the other UI makers should put the UI on the market, all handsets able to use them if people want them. That would solve most of the fragmentation issues. Google is on the right track.

      • http://nickedynick.blogspot.com Nickedynick

        Alternatively, put the skins on the Market, but only make them visible to certain devices. So the Hero, Desire, Legend, etc are the only ones that could access Sense, FriendStream, etc.

        Also, make the preinstalled apps uninstallable. These two bits combined would keep the carriers able to brag about their skin, apps, etc. but allow the user the flexibility of being able to remove parts which they don’t like. The feedback in the Market would also help to improve the apps for their next iteration. Win, win!

      • ayocuz

        That’s a good point,i wonderd for a long time why wouldn’t they put all those user interfaces on the market. It sure would make it a lot easier than having to root your phone

      • http://Website Robby

        The problem there, though, is it’s not completely “stock” android. Menu bars and such still have the Sense skin on them, giving the impression that the UI is a bit more embedded in the OS. I think some of the comments on here are spot on! Whether it’s skins, custom widgets, or both…those things could give the carriers and hardware makers enough differentiation to still feel like they are “customizing” their android handset. It would also give the end user the ability to turn it off if it’s lame. Personally, the only thing keeping me running Sense on my EVO is the FriendStream and News widgets…they are wonderful examples of well-made, customized widgets only available on an HTC phone. I sure hope this is where Google is headed with this!

    • http://pro-thoughts.blogspot.com/ vkelman

      I totally agree with you. But if I understood some recent (pre FroYo release) news correctly, that’s exactly what Android team already promised to do. De-coupling UI from a system core, making OS more modular, allowing “partial” system updates through Android Market, while keeping current [
      customized] UI – that what is absolutely necessary and what was promised.
      Doing so is extremely difficult, in case system was not conceived in a modular enough fashion… I’m afraid – as it always happens – Android team was in a hurry to release a system before competitors do, and it hurt design.

      • Weeds

        I’m not sure if they were in a hurry or not, but on 1.6 i wasn’t able to rebuild the Launcher app, with the source code copied from the AOSP tree.
        This was caused by some internal API’s and resources, so it obviously has some deep integration within the system, and as all those API’s aren’t public, there is no real need to maintain backward compatibility.
        Therefore the only way to build and modify the Launcher app was to do that within the source tree.
        Same thing is true for many of the included widgets (The layout widgets like TextView, RelativeLayout, Gallery). All of them use API’s which are not available for public use, so if they are modified, chances are great that those API’s change from release to release.
        This could explain the delay’s for Motoblur/Sense UI updates. (An additional point would be if HTC or Moto devs were in a hurry as well, when designing there UI ;) )

        Really hope this will be changed in one of the next releases.

    • Dharmabhum

      “The more I use Sense the more I’m like….ok this is basically replacements for many of the stock apps.”
      QFT. I haven’t seen a skin do anything that widgets and apps couldn’t do without it.

  • HipHopIsLyfe37

    In my opinion, I think that Gingerbread should have a nice looking revamped UI like what is stated above. But, I also think that if you want to have Sense, MotoBlur, or TouchWiz on ANY device it should be a replacement skin that is available in the Market. The skins would come with all the widgets and everything that a normal device would have (i.e. Evo 4G, Galaxy S, etc). Every device that would get updated to Gingerbread (2.3) would have stock vanilla Android as the main UI; so like I said, you could get the skin from the Market if you wanted it

  • ER

    the only thing that bugs me about OEM custom UIs is that it takes so long for updates. The only reason for me to want to turn it off would be to get OS updates much quicker.

  • http://Website Acer_Liquid

    Not much point to limiting skins now that Android OS will see less frequent updates. It’s a bit late. Google can never make the stock skin as nice or customized to a carrier as the manufacturers or carriers can. They should just allow it to be done more easily without breaking the core OS & its upgradability, which I believe is being addressed by separating the core components from the apps in Froyo & Gingerbread.

  • http://Website GetAndroidLetTheFreedomBegin

    This is interesting, how is HTC going to react to this? Are they just going to build the hardware and since HTC bought a company that makes nice user interfaces. I think they should give us a choice between what we want to use, we can switch UI everyday if we want this is our right, so if google builds a better UI I will get that and if HTC gets better then I would like to be able to download it and run it. The more choices we have the better we are of.

    This is the great thing about Android Freedom to Choose.

