Editorial: The Android design guide is not enough. Close the OS
So the Head of design at Android, Matias Duarte, officially unveiled the Android design guide via a live Q&A session on The Verge: a set of in-depth guidelines for app developers and OEMs alike to keep within sync of the design language in Ice Cream Sandwich. Instantly, this is already a much better direction, with an aim of ecosystem defragmentation in mind; but then we began to think of what we thought to be the failings of Android phones we have owned in the past.
We loved the hardware specifications of the Samsung Galaxy S2, getting the 60fps framerate that gives any phone a premium feel of speed; but the Touchwiz skin atop Android 2.3 wasn't what we'd ideally call 'user friendly,' as it wasn't the metaphorical 'blank canvas' that could adapt to our lifestyle. Rather, it was the opposite, and part of a good design means you shouldn't have to cater yourself to the device. The same can be said with the most recent iteration of HTC Sense, Motorola's OS skin (formerly known as MotoBlur), and LG's contribution (probably the worst out the bunch).
Infact it got me wanting specific combinations in a 'pick & mix' frame of mind, primarily wanting x smartphone with a stock version of Android. Granted, this is possible with rooting (and their is some rather convincing imitation launchers in the market); but the user shouldn't have to compromise, and when Google are looking to bring the ecosystem into line with a single design ethic, it's got to start from the top.
A solution: close Android.
As a quick disclaimer, this doesn't mean the functionalities, such as developers adding extra options to menus throughout Android with their apps. The beauty of the Android has always been the fact you haven't needed to jump into separate apps to access different functions, a la iOS. We're talking more about the visual cues OEMs take to designing their skins.
Putting my neck on the line, Ice Cream Sandwich is beautiful: Roboto is a great font with subtleties beyond what most other designers with in the mobile space notice. And, as a self-admitted lover of Google's mobile OS, I'd much rather see the stock design become a requirement for every device. This will remove the mediocre-at-best skins, keep every phone of similar hardware specs on the same update cycle, and invoke a trained sense of style amongst the developer community, bringing everything much more in line, via what you could call 'indirect force' I guess.
It might contradict the Google way of thinking; but in my opinion, it's what's needed to defragment Android.