The ever so confusing Android identity crisis

The ever so confusing Android identity crisis

Summary: My recent purchase of the Nexus S smartphone has made it clear to me that even though I have tested and used dozens of Android devices, I had no idea what stock Android looked like.


Android phones are everywhere, and tablets are starting to appear in increasing numbers. All of these devices run some version of the Android operating system, but not completely. My recent purchase of the Nexus S smartphone has made it clear to me that even though I have tested and used dozens of Android devices, I had no idea what stock Android looked like. This realization has stunned me, and points out how confusing Android has become with different versions and OEM customizations on virtually every device on the market.

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The Nexus S phone is manufactured by Samsung, and while it looks like other Android phones made by the company it is completely different in operation. This is Google's flagship phone for the Android platform, so it ships with the absolutely stock Gingerbread version of the OS. There are no customizations by Samsung on the phone, it is Android as produced by Google.

Now that I've used the Nexus S for a few days, I realize that many of the Android apps I have used for months on other devices are not Android apps. By that I mean that the apps on phones and tablets that I thought were Android apps are really the OEM versions installed on a particular device. An example of that is the Calendar app that is installed on every Android device. Now that I have used the stock Android version of the app on the Nexus S, it is clear every single version I've used on other devices has been a variant of the app, and not the one that is part of Android proper.

This points out the difficulty that consumers have with Android. It is not clear which apps or widgets installed on a phone running Android are really part of the OS. From the user's perspective they all are, and that's not the case. This is significant because if the owner of an Android phone has a bad experience with an app or two that isn't really stock Android, the platform is going to be blamed anyway. If it looks like Android, and it is pitched to be Android, then it really is Android. Sadly, what I am discovering is that in some cases the real Android app is better than that actually getting installed on OEM devices. Customers don't get to see that at all, and have no way short of modding the device to get access to those stock apps.

What I have come to realize with the stock Nexus S, is that the real Android apps are good. Pretty good, actually, and often better than third party variants. I would never have known this without buying the Nexus S, and that points to the identity crises that Android has in the market. Every Android device is has a different set of basic software preinstalled, and it's not clear what is what.

Topics: Tablets, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

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  • RE: The ever so confusing Android identity crisis

    I must agree that they are not the most brilliant things on the market. I had one when they first came out and my wife had an iphone, after some debate and hours of "testing" I came to the conclusion the iphone is better. But saying that I still don't think the iphone is worth the ?400 it sells for. Please come take a look at my blogs if you get the chance. It would be greatly appreciated.


    <a href="">Planning Permission for Conservatories</a>
    • Worth it.... NOT


      Best Buy is selling netbooks for less $250. If you back out any patent royalties, etc, I fail to see how a phone with a 4 inch screen has a retail (unlocked) price of $500+ dollars.

      Someone is pocketing big money on phones.
      • RE: The ever so confusing Android identity crisis


        I can spec a desktop that destroys a netbook for the same price. Size matters when it comes to price.
  • RE: The ever so confusing Android identity crisis

    Could you perhaps post a gallery or something showing some of the differences? The only reason I'm asking is because it's the only Android I've seen that has the same home screen as mine.
    • RE: The ever so confusing Android identity crisis

      @Aerowind There's too many differences. On some phones the Calendar app is stock, most it's not and varies by OEM/ model. The Music app is another example that is usually an OEM variant.
      • &quot;Walled garden&quot; or &quot;wild, wild West&quot;

        Take your pick.
      • RE: The ever so confusing Android identity crisis


        This is what every apple/MS fanboy has warned google/android fanboys of since the beginning. This is the problem MS had with earlier version of windows mobile and that Apple solved with the iphone. Microsoft learned from their mistake (and Apple) and locked things down on WP7 so that wouldn't be a problem.

        Android won't solve this without locking it down, which will cause oems/carriers to start looking elsewhere like motorola is rumored to be doing.
    • Are you serious? Uh, dude, this is zdnet...


      "Could you perhaps post a gallery or something showing some of the differences?"

      No - your request implies actual thought and effort...real work, rather than jotting down (putatively informed) opinion in stream-of-consciousness style.
      Justa Notherguy
  • Yup

    Author said it best, this is the reason I went from iPhone 2g to 3g to 3gs to Samsung Galaxy S series screaming back to Apple lol I could not be happier with the iPhone 4. Everthing about this phone is better than my Android experience.

