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When open gets a little more closed: No skins on Android Wear, Auto or TV

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Not sure which of the first three Android Wear watches to get? If you were holding out to see if there’s going to be a difference in the software, your wait is over: There won’t be one. Speaking to Ars Technica, Google engineering director Dave Burke explained that none of the newer Android platforms for devices will support skins or other customizations from manufacturers. The idea is to bring a consistent user interface to your wrist, car and television.

Sundar Pichai. Photo by Janko Roettgers/Gigaom
Sundar Pichai. Photo by Janko Roettgers/Gigaom

Interestingly, my take at Google I/O(s goog) was the same for Google’s new Android One initiative, which will bring low-cost — read: sub-$100 — Android phones to new markets. Those will run stock Android, said Sundar Pichai, head of Android and Chrome for Google. Pichai didn’t specifically mention manufacturer skins and overlays but I’m basing my suspicion on the general I/O 2014 theme of a consistent, shared experience on Android regardless of the device you use.

On phones and tablets, hardware makers have gone wild creating their own overlays and software atop Android. Since most of the companies source the same or similar parts, how else can they differentiate from each other? It’s become a bit of a wild-west show, however, with some of the custom interfaces adding more and more only to actually add less value due to confusion. Personally, I prefer a stock Android look, which probably explains why I’ve long been a fan of the Nexus product line. Even my current Android phone, a Moto X, is mostly stock.

As much as Google has long touted its openness and willingness to let hardware makers generally do what they want with Android, I think this is a good move. Phones and tablets are one thing but do you if switch cars — say you’re on a trip and rent a vehicle that’s different from the one you own — do you really want to learn a new user interface to use the same Android Auto features you already know? I don’t.


7 Responses to “When open gets a little more closed: No skins on Android Wear, Auto or TV”

  1. A Ch0w, sneeze

    Don’t get confused people. If Android were closed, Amazon or Nokia won’t be able to do what they are doing with it. I don’t know why reporters keep confusing the point.

    Google just makes a simple statement, if you want to call it Android and use our Services, like Maps, Now and Play, then don’t do the following…

    It’s the same as what Redhat does with its Redhat Linux.

    You’re free to do whatever you want with it as long as you don’t call it Redhat, and that is exactly what Centos does to Redhat, and Amazon does to Android.

  2. Richard F-P

    I’m also in favour of stock Android – Skins just slow everything down so much. Like the author, I’ve also got a Moto X and it doesn’t need top of the line processor architecture, as it’s so clean running. The more clean and unified Android becomes, the better. They’re at last following Apple’s harmonious lead.

  3. I am not even sure why author mentions “skins”. From my perspective, nobody writes, cares and even mentions skins at the moment and what is why SP didn’t mention it. Last time I personally used skins was to change background on gmail. Google demoed different backgrounds for clock, what else is needed?
    What Is more interesting, is future of Android API for cars. It will not be easy to build one size fits all interface for cars. Car market is very much segmented and people pay huge premiums for a way to have better or fancier control of their car info systems. Car makers probably don’t want to see it’s going away. There are many many other questions here that Google can’t answer yet.
    Same for wearables, it’s more exciting here because we will probably see changes sooner than in the car industry. Seiki, Citizen, Tissot, name it, are up for big time disruption. Somody re-thought their core products for them and on a very creative and attractive way…