November 28, 2014

The Future of MotoBLUR, Sense and TouchWiz

Android is on the verge of earning the moniker “the future of the mobile operating system.” Although it is still in its infancy, the Android platform currently operates on nine handsets in the U.S. Five of the nine handsets, the G1, the MyTouch 3G, the Moment, the Droid and the Nexus One, run the standard version of Google’s mobile operating system. The remaining four, however, run operating systems that are customized by the device’s manufacturer. The Hero and Eris run HTC’s Sense, the Cliq runs Motorola’s MotoBLUR, and the Behold II runs Samsung’s TouchWiz.

Prior to the release of the Nexus One, and more importantly Android 2.1, these custom operating systems were incredibly appealing, and may still be to some users. The standard version of Android, prior to version 2.1, featured a measly three home screens, and to many was very bland. I, for one, had no interest in Android until HTC’s Sense UI debuted. HTC Sense expanded the number of home screens from three to seven, added useful widgets, and completely altered the theme of the operating system from a white, playful theme to a clean, black and grey theme. MotoBLUR also features a number of custom widgets and social-oriented theme to differentiate itself from “vanilla” Android.

The release of Android 2.1 raises an important question: What is the future of the manufacturer customized versions of Android? Android 2.1 is a vast improvement over previous versions of Android. Since it has been discussed ad nauseam, I will not go in depth into said improvements here, but cards and added home screens come to mind. Furthermore, these manufacturer customized versions of Android fracture the fledgling mobile operating system. Currently, the Hero, Eris, Cliq and the like run Android 1.5, the G1 is runs 1.6, the Droid runs 2.0, and the Nexus One is runs 2.1. Some may not consider that to be an issue, but there are a number of applications, specifically widgets, that are unavailable for Android devices running Android 1.5 or 1.6. I fear that Android, if it remains fractured, may find itself in the same position as Windows Mobile.

While writing this editorial, I spoke with our insightful Editor-in-Chief to get his opinion. He posed an interesting question: How does a handset manufacturer differentiate its product without a manufacturer customized operating system? Hypothetically, without a customized operating system, the only differentiating characteristics would be the phone’s design, the screen size/resolution, and the phone’s internal components.

I have decided to stick with Sense UI in the future because you always have the option to turn off Sense UI. Regrettably, upon turning it off, you are most likely going to find yourself stuck with an antiquated version of Android. Ultimately, consumers will decide the fate of these manufacturer customized operating systems.

What say you, loyal readers of AndroidGuys.com?



  • fathom614

    I've said it before, the manufactuers that make these custom UI should allow you to download for say something like $10 or so for their UI. All android phones should come with the latest version of stock android and if the customer wants a certain UI then they can download it or even pay a 's small monthly fee. Otherwise android risks the possibility of doing excatly what windows mobile has done. Granted companies make these UI for their phone spent alot of time making them so continue to do so, and if I want senseUI on like an Xperia X10 I'm not only paying Sony Erricson for the phone, but also hTc for their UI and vice versa. There is a profit in it for them so what the harm? Legal issues withstanding that how I would have android fix this fragmentation.

    • http://twitter.com/kylepozan @kylepozan

      I, too, am fearful that Android may be heading down the dark road that led Microsoft to its current position. There are a number of applications that I would like to download, but can't because my Hero runs Android 1.5. I find this to be quite aggravating.

      I like your idea of having the manufacturer operating systems being downloadable, but there must also be some way to switch between different versions of the Android OS because the manufacturer OS will undoubtedly run on an older version of Android.

      • Nathan

        Look at apps like Open Home, aHome, Home++, GDE. There are many apps that change the way the home screen behaves.

        And fathhom is right, the best thing to do is have every android phone from now on run the latest softare. Get 2.1 out already and from now on keep everyone on the same page.

        And for SonyEricson, Motorola, and HTC, SELL your customized OS's (which HTC already did once) for $10-$20 extra, and if you want, make them so they can only be installed on your phones and just update them through normal updates on the android market. This is the best way to handle this going forward. otherwise the same shit that happend with WM will happen with android.

