The recent announcement of the ‘Pure Android’ Samsung Galaxy S4 during Google I/O brings to fore some of the most asked, and yet not properly answered, questions: Why don’t all the manufacturers ship the default (and of course, the latest) ‘vanilla’ Android? Why don’t they leave the software (and the updates) part to Google, sit back and relax? Why do they contribute to the ever notorious ‘Android Fragmentation’?

These questions may seem simple to be answered and almost every android enthusiast expects the manufacturers address this problem as soon as possible. I’m referring to the “fragmentation” problem here. Here’s the catch. Imagine Samsung and HTC decide to launch a new smartphone each. They choose the Snapdragon 600 SoC, a 4 inch AMOLED/LCD HD display, 3 GB of RAM and a 13 megapixel camera with a best-in-class CMOS sensor. Hardware is not a significant differentiating factor these days as is evident by the sales of Galaxy S3 and similar Nexus, LG or HTC devices. All major manufacturers have access to the best components these days (The Snapdragon SOCs, for example). Then what is the differentiating factor? Marketing? Yes, but let’s leave that for another day. Software? YES and NO!

Android is growing exponentially and it being open-source offers an unmatched degree of freedom to the manufacturers. Read what Microsoft has done to Nokia. So let’s take for granted both our companies choose Android. 4.2.2, to be precise. Now they have a top class Android phone assembled and ready to ship. They have loaded all their marketing cannons and are ready to fire. The pricing has been tight. Now, which one would you buy? Both the phones have almost exactly the same hardware, software and are from well established companies. Which one?

Now, let’s bring Sammy’s ‘Touchwiz’ and HTC’s ‘Sense’ UIs into the fray. Well o’ well, there comes a differentiating factor. I like Touchwiz while you loathe it. So you buy the HTC. Now wait! I don’t loathe HTC’s Sense (UI)! I think it is cool as well! Now what do I do? Then comes ‘UX’ into the picture. User eXperience. Sammy’s mobile got a ‘photo with audio’ feature,  a ‘multi-window’ feature and some ‘mood recognition’ technology. HTC only has the ‘Sense’ but it cannot recognize my mood! Okay, that was a bad pun. So, I buy the Samsung. It may even make you consider Samsung even though you hate the UI! There are millions of people around the world who buy phones for the UX they provide by default! We, the mighty ‘rooters’ and ‘flashers’ are outnumbered, unfortunately. And most of the business guys don’t have the time to fiddle with their phones. They want it to ‘do the thing’, whatever it maybe.

So the bottom line is, manufacturers take software seriously and think it definitely is a differentiating factor. You may not agree with me, but it is true. They love to add ‘their’ touch to it before they ship it out. They want users to feel the difference and know that the company has put in a lot of effort for them. They want to build and strengthen their brand by differentiating their product from the competition, as much as possible. Why would they let Google eat the entire cake? They want a piece too (Some are even working on their own Linux-based Operating Systems)! Having said that, Android fragmentation is really a serious problem. But one cannot expect everybody to come to a consensus about shipping vanilla Android. They’ll, however, have to find a way to address this issue. They’ll have to find a way to synchronize their development with that of Android and build infrastructure that will push the customized, latest versions of the software soon after it’s released. More on that soon, hopefully.

Till then, may the force be with you.

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