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

Google I/O Motorola Moto 360

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 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.

 

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