  • Dave Haynie

    I'm not all that concerned about the Home shell differences, as long as [a] this is kept to really just being a shell issue, and not big changes in any Android APIs, and [b] the user's shell remains a choice. So I should be able to run the bog-standard Android home shell, rather than "blur" or "sense", if I chose.

    I think the real fragmentation potential is in the growth of the OS itself. Specifically, if older devices don't get reasonable updates, the market will fragment. Not only that, but users with older Android devices will be increasingly frustrated with what they can't do as they approach "upgrade time". Now, that might mean they jump to the lastest cool new Android device. But it might also mean they jump to something from Apple, where they're more assured of being able to get upgrades.

    Not much Google can do about this, though perhaps, they could mandate that any "Google Experience" device be guaranteed updates for two or three years, which covers the typical contact in the USA and Canada, respectively.

    Of course, that doesn't address users who buy unbundled, or other kinds of Android devices, like tablets or eBook readers.

    The real solution might just be consumer pressure. The problem is that we're dealing with CE and Telecom companies. Computer companies, like Apple, have dealt with the issue of application processing OSs and user OS upgrades for decades. The typical cellphone, on the other hand, only got a software upgrade when it suited the carrier… like when Verizon yanked Bluetooth OBEX support out of the RAZR.

    And CE companies have largely had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the world up upgradeable devices. They all largely blew it in the DVD era… most early DVD players had fairly annoying bugs (DVD-R/RW issues were usually the result of a stupid bug in the DVD Forum's reference platform — folks like Pioneer who developed theirs independently didn't see those bugs), but they're starting to get a partial clue, and realize the not upgrading your older hardware doesn't get customers to buy new stuff. At least not from you.

  • Ali

    well, htc wants you to show off your htc phone with sense, not your motorola runing sense… they're not a software company to be selling it. if you like sense ui, whats going to keep you from getting any other phone if you can just download sense? it should be up to devs to create custom ui's for people to download from any phone.

  • fathom614

    Well Microsoft dealt with their fragmentation by a complete OS, and told companies this is the standard OS You make the hardware WE make the software. That should be google's approach. With androids customization Moto, hTc, sony, etc. Then can allow you to download a Paid version of their own unique UI choice. We buy phones on how they look and now whats under the hood, where most people don't care. If it's mandated software from google on all devices and let the companies put out a paid version of their UI than that gives US the choice on what we want on our devices. Android is open is it not? Then give us this choice google needs to mandate their software.

  • http://hypersynapse.blogspot.com MIhai Campean

    For me, as a developer, fragmentation is an important issue, since I need to keep tabs on multiple versions of the same operating system. This issue is not because of a customized UI or the other, but because of the underlying API's of the operating system which I use to develop my applications. So of course, from this point of view, the best thing would be that the manufacturers upgrade their customization as quickly as possible so that we as developers don't need to support older versions of Android for long.
    You said that ultimately consumers will decide the fate of these customizations, and I believe that is true, but there is also another condition that must be fulfilled, namely if developers of popular apps, gradually stop their support for older versions of Android, this will help to quickly drive the upgrades. I mean, if I, as a consumer want to get the latest and coolest apps on my phone, and they only work on later Android versions, I'll be sure to upgrade my device or decide to buy the latest and best.
    This brings us to another issue, which is bound carrier contracts and the rate with which new devices and new Android versions are churned out every week. However, I do think that if Google and the other players in OHA are smart to realize this problem, they will improve upon the updates, upgrades of the OS and the releases of new devices. Also I think that these problems arrived because the OHA and Android are still in their infancy and adoption of Android grew quite fast, so it will take some time to mature and settle in a good ascending trend – my bet is that this will happen in a while, so we should be patient.

