Android skins are probably the most debated thing in the android community.

Woah we are already going to discuss something controversial this early in mobileFreq’s childhood?  Well we aren’t going to take any sides here, just explain what exactly android skins are.

So as the name implies, they only affect Android devices.  Apple and Windows Phone users you don’t have to worry about any of this unless you are planning to make the switch.  Trust me, it is easier than you think.

Android skins are basically how device manufacturers try to differentiate their product from the rest of the competition on the software level.  They make Android look and behave differently than the other brands even though it is the same operating system.

Who are the “they” that you speak of, Kage?

Good question!

HTC, Samsung, LG, Sony, and any other company that makes android devices are the ones who mostly skin the android operating system.

HTC, LG, and Samsung use different android skins (source: Droid-Life)

These companies have a choice when designing a new device.  Do they install “pure” android straight from Google themselves or do they modify android’s looks and add features that they believe results in the best user experience?

It’s a tough decision.

On one side, your device will practically always be up-to-date, smooth as butter, extremely compatible, and adored by the power users of the mobile world.

On the other side, if every other company were to install “pure” android, your device really wouldn’t stand out and could potentially be a lost sale.  The solution is to skin android to make it a “Samsung device” or a HTC device” rather than an “android device”.

Shouldn’t the device’s hardware be the real defining feature anyway?

Well yes and no.

For your average smartphone user, the internal components such as the processor’s clock speed, total RAM, or GPU mean next to nothing for everyday use.  There just isn’t that much of a notable difference in the real world when you are browsing Facebook, Instagram, Chrome, Twitter, or playing Angry Birds for 90% of the mobile community.

After 340 words I still don’t get the whole “skinning” concept, Kage.

Think of android skins like tattoos.

Say there are three tattoo shops right in a row on the same street and you are bound to get a tattoo.  What shop do you pick from?

Each artist comes equipped with basically the same exact tools: Ink, a tattoo gun, and needles.  This is like every android device on the market today.  They all have the same bare bones equipment.

However, each artist wants to have their shop stand out from the competition so they show off their own unique designs that you can choose from.  This is like HTC’s “Sense 7” android skin or Samsung’s “TouchWiz” android skin.

If you were to pick up a HTC One or a Samsung Galaxy S6 that both have Android Lollipop installed, they would look completely different on the screen.  The mail, clock and camera apps would look different.  The fonts would be slightly different.  The notification tab would have a different layout.  The app drawer would be organized differently.  Widgets would be unique to each.  If you haven’t caught on, it would just LOOK different.

However, functionality-wise they are practically the same.

The mail apps will do the exact same thing.  The clock apps will still have your basic functions, as will the camera apps.  Both notification tabs will have quick toggles to change settings.  The app drawers are still app drawers where you would be able to find all of your apps.

The only real differences are the extra little functions that HTC, Samsung, LG, etc add to these basic apps to get more use from your phone.  This is what android skins are for.

Sometimes they can be helpful, sometimes a pain.  Sometimes they can also consume more memory and hinder battery life.

The Motorola Nexus 6 has “pure” android that in unskinned.

However, brands like Motorola or LG go for more of the “pure” stock android experience.  They use the version of android that Google had envisioned when building it.  Is Google always right?  That is up for debate.

Here is another analogy for android skins: refrigerators.

What? Seriously?  Ok if you insist, Kage…

Every single fridge will keep your food cool.  They are usually all big rectangular prisms with two doors.

However, why should I buy a Samsung over an LG fridge?  They both do the same basic thing.  Well LG might convince me that their way of organizing shelves and drawers are better.  Samsung might say that their settings on the water/ice dispenser are better.  Really it is up to the user to decide which is best.

The user interface if you will.

Maybe Samsung’s fridge consumes more energy or LG’s 2014 shelves aren’t compatible with 2015 and never will be.

Phones are like fridges.  Quote that.

I hope you stuck with me to the end.  Maybe I went too much in-depth for my first post.

That is everything that android skins are…that I can think of.  There might be more.  I could have maybe typed less.  Thanks for reading!

Let me know in the comments what you think!  Did I explain something incorrectly?  Still confused?  Just ask!

Recent Penn State grad who loves all things mobile. Has a knack for teaching and enjoys a bit of alliteration.

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