updated 08:35 am EDT, Wed June 16, 2010
Android's Gingerbread may hurt HTC, Motorola
Google could put an end to custom Android interfaces with its next major release, sources said Wednesday. Android 3.0, also known as Gingerbread, will focus heavily on the user experience and is specifically aimed at reducing the need for layers like HTC's Sense UI or Motorola's Motoblur. As most core features were added with Android 2.2, the attention now is on having an interface with polish closer to that of the iPhone.
The insiders briefing TechCrunch on the subject didn't say what UI features would come with the upgrade, though most custom Android layers have focused on widgets or alternative apps for similar functions, like e-mail. Most of Google's changes have come through Android 2.1 and 2.2, where it added a home screen grid and later permanent shortcuts to the browser and phone functions. Other areas have received minor polish, such as a pseudo-3D gallery.
While it's doubtful Google would outright restrict custom interfaces, the move could potentially solve much of the OS fragmentation issue that plagues Android today. Proprietary interface layers have been the primary cause of OS upgrade delays as phone makers have gone several months before updating the OS or even skipped upgrades entirely because of the extra testing and compatibility problems found in Google's own updates. Despite Android 2.2 being available for the Nexus One a month ago, for example, no other Android phone currently uses it.
The uniformity of OS updates has been considered a strength for the iPhone, as it has kept virtually every device using the latest features; only iPhone 4.0 has started limiting OS releases due to hardware requirements. Android 3.0 may close this gap as it would have more phones using stock operating systems and should also reduce the dependence on core OS updates. However, it may also reduce the diversity of Android phones as companies are given fewer options for making their devices stand out.