Insider sources tell us that Sony might be moving a more vanilla Android based model. That means that future smartphones might be lightly skinned (instead of the heavy complete Timescape skinning that Sony applies to all it’s smartphones) or pack vanilla Android altogether. This might be to be able to provide faster updates.
Sony’s erratic Android update schedule
We already know of Sony’s erratic Android update schedule. Even though Sony announces updates for it’s smartphones, it simply takes too long for them to roll out. And often (always), Sony introduces a new smartphone with a newer Android version installed before their previous flagship gets an update. Now that wouldn’t be a problem with usual yearly launched flagships. But it does look real bad when a flagship is launched twice yearly.
Sony’s Timescape is a heavy skin. Porting it to a new Android OS, including all the apps, widgets, extensions takes some time. Timescape is deeply integrated, and works very well. Granted it requires some hardware resources, but Sony’s UI is hands down one of the best (if not the best) custom UI by any Android manufacturer. Period. But that cannot be the reason owners are being left in the dust. And that shouldn’t be the reason the company should do this to it’s loyal customers, or bring negative response on itself.
What is the solution?
Sony has two ways ahead. Either they continue with what they are doing and keep pushing delayed updates to smartphones, or take too long to push newer Android versions. This, as we can see has not worked out really well for them.
So there is the (only) alternative, to start using a much more lighter skinned Timescape or switch to Vanilla Android altogether. We discuss each in brief below.
How would Vanilla Android help?
Vanilla Android is the pure Android (AOSP) that Google uses on it’s smartphones. It’s the purest form of the latest Android OS available. And that is why it’s the easiest to port to new devices. Sony will have a much much more easier time to port the vanilla Android than that plus an entire Timescape with underlying Social Engine integration and much much more when a new version of Android is out.
This has it’s drawbacks. Sony’s smartphones might not remain competitive against other manufacturers if they indeed end up doing this. It all depends on what users think and how they react. I think a survey can really help with this. I believe that majority of users might opt for faster updates (and guranteed ones) than Timescape, while many might say that they like Sony’s custom UI and that probably is the reason they didn’t go for a TouchWiz based Samsung phone or Sense based HTC phone.
For that issues, there is the second alternative. Read on.
Another alternative is to use a very light skin of Timescape over Android. The integration need not be that deep. All features need not be there. In fact, Sony can simply port the UI as a launcher (Xperia Home) and release add ones such as Social Network apps and widgets and general apps and widgets (like the new Sony Small Apps feature) via a Sony market channel similar to Google Play Store, but exclusively for Sony. They can also do the same over Play Store as well, and release the apps and widgets (all add ons) over time for Sony users.
This would be a radical change in which a manufacturer treats an Android device. Users can select which features they want, or if they want at all (many don’t and hence switch to original android UI projects like AOSP, AOKP and the ever popular Cyanogen Mod). They wouldn’t have to wait an extra 4-6 months for features they don’t want, when they just want the vanilla Android OS on their device. Those who want more will now have to wait less as Sony will port the add ons and release them for all devices, and won’t have to individually port their entire (Timescape) skin over to each phone (and/or chipset).
Are there any other ways?
There is a way Sony adopted with it’s 2011 line up of Xperia smartphones, that is to use the same chipset across the entire range. While one chipset will not suffice anymore, Sony can definitely make use of popular chipsets (which already have ports for the latest Android, or are under active development) for their entry level and mid range smartphones and use the latest and greatest (faster, fastest) chipsets for their high end and flagship smartphones, with the advantage being that these fast chipsets too already have newer Android OS iterations running on them (it might be the same chipset used in the Nexus devices, further simplifying the process).
We will find out more details about this (and whether this is true) around CES 2013. Till then, sit and hold tight!