I'd download a stock Android experience from the Play Store, GoogleEvan Selleck - Contributing Editor
A few years ago, finding ways to replace elements on an Android phone wasn't all that easy. Most of it was baked into the rooting process, whether it was made available through custom ROMs or just "Home replacements." Some of the latter options wouldn't work unless you were rooted, and many of them had to be directly downloaded from media sharing sites.
That has changed over the years, though, as many developers have decided to put their work in the easiest possible location for Android owners to get them: The Google Play Store. Within the digital storefront you'll be able to find all the popular means to change up your phone in subtle and major ways, and the best part is that you don't even need root access or custom ROMs anymore.
Indeed, one of Android's biggest strengths is the Google Play Store, and the fact that you don't need to have access to a "black market" of apps to change up your phone. Downloading a new user experience, along with a different application icon pack, can dramatically change the way you see your phone. And, in the process, maybe even cure some boredom at the same time.
One of the most popular alterations to an Android phone has always been the keyboard. Not too long ago, at least it doesn't feel all that long ago, people wanted to replace keyboards mostly because the one they got stock out of the box wasn't all that great. So, finding a keyboard replacement was more of a necessity than anything else. Not surprisingly, as stock Android's keyboard got better, people wanted *that* 'board on their phone, even if they didn't have stock Android. While it's been possible before yesterday to get that keyboard, you had to be rooted, and you had to find a direct download of the keyboard through websites or message boards.
Not very easy for someone who just wants a keyboard, and doesn't want to fiddle with anything else.
People have been clamoring for the stock Android keyboard for quite some time, but the cries have gone unheard. Or at least that's what it has seemed like over the years. That changed yesterday, though, when Google released "Google Keyboard" into the Play Store. As you can guess from the name of the application, this is the stock Android keyboard, in all of its glory. No root needed. Just an Android device running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich or newer.
It's both surprising and not that Google has released their own stock keyboard in such a manner. It's surprising because we've been wanting it for so long, that the fact it just drops into the Play Store without fanfare is pretty shocking all by itself. All of a sudden, *boom*, there it is.
But it's not surprising in the slightest at the very same time because Google has fallen in love with the idea of á la cart. While the majority of their applications have seen individual release through the Play Store (like Gmail, Maps, and others) for quite some time, their major updates usually come with major updates from the overall Android platform. (Yes, these apps get updated on their own all the time, but it's been more recent that Google has focused on huge updates, like Google Talk to Hangouts.)
This new focus put an idea in my head that I can't help but get really excited about. An idea that I think would make so many Android users happy, that it pains me to not see it already available. While many people will go out of their way to root their device, just so they can add a custom ROM with stock Android on it, even more won't do that. While they may say they want stock Android, they also won't pay upwards of $600 to get it, either. They want an easier option, and since manufacturers have stopped providing that option without paying full retail, there has to be something new.
And this is where Google should come in. They should bring stock Android to the Google Play Store as a Home replacement. Just like we've seen from other developers and their own Home replacement apps, bringing the stock Android experience to the Google Play Store would be pretty fantastic.
And it's a pipe dream, I know. But, I'll make some concessions to make this possible, if I have to. It doesn't need to be the full stock Android experience. But it also doesn't need any of the other flashy elements that some other Home replacements offer. Just the stock Android experience, at least at face value, or through the Messaging application. (I know there are individual Messaging replacement apps out there, but again, I'd like a wider experience from Google.)
Google could make a huge wave if they started offering these experiences directly from their own developers, and offering them through the Play Store. These á la cart options are a fantastic way for Google to provide updated applications and software to phones that would probably never see them otherwise.
The more options Google provides for their own mobile operating system, the better they look. And the better that is all around.
So what do you think? If you own something that's skinned with a proprietary user interface, like TouchWiz or Sense, would you download a stock Android Home replacement offered by Google through the Play Store? Or would you just stick with what you have? Let me know!