  • http://Hosisawhore.com Jurisdictio

    What about some built in cloud syncing for phone settings and apps, instead of having to re-download them individually one by one like we currently have too?… I just recently switched carriers and phones, and it shouldn’t take me over 5 hours to set my phone up just like it was on my last device. I’m thinking something like Back Up Pro, but bask red into the OS. Also something like Mobile Defense built in with remote wipe would be great (a lot of people forget that Moto Blur has these functions built into the skin)! Better media player and media management would also be great, I’m thinking lille Double Twist app and computer software. Actually, Google should just but the above mentioned companies and add their services too the cite of Android!

    Printing capability, and usb host mode would also be nice… Better bluetooth profiles would also be great, for things like mice, keyboards, and game pads… Asks go please add real HDMI support OS wi use to avoid half baked and frankensteined stuff like that found in the EVO…

    • http://mikeriosisawhore.com Jurisdictio

      Ok, I just re-read the comment I posted earlier today while at lunch (before I ate)…. Sorry all, but I I’m still adjusting to using a touch only device (EVO 4G), and as evidenced by the post above, am having a tough run of it insofar. Let me re-post it with grammatical corrections for clarity:

      What about some built in cloud syncing for phone settings and apps, instead of having to re-download apps individually one by one like we currently have to?… I just recently switched carriers and Android phones, and it shouldn’t take me over 5 hours to set my phone up just the way it was on my last device. I’m thinking something like “Back Up Pro”, but baked right into the OS. Also something like “Mobile Defense” with it’s remote wipe feature would be great in the event of theft (a lot of people forget that Moto Blur has these functions built into the skin)! A better media player and media management in general for Android (Google Music?) would also be great, I’m thinking something along the lines of the Double Twist app and computer software to move your media from your computer to your device. Actually, Google should just BUY all of the above mentioned companies and add their services too the core of Android!

      Printing capability, and usb host mode would also be nice… Better bluetooth profiles would also be great for things like mice, keyboards, and game pads… Also, please add real HDMI support directly into the OS, to avoid half baked frankensteined stuff like what’s currently found in the EVO with it’s HDMI implementation…

  • http://Website doog

    This may seem minor, but one thing that iOS 4 has done better than Android is homescreen folders. Android’s folders are ok, but I often miss that “x” to close them and have some other app activate rather than close the folder. I’m going to guess that Google is not going to out-and-out copy the iPhone’s folder implementation, but something better would be welcome.

    User-choosable number of homescreens would also be nice for stock home.

  • http://Website Chad

    I will be so happy if motorola gets rid of motoblur. blur majorly sucks because it does very little more but yet makes users wait forever for a update.

    I think all phones should have only really small changes, such as to add extra buttons, but no big changes such as motoblur.

    I actually don’t even use motoblur, it’s that stupid.

  • http://Website Linuxguru

    That would be the smart avenue for Android.

  • http://Website Simon

    I this this is a great move to enhance vanilla UI, but i don’t think this will put a stop to manufacturers releasing their own skins on their android phones.
    How will they distinguish their phones from other manufacturers’ phones? hardware specs isn’t enought.
    Also you guys have to remember that not everyone even knows what android is, even if they are using it! how many nokia user knows wat symbian is? to them it’s the UI that attracts them.

    I know so many pple here in sydney who bought the HTC desire and Sony Ericsson Xperia10 without even realising what android is.

    to summarise, UIs are here to stay

  • AndMac

    Yey!!! This is great news!

    Didn’t Google hire the Palm UI guy recently? The devil is in the details, as Apple has always known.

    I am so happy to see Android focusing on UI.

  • http://Website Dee

    the thing i think sense has done well is show google features that they needed to implement.
    in gingerbread, i would like to see a complete revamp of the keyboard, i would also like to see widgets be something other than a square or rectangle and maybe take advantage of flash or the newfound speed of froyo. i just wanna see the widgets taken one step further because i think that could be a defining killer feature for android. also, i want to see android take multitasking to the future! apple already copied their implementation but what if in gingerbread google introduced something like a floating window or something similar where you could have multiple apps open, for example, placing a videocall while on the net or watching youtube while you type a text or even just being able to have access to your gallery and email at once so you can drag and drop pix/video into the text. we already know android can do multiple apps in the background but doing it in the foreground could also be an amazing feature.
    -better keyboard
    -beefed up widgets
    -inject some steroids into multitasking and take it way over

    • http://Website 2C

      If you’ve ever seen tatu’s 3d widgets for android that is exactly what they need to implement in gingerbread.

