The Problem with Stock Android

Several on The Verge team are often clamoring for a stock Android phone, for example, Vlad posted passionately about the possibility of the Nokia Nexus, while just today on Twitter, Nilay requested a One X running stock Android on Verizon. This desire for more stock Android phones is a sentiment you often see echoed in the comment sections as well.

The problem is, the market isn't going to answer a demand that isn't there - and I don't think there is a large demand, outside the tech community - for more stock Android devices. This isn't because stock Android isn't fantastic - it is - the problem is simply that not many people have ever used it. Stock Android devices just don't sell that well, as Samsung themselves recently admitted. We can hope that perhaps the Nexus 7 will prove to be the device that changes this, but for now, it remains to be true. If OEMs are only going to release a few phones a year, it just hasn't proven that it's worth their time and money to release stock devices unless those devices are part of the Nexus program.

I said once that that I agreed with Chris Ziegler - if someone asked me what phone to buy, I'd just tell them to get an iPhone. Unfortunately, with the release of the iPhone 5, I still feel this is the case - simply because there is no phone currently available that comes with stock Jelly Bean and was released in the last 6 months. I'd love to recommend the One X running CM10 to people, but it's just not a great argument to make for people who aren't tech-savvy. Right now, if I told someone to buy a stock Android phone, that would mean either:

1) Buying a phone that's almost a year old and has a terrible camera or

2) Buying a One X or an SIII and then walking them through all the steps it takes to install an AOSP ROM like CM10, which probably 5% of people (at most) are willing to do.

Is the Galaxy Nexus still a great phone? Sure; but I'd feel guilty recommending hardware to someone that's already so old and will be replaced relatively soon.

Why wouldn't I recommend people buy a OEM-stock One X or a stock SIII? Aren't those also great phones, despite their OEM skins? Sure, I'd agree...but those skins don't just change the experience, they also delay updates. I don't want to explain to people how much I love Google Now, only to then have to explain that the One X or the SIII don't have it yet. It's still much easier to just say "buy an iPhone."

So what's the solution? The first step was getting the stock Android experience to be a UX that's on-par with iOS - I think Google did that with ICS and especially Jelly Bean. I think the OEM skins make the overall experience inconsistent - and thus less impressive overall. The next step is getting people Stock Android at an affordable price - which the Nexus 7 has started. Hopefully the rumor of multiple OEMs creating Nexus devices is true and this will continue the push. It would help if the Nexus devices were spaced out throughout the year, so there was always a relatively-recent device to consider.

So what's the-game to all this? To "take Android back", and make stock Android as recognizable as iOS, so that customers are confused - and complain - when they look at Android phones and the experience is different. If Apple were to suddenly and dramatically skin iOS, people would notice - and they would be upset. This is the consumer reaction that I believe Google needs to aim for with Android.