Lenovo has today announced that all future devices will ship with stock Android, joining the swarm of other developers flocking to the OS.
For those unaware, stock Android is the pure experience, free of any horrible skins or unnecessary features. Just a few years ago, it was common to see manufacturers ship handsets with their own skins. Now, it’s becoming increasingly common to see manufacturers release software which is as close to stock as possible. Samsung, LG and HTC have all massively cut back on their user interfaces, offering software which now functions practically the same as stock. Even Huawei, a company who’s notorious for overblown launchers, has greatly simplified the OS in their recent P10 device.
Google’s heavy marketing of Nexus devices offering the purest Android experience, combined with media feedback highlighting the benefits of a pure OS seems to have been the turning point. The advantages of customised Android operating systems are quickly becoming irrelevant against the need for a less fragmented ecosystem. Consumers are becoming savvy to the techniques manufacturers use to retain customers, such as providing radically different skins as a way to deter users from switching and re-learning their device.
Smartphone users have also been very vocal about the lack of device updates, a major cause of which is fragmented operating system skins that need be completely re-engineered. Google has somewhat tackled this by announcing Project Treble at IO 2017, a new service which separates the core Android functionality from higher-level processes. Essentially, it will make the process of updating the Android operating system much easier on newer devices. The feature is expected to be bundled inside Android O, so all devices using the OS will be able to take advantage.
Project Treble is a good start, but it’s not fool proof. Manufacturers will still need to update the rest of the Android framework, which is a task in itself. There’s a reason why smaller manufacturers seem to prefer stock operating systems; simplicity. With a stock experience, the consumer gets the advantage of a future-proofed handset and the manufacturer doesn’t have to worry about public outcry/ update duties to appease fans.