  • fathom614

    To stay a player google needs to drop the hammer. To the companies that stock android is "android" you want to make custome UI's for your devices thats fine as long as anyone can have them. Otherwise we are looking at windows mobile all over again. Tell me I'm wrong.

    • Ali

      that raises the question again

      "How does a handset manufacturer differentiate its product without a manufacturer customized operating system? "

      • Ratnok

        HOW? IT’S SIMPLE.

        WITH VISUAL DESIGN, AND HARDWARE SPECS.

        THE SAME WAY THAT COMPUTERS DIFFERENTIATE.

        DIFFERENT CAMERAS (3.2 VS. 5.0 VS. 8.0 VS. 12mp)

        WITH OR WITHOUT FLASH

        FRONT FACING CAMERA FOR TELECONFERENCING

        KEYBOARD OR NO KEYBOARD

        SCREEN SIZE AND RESOLUTION

        ON-BOARD MEMORY (1GIG, 4GIG, 8GIG, 12GIG, 16GIG 32GIG ETC)

        LCD OR AMOLED

        BATTERY SIZE AND LIFE

        COLORS

        NOISE CANCELLATION

        VIDEO RECORDING (FPS AND RESOLUTION)

        SPEAKERPHONE QUALITY

        INTEGRATED BLUETOOTH EARPIECE

        CAMERA PROJECTORS

        FORM FACTORS (LIKE BACKFLIP VS. G1 VS. NEXUS ONE)

        AND OF COURSE, PROCESSOR SPEEDS.

        IF THEY STILL WANT TO MAKE MONEY ON SOFTWARE, MAKE CUSTOMIZED APPS THAT ONLY WORK ON THEIR PHONES THROUGH THE ANDROID MARKET.

        THIS IS IN ALL CAPS TO ALERT MANUFACTURERS TO PAY ATTENTION. LET GOOGLE HANDLE THE SOFTWARE AND YOU DO THE HARDWARE- JUST LIKE YOU DID BEFORE THE IPHONE.

        • LOL

          THANKS SO MUCH – I AM A MANUFACTURER AND WOULD HAVE TOTALLY MISSED THIS NOTE IF YOU HADN'T WRITTEN IT IN ALL CAPS

  • http://www.androidui.net ExtremeT

    Custom UI's from manufacturers is one of the major problems with the current fragmentation issue we all face. Sure hardware plays a role in it as well (G1 with Android 2.1? I doubt it). In fact it's part of the reason why new phones are still being released with Android 1.5/1.6, because the manufacturer wants it's custom UI on there and hasn't fully updated the UI for 2.1. It's also the main reason why current phone that could have a higher version of Android don't just yet.

    It's pretty ridiculous that phones are STILL being released with Android 1.5/1.6, not even 2.0 but with the promise of 2.0/2.1 update coming shortly even though that same manufacturer is also releasing phones with 2.0/2.1.

    I fully agree with the idea of having all phones run stock UI so most phone will be running the latest version of Android and the manufacturer offering the custom UI as a download or pre-installed package at time of purchase. This would still satisfy the need for differentiating their product from other ones while curbing the brutal fragmentation that's going on right now.

    If they MUST customize the UI for identity purposes, then just do something simple like a custom boot screen and offer the full custom UI as a download/preinstalled package. That way when a new version of Android comes out, it can be customized with minimal work.

  • fathom614

    Either way I hope google finds a way to fix this soon or we might say it deja-vu all over again.

  • Guest

    I like Blur, but if manufacturer's are going to differentiate their phones with a customized UI, they also need to provide updates in a reasonable time frame. The Cliq will be going on 6 months before it can get upgraded to the current version. I would think even updating it to 1.6 would be an advancement that would temporarily satisfy many users (who like to see any progress). Upgrading to 1.6 should be easy compared to the jump to 2.0, right?

  • fathom614

    If google justs makes the lateest software mandatory on all phones we won't run into this problem. Its the companies that make the devices that has to be compliant. Google sets the software and the companies work around it.

