Which proprietary software would you switch onto your device?Evan Selleck - Contributing Editor
Back in the day, the argument for proprietary software was a strong one. Google's mobile platform, Android, was a good place to start for manufacturers, but there was obviously plenty of room to grow so they took advantage of it. Back then, HTC's Sense and Samsung's TouchWiz (for some) were the real reasons to buy Android, and it was one of the strongest reasons they made a name for themselves in the Android army.
Of course, we all know that there were many people still clamoring for stock Android devices to be released. It just never really happened all that often. The original Motorola DROID had plenty of bullet points to buy the device, but it really stood out as one of the only handsets to launch with a stock Android experience out of the box, in a sea of handsets promoting their custom software.
Custom software is a hit-or-miss affair, both for the manufacturer behind it and the consumer using it. I don't even know how many times I've started using a custom experience, loved it at first, and then watched it degrade in overall performance, and even functionality because of that degradation, over time. Both Sense and TouchWiz were notorious for this: Great out of the box, but given time and usage, they started to generally ruin the whole experience.
They've gotten better with time, though. Companies have figured out how to offer some features without shoving the whole show in your face. At least, some of them have. As you might expect, there's a pretty distinct difference between experiences from manufacturer to manufacturer, just as there always has been. Some want you to know, right off the bat, that their software is what's ruling the show. Others make it a bit more subtle. Whichever is best is completely up to you, the user.
That's why I think we need more choices.
I've suggested (as many have over the years) that manufacturers let us turn the custom software on and off. So that we can switch between Sense or TouchWiz, to a stock Android experience. However, the caveat here is that while we may be able to turn off the skin, we shouldn't lose the inherent features that these companies include with their handsets. Just because I want to turn off TouchWiz, shouldn't mean I lose eye-tracking functionality, for instance.
Last year, when I got my hands on a Google Play edition device, I wrote up a piece about why I was starting to see the appeal of proprietary software. The handsets that I used had cousins running skinned software, and I enjoyed the custom experience a lot more than the stock one. That's something I never thought would happen, so it kind of took me by surprise.
But we should still have the choice. There are many people who would love to get their hands on a handset like Samsung's upcoming Galaxy S5, but ditch TouchWiz (without having to root and add custom ROMs, mind you). I know the same could be said for HTC's All New One, which will obviously be running a new, updated version of their Sense UI.
With handsets like LG's G Flex, you get a lot of different choices when it comes to customizing the experience, from themes to fonts. And that's great. But, adding more options, like shutting the whole custom show down, would be great.
Or, maybe we just need the ability to replace one custom piece of software with another, without having to gain root. Late yesterday, I saw Sony had released their own Xperia Themes for Xperia-branded devices, which lets owners customize things like the notification bar, folders, sliders and lock screen. I think this is great, but it would be even better if they unlocked it for all Android devices running Android 4.3 Jelly Bean or later. Not just their own handsets.
That's why I'm curious to know which proprietary software you'd add onto your phone if you had the ability, without having to gain root access. (Granted, if you already replaced your stock software with something else, feel free to let me know! I'm curious to know what you'd rather run on a day-to-day basis.) If you have an HTC-branded handset, would you prefer to use Samsung's TouchWiz UI? Or, if you've got yourself a Sony device, would you want to use LG's custom software? How would you like to see things switched up? Let me know!