Google & Microsoft Take Control

Before the end of 2010 Google will release Android 3.0, codenamed 'Gingerbread', and talk is it will provide vastly more graphical polish than the OS has offered to date. This seems inevitable given the hiring of Matias Duarte as director of Android user experience given Duarte was previously responsible for designing the visual flourish seen in Palm's webOS. Such progression could well negate the need for custom UIs and there is even talk Google will ban them completely in an effort to minimise fragmentation.

Google is not alone in its frustration. After years of arguably giving handset makers no choice but to modify Windows Mobile, Microsoft has announced Windows Phone 7 (whatever its chances) will not accept any third party tinkering with its new 'tile' interface. Third party apps can be added to the homescreen, but that is the extent of the Redmond concessions as it looks to take control over both software and hardware for the first time.

Consequently this will mean Android and Windows Phone 7 join Apple's iOS, RIM's BlackBerry OS, Palm/HP's webOS and even Samsung's bada as platforms whose appearance is tightly regulated. This leaves MeeGo and Symbian as the loan OSes still encouraging third party customisation. From what we have seen of the former its swish UI already looks like it needs no help, and only struggling Sony Ericsson and Nokia maintain their (nostalgic and potentially misplaced) loyalty to the latter.

The end result is companies relying on Android and Windows Phone - we're thinking of you HTC, Motorola, LG and (first steps of bada-aside) Samsung - could once again become embroiled in hardware and price wars for their differentiators. Something we'd enjoy immensely, but those involved would rather avoid. After all, HTC has up to now beautifully marketed its handsets with their homogenous Sense UIs and Samsung is re-skinning Android to fall inline with its TouchWiz interface. Both will be extremely cautious of Motorola potentially breaking ranks by, at the very least, giving Motoblur a backseat.

Ultimately it will be interesting to see if we can take Jha at his word or whether this is indeed a first delicate step towards Motoblur's withdrawal? With Google and Microsoft set to actively counter custom UIs with their next generation platforms, it may be that handset makers will have little choice but to concede, though don't expect them all to go down without a fight...

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