    • thescarletnecklace

      That would then cause these manufacturers to rush the building of their custom UIs, and in turn, make them very buggy due to the fact that they didn't have enough time to refine the UI.

  • http://proudlygnomish.blogspot.com JokeyRhyme

    Like many here, I am very disappointed with the additional time-to-release that these custom UIs are adding to the Android milestones. These patches are probably already under significant scrutiny in order to guarantee safe interoperability with carrier hardware, and then even more testing for carrier-specific modifications (another thing I'd love to see disappear).

    The handsets should just be stock Android. Carrier's should do nothing but send an SMS with a link to their web portals or whatever. Manufacturers should provide their home replacements via the Market, maybe giving them away for free for their own handsets and selling them to others.

    The other thing holding up these updates is the fact that most handsets still use closed-source drivers for certain things. This means the manufacturers likely have to pester their component suppliers for updated drivers, which would also need additional testing.

  • http://blog.tenkely.net Tenkely

    I will take ANY stock Android over Sense or Motoblur any day. I just like the look better, and 2.1 is sexy.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/chuckfalzone Chuck Falzone

    Not only do custom UIs allow OEMs to differentiate their devices, they broaden the market for Android devices.

    Not everyone is like us. Lots of people don't care about having the latest version of the operating system, and do not want to spend time customizing their phone. Folks like us will buy the Nexus Ones; less obsessed folks will pick up a Cliq (yes, a Cliq!) and see that out of the box it does a lot of the stuff they want a phone to do.

    It leaves an issue for developers, as far as supporting multiple OS versions, but it's going to be inevitable with such an open platform, and in many ways a good thing anyway.

    • http://twitter.com/kylepozan @kylepozan

      Chuck,

      The issue is not whether or not you care about having the latest version of Android. It's about not being able to have access to certain applications that other versions have.

      As a Hero owner, I cannot download Google Goggles, nor can I download the new Google barcode scanner app. That is inexcusable. How can Google justify ignoring more than half of the Android devices that are available in the U.S. market? Come to think of it, the latter app only runs on 2.1.

      I can't think of one reason why it is a good thing to have multiple phones running multiple version of the same operating system. It leaves users behind, creates more work for developers, and fractures the operating system.

      Not even the Droid has Android 2.1. Why?

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/chuckfalzone Chuck Falzone

        Both Goggles and Shopper, the new barcode scanner app, run on 1.6+. I've got them on my G1. Tho I s'pose that doesn't help you :)

        Like I said, for folks like us, vanilla Android is going to be the way to go, but whether it's OS features or specific apps, I don't think most people care.

        When I said it's in many ways a good thing, I was referring to custom UIs like Sense and Motoblur– they are good for getting Android into the hands of a wider group of people, for giving more people more options that run on Android. That they lag behind in OS version is not good but also not an issue for most.

        We're also in a situation where we're spoiled by how quickly things have moved along. 2.1 debuted less than two months ago. Why doesn't the Droid have 2.1 yet? It's only been two months.

  • Chartist

    One major factor left out of the equation is the wretched branding imposed by carriers. As far as I can see HTC, for example, does eventually upgrade android. The death knell is then sounded by the carrier who has lost all interest in last year’s phone and cant be bothered to brand and issue the update, so it never gets to the phone. Customers’ do want Sense or Motoblur, but not want the carriers’s brandings and their refusal to fund branded updates

  • jasmine

    I think that motoblur should be an application that could be downloaded to any data phone preferrably all touch screen or blackberry phones.

    • anonymous

      motoblur is a theme for android phones made by motorola. you cant just download and install it on any phone you want.

  • http://ekas0615.student.ipb.ac.id doel

    thanks for your sharing. nice info! i like it :p

  • Emanuel1329

    I have a droid X and a htc evo. 4g and htc sense is way better than motoblrur but I can’t say its bad I like both but htc sense just has more costumization and plus have you guys seen hyc sense on the htc thunderbolt I have in the future my evo looks like that

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