Why Does Android Have So Many Different Custom Skins?

Buying an Android phone as a total newbie can be daunting. Not only are there a plethora of hardware options from different manufacturers, but you also have to deal with the fact that the software is often very different too. If you look around, you’ll notice nearly all companies have their own custom skin running on top of stock Android.

But why is it so? Why does Android have so many custom skins, and what motivates companies to create their own instead of running stock Android? Let’s find out.

What Is an Android Skin?

To understand what an Android skin is, it helps to know what stock Android is. Stock Android refers to the version of Android that is created and shipped by Google under the Android Open Source Project (AOSP). All Android phones are based on this pure version of Android.

However, to create a different experience, phone makers build on top of stock Android, customizing the user interface and adding more features and apps of their own. This is known as an Android skin, and it’s unique to the manufacturer that created it.

The Range of Android Skins Available

hand holding a samsung s21 ultra
Image Credit: Lukmanazis/Shutterstock

Almost every Android manufacturer has a custom Android skin that is included in its smartphones. Starting with Google, the company ships its Pixel series with a custom skin called Pixel UI. Yes, contrary to popular belief, even Google’s phones don’t run stock Android.

Other custom skins available include One UI (Samsung), MIUI (Xiaomi), Oxygen OS (OnePlus), Color OS (Oppo), Xperia UI (Sony), My UX (Motorola), Zen UI / ROG UI (Asus), EMUI (Huawei), Magic UI (Honor), Realme UI (Realme), Nothing OS (Nothing), and more.

As of May 2023, Nokia is the only major company that provides a close-to-stock Android experience. Google and Motorola are close by, as their software is not as heavily customized as other Android skins.

Why Do Companies Make Custom Android Skins?

Creating a custom Android skin is not a walk in the park. It’s easier for companies to install stock Android and call it a day. But from the ever-growing list of Android skins, it’s apparent that many companies are not shying away from creating their own.

Here are five reasons why creating a custom skin is a solid investment for Android manufacturers.

1. For a Custom User Experience

Having a custom Android skin allows manufacturers to create unique user experiences. By tweaking the user interface and adding custom functionalities, companies are able to target a specific type of user that appreciates such experiences.

A good example is Asus, whose ROG UI skin mainly targets mobile gamers. Unlike what you’ll find in other custom UIs, ROG UI is jam-packed with various functionalities geared toward creating a better gaming experience.

2. For Competitive Advantage

google pixel phone laying on edge of desk

Android’s open-source nature is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because any company can use Android as its operating system. But with access to similar software and hardware, smartphone models from different companies can be strikingly identical.

Software customization can help a company’s product stand out from the crowd. If, for instance, One UI offers a better user experience than stock Android, that’s an advantage to Samsung. Because even though One UI is built on top of Android, you can only access it by buying a Samsung smartphone.

The same applies to Google’s Pixel UI and other Android skins. That also explains why Google makes some of its own features Pixel UI-exclusive, despite the company owning Android.

3. For Monetization

Customization can also be used in the company’s interest to monetize devices after the sale. Monetization is usually done in different forms, including preinstalling specific apps or services that generate revenue for the company.

Some of the apps and services could be from the smartphone company itself or a third-party company that paid to put them on the phones. These apps and services are commonly known as bloatware. If you’re among those who despise this practice, there’s a way to remove bloatware from your Android phone.

Companies can also customize the software to display ads in different spots on the devices and make extra cash. Thankfully, like bloatware, some companies also provide a way to remove ads from your smartphone.

4. For Software Optimization

Image Credit: Beebom

Android OEMs create custom skins to optimize the software experience for their devices better. Android’s open-source nature means there’s a variety of devices you can choose from and at different budgets due to the mixed bag in terms of hardware quality. But this is also one of the significant disadvantages of Android.

But through customization, companies can optimize the software for better performance regardless of the underlying hardware. Additionally, customization can lead to better resource utilization and longer battery life. For instance, Samsung allows you to put unused apps to sleep, which helps reduce the number of background processes without needing to uninstall them.

Some Android skins will also automatically monitor your storage usage, provide advice on how to free up space, and even do it on your behalf at a click of a button if that’s what you want.

5. For Localization

Localization is the process of adapting a product to the culture and language of a given region or market. By customizing the user interface and adding local features, device manufacturers can make their devices more appealing and easier to use for customers in specific regions. Companies may also adopt localization to meet regulatory requirements in different regions.

A good example is Xiaomi, which has different skins dedicated to specific markets like China, India, and Russia. For example, the China version doesn’t offer Google services but does have preinstalled apps that are useful in China. Other localized versions also have certain unique aspects that only apply to the target region.

How to Select the Best Android Skin for Your Needs

Different factors can make or break an Android skin. The first factor you should consider is the software support policy. Look for a skin dedicated to shipping updates faster and with an extended support period. The second factor is the amount of bloatware it has and whether you can remove it without a fuss.

Third, check the additional features available on top of those that stock Android provides.

You may prefer a feature-rich skin like Samsung’s One UI or Xiaomi’s MIUI for this. If you need something lean, Google’s Pixel UI is cleaner and doesn’t overwhelm you with features you’ll likely not use. And if you need something customized for a specific use, Asus’ ROG UI stands out for mobile gaming. Aside from all these factors, security, and privacy are equally important.

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