Google to Android phone makers: If you mess with the UI too much, you lose the Android Market

According to Google’s Android Dashboard Platform Versions more than 40% of phone accessing the Android Market are using versions older than 2.3 (pre-Gingerbread). 55.5% are at version 2.3. A mere 0.6% are version 4.x (Ice Cream Sandwich) that was released late last year. Android devices have a hit or miss (mostly miss) track record for getting updated to the latest release. Part of the reason lies with hardware requirements. But, much of the delay (vs. not being updated at all because of hardware requirements) appears to be due to Android phone makers mucking about with the user interface by replacing it with their own. This, in part, explains why we see a huge percentage of devices running ancient versions of Android.

Google announced a move earlier today that aims to put a stop to it in an blog item simply titled.

Holo Everywhere

Here are the key sentences from that blog:

  1. Before Android 4.0 the variance in system themes from device to device could make it difficult to design an app with a single predictable look and feel. We set out to improve this situation for the developer community in Ice Cream Sandwich and beyond.
  2. We’ve made the inclusion of the unmodified Holo theme family a compatibility requirement for devices running Android 4.0 and forward. If the device has Android Market it will have the Holo themes as they were originally designed.
  3. Formally separating these theme families will also make future merges easier for manufacturers updating to a new platform version, helping more devices update more quickly.

So, Android phone makers can still add their own generally awful themes (in my experience) on top of the default Android interface. However, the default Android OS 4.0 (and future) interface must be available as the underlying theme. If a manufacturer chooses to ignore this policy, their device will not get access to the Android Market app. This has been the case for a number of devices placed in the market in the past (the Amazon Kindle Fire, for example). But, we haven’t seen any of the successful devices go Google-less so far.