[Editorial] Android UI Wars: Vanilla Vs Skinned

It wasn’t very long back when the T-Mobile G1 surfaced and turned the things around. It held the title of first Android handset to go through the mass production stage and won a million of hearts as well as a whole development forum for itself, which later served as one of the building blocks of the refined and high utility platform that we have in our hands right now and what we call as the Android OS. The reason why I started it off with the mention of the grandfather rather than the lusty lads is that the T-Mobile G1 ran the stock/Vanilla Android GUI. The pull up application drawer, drop down notifications and the unlock slider(though it faced a lot of patented racism!) all combined up to lay down the foundations of the ”Nexus” experience.


After the success of the first droid on the scene, the stage was set and the big guns were ready to fire. Samsung took the shot and it was bang on the sweetest possible spot. The Samsung Galaxy S not only did created a benchmark in the Android phone arena but came out to become the first droid sprouting that could possibly challenge the Apple and Finnish blockbusters. Courtesy the amount of modifications and customizations that the Android OS offers to the developers, all the OEMs started to design their own interfaces or skinned UIs which later became a deciding factor for the user’s taste. This was the reason that the Samsung Galaxy S with it’s Touchwiz UI customizations turned out to be a class apart and made all the stuck-to-stock android devices to make a run for their money! But the concept of skinned UI is seeming to be challenged since past few days as OEMs are seeding out the stock experience instead of their rich customizations as a AOSP variant of the device but that, is just a matter of taste!

The Vanilla UI:

Call it the Vanilla UI or just stock Android user interface, despite of all the amount of customizations available out there, there is something which always turns the droid user towards the pure android user experience that is it’s simplistic and minimalistic approach. It started with round corners and bars and after a lot of refinements over the years, Google presented to us the Holo UI which first debuted on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Android 4.0 ICS brought about a whole new minimalistic user interface that paced the droidians miles ahead of the competitions and made even it’s patrons look dumb. The customizable notification center, the “swipe to remove” task manager, the multiple access lockscreen and the Holo UI itself looks as good as anything that the developers could’ve turned up with.

Although Android 4.0 ICS was faring out well enough as apart from a sweetly sleek visual experience, the users also got profited a lot in terms of performance courtesy the latter and some improved CPU management skills, Google pulled out yet another amazing trick out of it’s sleeve and presented the droidians, the Project Butter. Under this, the overall Android UI got an experience boost rather than a facelift and the recognizably swift and fluid UI that came as one of the most major UI improvements that the Android OS ever had and hence, what we see today is a full fledged, high productivity UI with sleek lines and bars that go all cards together to present to you the pure ”Nexus” experience.

Although the pure Nexus experience is actually what the OS is all about, but it does takes a bit longer to get used to for those who are either new to the OS or have just made a shift from some other ecosystem. This is where the highly customized and skinned UIs get an edge over the Vanilla interface as they present the best of the OS in a much familiar way to the user instead of going all minimal.

The Highly Skinned User Interface:

This is for purely the selection of users who do like to have the charm of all of Android’s Bells and Whistles. Call it Samsung’s Touchwiz Nature UX, Sony’s Xperia UI, HTC’s Sense or the MotoBlur from Motorola, the OEMs do put a lot of efforts to pull out the best of the capabilities of the OS and hence try to present a user interface that is not only easier to get along but also a visual treat to the user’s eyes. The users not only get an environment they are much familiar with(take the Samsung’s Touchwiz UI which has gone past a hundred of changes but still retains the real feel of the vintage Samsung touch user interface.) but they get some additional utilities as a part of the package that they could only wait to be ported to the stock Android UI.

Apart from an overall appealing interface, the user also gets a lot of utility tools in the form of custom widgets and toolbars that go hand in hands with the skinned interface. For example, you get enhanced weather updates, sticky notes, a calendar that automatically syncs with you social appointments and displays all on a single screen widget and some real social media integration which goes deep down the UI(And, yes! I am talking about the excellent Facebook and Social Media Integration on HTC’s Sense and Sony’s Xperia UI User interfaces). Whichever part of the interface you are having a walk in, you can share, tweet or post an update without having to switch on and out between the heavy and poorly built official clients(I seriously hate the Facebook one!).

But all of this doesn’t cuts that easily on the system. The skinned user interfaces can take up to 2/3rds of your device’s total primary and hence put a direct downgrade to the performance of your device. This is just the point of time where the users start thinking about the minimalistic and lesser decorated vanilla interface which not only holds the realm of originality of the OS but also serves for the only job it has been assigned for instead of eating up on your system’s resources!

In my opinion, it is rather a matter of choice than of desire and the user should choose wisely enough in order to get an experience to match up to his needs rather than the appeal. For some elite and loyal customers, it could be the Samsung Touchwiz Ui or the Sony Xperia UI who have been following the OEMs since their earlier ”Feature Phone” stages while for the new kids on the block it is essentially necessary to find out the ecosystem of their comfort before they going switching around! It is just about the right Pick!.

Please do leave your opinions about what you think about these OEMs switching to Nexus builds for their mobile devices and which way would you prefer ? Vanilla or Skinned?  You can share and post your queries on the author’s Google+/Facebook profiles or on our Facebook Page!