Android has been known for taking many forms depending on which device it’s running on, but with Android Wear, TV and Auto, expect that to change.
Google has its designs set on the car, TV and smart wearables market, with specialised ports of Android for these devices – Android Auto, Android TV and Android Wear, respectively – having been announced at the recent Google I/O conference. They also seem to be set to avoid the potential mistakes of yesteryear, by prohibiting OEMs from customising the look-and-feel of these platforms with alternative skins and themes.
Android for mobile devices was greatly affected by this, as manufacturers – in a bid to differentiate their products – shipped their devices with skins that fundamentally changed the aesthetics and functionality of the operating system. These skins – including Sense by HTC and Samsung’s TouchWiz, which has also been ported to the Korean manufacturer’s Bada and Tizen smartphones – were largely panned, and many consumers went to extreme ends to remove these unwanted customizations, including rooting their devices and installing third-party ROMs.
These modifications have lead to the Android platform becoming significantly fragmented, as device manufacturers have to not only bundle the latest version of the operating system, but also update the skin to be compatible. This has resulted in a number of devices running incredibly aged versions of Android, including Gingerbread, which was first released in 2010.
This fragmentation has resulted in less than a quarter (only 24%) of Android devices being able to operate the latest Android Wear smartwatches as and when they arrive, requiring Android 4.3 or higher to offer support.
Of course not everyone would concede that these custom interfaces ruin or damage the Android user experience, and indeed we praised HTC’s Sense UI for its elegant design and functionality, but by keeping creative control over the design of these new Android offshoots, Google will be able to ensure that you know where you stand with new Wear, TV or Auto products even if you mix and match when it comes to manufacturers.
Although OEMs like Samsung, HTC and LG will be unable to change the aesthetics of the newest Android platforms, they will still be able to bundle their own applications and utilities.