As you probably know, the Android operating system was created by Google and released as open source, letting any company use it as they saw fit as long as they jumped through the required hoops. So while all of these smartphones manufactured my Motorola, Samsung, LG and the rest are Android phones, they generally don’t come with the native Android launcher.
Right now, I bet a bunch of you are thinking “What’s a launcher?” It’s a little hard to explain, but it has to do with Skins, or the general presentation of your smartphone. Stick with me here.
The basic Android software, as designed by Google, has specific look with a specific launch page (the first page you look at when you turn your phone on). However, individual manufacturers tend to design their own custom launch pages. Take Samsung: they take that open source Android code and load it onto their phones but replace the stock Android launcher with something completely different. In their view, this distinguishes them from the competition and builds extra value for their brand. The home screen for a Samsung Galaxy Nexus would look entirely different from an HTC phone or even another Samsung! Unless you do some fancy tinkering, you can’t remove this custom launcher.
Each individual phone having its own special launch page/skin has actually proven troublesome for Droid users. For instance, one of the biggest issues with Android right now is getting updates out in a timely fashion. It takes developers a number of months to push out an update for the native Android. When that update arrives, every developer with a custom skin must then take a few additional months to get the update to work with their new launcher. It’s maddening.
However, there are several options to make all of this work far better. For example, the Google Play store offers a selection of excellent custom launchers like Go Launcher and ADW Launcher (my personal favorite). These accomplish the same things as the launchers created by Samsung as the rest, but you can remove them if you care to. If your launcher isn’t working for you, you just take it right off.
In the future, I hope various companies go in this direction, letting you select the launcher that works best for you. Imagine switching from a Samsung phone to a HTC phone, but realizing too late that you don’t care for the HTC launcher. Imagine going into Google Play and being able to download the Samsung launcher and using it on your HTC device! It’s the best of both worlds and would give customers a seamless experience as they move between Android devices. The fully customizable launch page would also cut down on the time it takes updates to come to your phone, since it will no longer have to come directly from your phone’s manufacturer.
And while it may not seem obvious at first, the companies will benefit, too. It’s like a Trojan horse advertisement. If you have a Samsung phone but download an HTC skin, the HTC skin can give you a glimpse at what is offered on another device, giving you taste of what’s out there and letting you find your ideal Android phone.
Ultimately, it comes down to Android users deserving a satisfying experience with their device. The joy of a Droid is being able to play with it and make it our own…so why are the phone manufacturers boxing us in?