      • http://Website 2C

        I meant TAT Mobile UI.

  • http://Website se fan

    And why did you just ignore se ui in the x10, although it’s one of the best? Are you biased or are you just rude enough to ignore it this way!

    When I sense the bias attitude it just destroys the credibility of the whole article.

  • http://Website awesome person

    Or… another option is to give manufacturers gingerbread now so they can release the platform for the launch or wait until the carriers are done so they come out at the same time or give options at the first start-up of the phone to choose which custom skins available, all available in a database of Google

  • http://Website oldergod

    Hope we don’t need to wait for android 2.3 to be able to set a proxy for Wifi connections…

  • http://Website Eizyark

    I agree with some of the comments here that the only way to differentiate handset to handset is the custom UI the manufacturers make for the phone. That, and the design of the phone. I, for one like the TouchWIZ UI, even though i haven’t tried it out, but what they have shown in the videos prove that the TouchWIZ UI is pretty much up to par with the other’s. I also agree that the TouchWIZ UI icons aren’t the prettiest, but hey, i love functionality more than the looks. Sense UI is another favorite of mine.

    I like where Google is going with this. At least they are trying their very best to end fragmentation between phones.

    How do they pull this off though? I’m not sure, but i do like the suggestion to put the custom UI’s on the market. If not, then just don’t embed the custom UI’s to the core OS. I’m no linux or software genius for that matter, but here’s hoping that they find a solution around it! go go Android! It would be sad if custom UI’s from the manufacturer’s would dissapear. They serve a purpose, that’s why they were made in the first place.

  • http://Website Bobbin bob

    Proxy Support!!! PLEAAASE – my nexus is useless with 2.1/2.2 at work where I have no signal but plenty of wifi hotspots. Google PLEEEASE sort this gaping hole out, I’ve starred the thread at google (http://code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?id=1273)

  • http://Website phillip

    personally i would like 2 see the music player/media integration like double twist pulling all media one seeks ar like the cube/3 player and finds lyrics n tells u if artist is performing in concert near u or will make an appearance on a show

  • http://Website phillip

    having something like texting emailing searching the web, calling , tell u the weather playing and use other apps by voice be standard b pretty cool 2

  • http://Website Name (required)

    Would love for it too look less like Windows 98. With all the Grey boxes everywhere.

    Would love more beautiful animations in selections such as on websites when choosing from a pop up list.

    Would like a full screen picture of whom i am calling when i dial some one.

    Would love a transparent status bar.

    Love separating each part of the user interface so it can be interchangeable. This way custom skins from htc, motorola, and samsung can be put on top as mere widgets and docks. Helping to facilitate updates as android as a whole

    Love for gesture search to be integrated into contacts application

    Love for visual multitasking like palm.(Matias Duarte)

    More integration of multi touch and gestures to launcher.

    Making Android more easy to use while not loosing any functionality (I can dream!)

    Love for better applications on the core. messaging, Music, Calendar (UI), Camera (less is more),

    Permanent Sync to different accounts such as my username will automatically sync me to my Youtube, gmail, ( which it does), Facebook, myspace, chrome Browser, Twitter, Itunes or some better music player.

    Google Voice to change the color perhaps when being used to make a call instead of the Notification alone in the begining.

    Just a few minor :) changes i’d like to see for the next update

  • http://Website Gabriel

    I’m one of those who’d forgo a custom UI for faster update and better performance, that’s why I chose Nexus One over the HTC Desire.

    Receiving updates is exciting, even it isn’t yet an official (like the case of Froyo). And upgrading without rooting is critical to me for a rapidly growing platform.

    I’d love to see this to become true in the next release!

  • http://me-a-droid.blogspot.com/ A-Droid

    A fully OpenGL rendered UI would be the best they could do for us.
    We need it to make Android as smooth as the iPhone.
    No speedy processor will help this. We need an OpenGL desktop.

  • http://Website Jeffroid

    This is why I love android. It keeps getting better.

  • http://Website comoc85

    GET RID OF EM ALL! I’m sick of waiting on 2.1 for my Cliq! This is pretty rediculous!

  • http://Website eris


  • http://xda cope

    transparent statusbar..
    use metamorph and opac_bar

    both found @ xda.

  • http://Website Gerard

    I thought skins would just be a simple UI overlay, but it seems skins are far too embedded in the framework. They should tackle that issue, make skins only skin deep ..