Google Edition phones could jumpstart an Android ROM renaissance
A few months ago no one would have expected Google, HTC, and Samsung would get together to sell a line of “Google Experience” smartphones direct to consumers, but that’s exactly what’s happening. Freed of all the carrier bloatware and OEM skins, the pure Nexus-like HTC One and Galaxy S4 are sure to be fabulous experiences. But more than that — this changes the way Android works and could jumpstart a new renaissance in ROM development.
Among the complaints Android users have had over the years, none is as constant or universal as the OEM customization of Android. With OEMs and carriers managing device updates, most users are left in the lurch while a comparatively small number live in the Nexus ecosystem with Google catering to them. Until now, if that single Nexus device wasn’t of interest or lacked some features, tough luck.
With Samsung and HTC — arguably the two most important OEMs — offering up their flagship phones for the Google treatment, this could become standard practice. Google editions of important phones could be released as a matter of course. It doesn’t matter if the price of these unlocked phones is high. This is what we have been asking Google to do for years. There is no point in nitpicking the approach now.
Samsung and HTC are under no obligation to get in bed with Google on this. It is plain from the level of customization that these companies see the software as a way to hook users. Samsung in particular throws everything it can come up with at the wall to see what sticks. The Galaxy S4 was mainly a platform for software innovation, after all.
By putting these devices out with only Android Open Source Project (AOSP) features, Samsung and HTC are giving the modding community a perfect template to customize all the carrier-locked versions of the GS4 and One. This is a big chance to take, and it will be the end of the practice if it doesn’t pay off.
Of course, there are plenty of ROMs built on AOSP “stock” Android, but it is an arduous process to build these software packages. The work that goes into getting everything working properly on a device is immense. Anyone that has ever flashed a ROM that wasn’t very mature can tell you how messy it can be — the camera doesn’t work, the cell radio doesn’t sleep properly, or maybe the bootloader hangs for a few minutes during startup, and so on.
The Google Experience Galaxy S4 and HTC One will have professionally tuned builds of Android with the right drivers and software libraries to make everything work — just the thing on which to base a ROM. Making unofficial ROMs better for folks that can’t afford the pricey unlocked devices is definitely a good thing.
There is no guarantee the full OS image will be made available like they are with Nexus devices, but it’s entirely possible. A number of hardware features will be disabled on both devices because stock Android doesn’t support them. That seems to indicate Google is only including what can be incorporated into AOSP. Even if the images aren’t posted officially, these devices aren’t locked down, so all of their secrets are up for grabs. Modders will definitely want to get a piece of this software.
From the user who just wants more choice in stock phones, to the ROM enthusiast who wants to mod everything, this approach to selling devices is good for everyone. Prepare to reap the benefits — as long as someone buys these phones.
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