Google makes unmodified Android theme compatibility requirement

By on January 5, 2012, 4:30 PM

In an effort to create a consistent experience for its users, Google is requiring manufacturers who ship their devices with Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0) to include Holo, its default theme intended for a "pure" Android experience. Google will still allow manufacturers to modify android with their own custom interfaces, widgets and skins, but an unmodified Holo theme must be present. 

If a future of impersonal, monolithic Android phones and tablets frightens you, don't worry just yet. The company claims, "We have no desire to restrict manufacturers from building their own themed experience across their devices." Google also mentions it is actually easier to theme the platform than ever before.

Holo first appeared in Honeycomb (3.0) but the requirement to include it only extends to Ice Cream Sandwich. Devices which are required to comply with this guideline must also utilize the Android Market. Although the overwhelming majority do, not all Android devices have access to Google's official market place. This would excuse devices like the Kindle Fire which uses Amazon's own curated app store, ignoring fact it runs an older version of Android to begin with. By the way, despite this limitation on the Kindle Fire, there is a way around it.

In Android 4.0, Holo is different. We’ve made the inclusion of the unmodified Holo theme family a compatibility requirement for devices running Android 4.0 and forward. If the device has Android Market it will have the Holo themes as they were originally designed.

As a result of the changes found in Ice Cream Sandwich, developers may now explicitly call upon the plain old vanilla theme for their apps. This may actually help relieve the tension created by trying to give apps a consistent look and feel amidst a plethora of custom UIs found on millions of Android devices.

According to Google, improvements made to the theming system should also allow manufacturers to upgrade their devices to major platform versions more quickly and with less effort. Presumably, this is because companies will have less to mull over in terms of maintaining their custom UIs across versions. Perhaps this will encourage companies to adopt and update future versions of Android more quickly.

User Comments: 5

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negroplasty negroplasty said:

This is great news!

Emexrulsier said:

anyone else look at the picture of the icecream sandwiches and think yum

On a on topic note it's good that you will have the option to a true vanilla theme, I would like google to go one step further and give a user an option if they want to fully disable things like touchwiz etc.

Guest said:

I wish these "themes" would include the stock programs and settings as well. Therefore you can never have to deal with the bloatware on the phone as well as have the tether options work as intended without having to deal with all the "unapproved" workarounds.

Guest said:

It's also going to increase the gap between when a new version of Android is released by Google and when OEMs update the devices they have sold, since they'd have to now test two different UIs. Sounds like "moar fragmentation" to me <shrug>.

Archean Archean, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I think Sebastian summed it up nicely over at ET:

"One small step for Android, one giant leap towards iOS and WP7" ........

Then pretty much nails the reasons behind the decision:

"If you've bought a Galaxy Nexus, or used a custom ICS ROM, it's impossible to ignore the similarities between Android 4.0, and iOS and Windows Phone 7. Android has consistently struggled to achieve the same levels of (perceived?) smoothness as iOS and WP7 --- and now, with this mandate, Google is effectively admitting that a Wild West orgy of customization isn't necessarily the right way forward. For the first time, Google has a competitive interface, and it wants to make damn sure that it seizes the advantage."

Another issue which is often neglected IMO is lots of crap ware which manufacturers stuffs on Android phones with no clear way of getting rid of it, e.g. I don't want to have facebook or twitter app on HTC Sensation I'm playing with these days, but there is no way of uninstalling them, all I can do is uninstall the 'updates' which is pretty stupid.

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