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Be together, not the same

“Be together, not the same” is the mantra Google has been spreading for quite some time now. It’s a good reflection of its intent and purpose; with 1.5 billion active users and a myriad of OEM partners contributing to its growth, the OS couldn’t ask for more diversity. Among Android enthusiasts, however, a vastly shared belief is that the stock, unadulterated, ‘vanilla’ experience delivered by Google is generally superior to basically any of the offerings brought to the table by third parties. This mainly stems from a bad history that saw manufacturers continuously deliver sub-par experiences and often lag far behind in the update cycle, not to mention the numerous design inconsistencies which added up to Google’s own often messy and unclear aesthetics. When Material Design was introduced back in 2014, however, a few things started to change.

For one, notoriously ill-designed UIs such as those from LG and Samsung (as well as from HTC, Sony, and most others) started to follow Google’s now precise and definite guidelines more closely, giving Android an overall sense of basic consistency at least across major instances. Samsung’s TouchWiz, in particular, got often criticized over the years because of its excessive bloatware and poor design choices, but with the massive hardware overhaul brought by the Galaxy S6 last year, software too got a considerable Lollipop-based facelift which went a little under the radar. The Galaxy S7 brought the whole thing one step further, and even coming from a long series of stock Android devices, I have to admit that my experience with TouchWiz wasn’t just not bad, but left me thinking of it as an outright smart, good-looking and overall well designed ‘skin’…

Back in the Jelly Bean days, stock Android was almost a prerogative for anyone willing to venture deeply into Google’s OS and its hard – and yet rewarding – customization; vendors like HTC, Samsung and LG always tried to do most of the work for you, and often ended up producing badly-made pieces of software which resulted in bloated and frequently frustrating experiences. Vanilla Android, on the other hand, gave consumers the best the platform could offer simply by trying to stay clean and doing less, or, as I like to put it, working as a canvas; a blank piece of paper that the user – rather than a manufacturer – had to fill via the immensely powerful tool represented by the Play Store.

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