    The only way I got back to Android is if I can buy it straight from Google, with no contracts, unlocked for $199.
  • RE: The ever so confusing Android identity crisis

    This is why I think these customized interfaces need to be phased out. Not only do people not know what's truly Android and what's HTC, Samsung, Motorola, etc's own twist to the platform, but it also means users have to wait longer for their updates. How many devices still don't have Gingerbread because the manufacturer has to tweak fit their interface on top of it first. I just got Gingerbread on my Evo a couple weeks ago and it's been out for quite a while.

    There are many things I enjoy about the additions HTC has made to Android, but I would like to be given the experience Google intended and have the option to install third-party apps to do additional tasks. If these manufacturers would instead develop apps, widgets and home replacements that people could download at their own free will instead of forcing it onto them just because they bought a device with their logo on it I think Android would have far less problems. I get tired of hearing people get angry at Android for something that was poorly developed by the phones manufacturer and has nothing to do with Google and their operating system.
    • yeah its the same problem microsoft has with pc's

    • it's very easy to pick out htc parts

      just seek out every app that begins with ""
  • RE: The ever so confusing Android identity crisis

    Well, you can try installing the ASOP versions. It's like Windows, you buy a laptop with Windows 7 and it has all the unnecessary frills (bloatware). To an extent its alright for android. The phone manufacturers are actually intuitive towards the GUI they want to project as their own. People like us who can play with OS, can install the stock Android (its free at the end of the day).
    • RE: The ever so confusing Android identity crisis

      @gibreel Windows 8 will put a stop to that. Windows Phone 7 already has put an end to OEM customization!
      • RE: The ever so confusing Android identity crisis

        @jatbains <br><br>I concur, WP7 on so many levels got it right. OOB it just doesn't have a lot of crap. Granted my Dell Venue Pro had a couple of T-Mobile apps, but there is no doubt that it came to me clean, pure as the wind driven snow, and absolutely, possitively NO BLOATWHERE what-so-ever!!!

        Apple and MS have created fantastic platforms, they both provide a strict app approval process. Some see this as less freedom, I see it when done right as a real big deal for the consumer.

        Android has been recognized by many as a "developer's" mobile OS where as iOS and now WP7 are users mobile OS's.

        Any iPhone can run any iPhone app and any WP7 can run any WP7 app, period!
  • RE: The ever so confusing Android identity crisis

    The author pegged it correctly. As a mobile expert, I have gone from Windows Mobile (all versions) to iOS to Android and see the full spectrum of customization. From HTC Sense, to MotoBlur, the OEM interfaces were supposed to distinguish the device and make one more compelling than the other. I had a Nexus1 (From HTC) and that performed the fastest and cleanest compared to the Droid or EVO. It is perhaps the biggest weakness of Android as a platform that both customization and open source prevents standardization. Microsoft learned its lesson there too, when they went from WinMo6.5 to WinPhone7. Stop letting device manufacturers pretend they have skills in applications-
    • RE: The ever so confusing Android identity crisis

      @milnav1 Amen!! Windows 8 will cut down on OEM crap!!
  • No doubt...

    In addition, the worst OEM is contact management and syncing. Both Blur and Sense have their own contact syncing which locks users into their app and makes syncing to Gmail difficult and confusing to average users which is a prime benefit of Android.
  • App versions leapfrogging each other in quality

    Seems to me that the custom vs. generic apps play the leapfrogging game - the Android/Google dev team keeps improving the stock ones, learning from the HTCs/Samsungs/etc. of the world.
  • Original Droid

    This is why I'm still fairly happy using the original Verizon Droid. It's not the greatest phone in the world (at all), but but sans Nexus, it's as close as you can get to a "stock Android" phone on Verizon.

    My plan is due for an upgrade, and I'm left a little torn as to what my next phone will be. I like Android and would get a new Android phone, but I can't stand any of the customized UIs. If the Nexus was available on Verizon it would hands-down be my next phone. I'm not thrilled with iOS, and I'm nervous about WP7.

    I'm thinking I'll just hold onto this phone until something that really blows my mind comes along. Oh well.