Tech Talk: Stock Android Can Still Learn A Lot From OEMs

Android changed in a significant manner since 2008, with Google gradually adding more features and introducing a broad range of design changes to its ubiquitous operating system over the last nine years. The Mountain View, California-based tech giant is promising to once more shake things up with Android O and has already provided developers and enthusiasts with a glimpse of what can be expected from the next major iteration of its software through three Developer Previews, with another one being in the works and scheduled for a July release. However, even after all these years, Android still has a lot to learn from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and their various reskins and mobile software suites, with many phone makers continuing to deliver unique and convenient software features that ennoble the overall user experience of the most connected OS on the planet.

Samsung Electronics and its TouchWiz Grace UX probably make the best example of an OEM coming up with a wide variety of great features for Android that Google would likely do well to adopt. That isn't to say that Samsung's Android reskins are better than the vanilla experience — they're objectively worse in terms of performance — but that the South Korean tech giant had some really good implementations of great ideas on how to make Android better. Possibly the most recognizable software feature of Samsung's devices is the Always-On Display (AOD) that proved to be so popular out of sheer convenience that even a number of other OEMs started adopting it, and it's probably time for Google to introduce the same feature to stock Android. When your device is always showing the time, date, battery level, missed notifications, and possibly a number of other information depending on your preferences, your usage habits change rather drastically, usually for the better. While AOD is more difficult (but not impossible) to pull off on devices with LCD panels due to battery consumption concerns, with the majority of the industry gradually transitioning to OLED displays, consumers would hardly mind if Google finally included this functionality into the vanilla version of its OS.

Samsung also pioneered a number of other great features that are yet to be introduced to stock Android, with its contemporary devices boasting a Download Booster, improved Multi-Window Mode (that it also implemented before Google did) in the form of a pop-up view that allows users to handle every app like an on-screen widget, and Smart Screen Capture with its ability to take a screenshot that extends beyond the contents of your screen - a feature that proved to be so popular that it was later adopted by Huawei, Sony, OnePlus, and Xiaomi. Samsung's products come with a system-wide kill switch for notifications, sport an improved Device Maintenance tool that can manually be tasked with improving the performance of the device, and have what many tout as the best one-handed mode on the market. Better yet, all of those unique, useful features are extremely easy to find and activate thanks to the fact that the system Settings app on contemporary Galaxy-branded devices supports recommendations for settings in addition to the regular search bar.

Furthermore, almost every major OEM in the industry has a Camera app that's objectively superior to that featured in stock Android. Yes, Google's main image-taking tool is smooth and reliable, but so is the default Camera app on the LG G6, Galaxy S8, HTC U11, and many other devices; extra features are where third-party solutions differ, boasting a much broader range of useful filters, shooting modes, and numerous other functionalities, depending on their developer. The stock Android App Drawer could also benefit from some changes; for an OS that prides itself on its openness and customization options, its App Drawer is much less flexible to that found on HTC and Sony's phones and while this issue can be remedied with a third-party launcher (like most other things listed here), Google would still do well to provide users with more freedom when it comes to customizing the design and behavior of this particular interface.

Other highly praised features that OEMs came up with independently of Google include Quick Ball navigation and the ability to restrict mobile data and Wi-Fi usage of individual apps on Xiaomi devices, double tap to wake on LG and OnePlus smartphones, and a broad range of intuitive controls supported by Moto handsets, including the chop-chop for flashlight and double twist to switch to another camera. While few would likely complain if the Alphabet-owned company suddenly decided to include all of the aforementioned functionalities into stock Android, that isn't likely to happen. Even though Google has a history of keeping track of what OEMs are doing and gradually debuting similar features with major iterations of its operating system, it remains to be seen whether the tech giant ultimately ends up adopting the majority of the highly praised functionalities of various Android reskins that are currently available on the market, especially since it can seemingly be extremely stubborn at times, as evidenced by the fact that users have been waiting for a soft restart option in the Power menu until vanilla Android 7.1 Nougat. So, while stock Android can still learn a lot from OEMs, one question that remains is - will it?

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Dominik Bosnjak

Head Editor
Dominik started at AndroidHeadlines in 2016 and is the Head Editor of the site today. He’s approaching his first full decade in the media industry, with his background being primarily in technology, gaming, and entertainment. These days, his focus is more on the political side of the tech game, as well as data privacy issues, with him looking at both of those through the prism of Android. Contact him at [email protected]