Android 4.0 Holo theme

One of the things that sets Google Android apart from other mobile operating systems is the fact that dozens of phone and tablet makers can load the open source OS on their devices. And Google doesn’t stop them from customizing the look and feel of the operating system, which is why phones with Samsung TouchWiz, Motorola Motoblur, and HTC Sense can look so different from one another even if they’re all running Android 2.3.

Google has no plans to stop companies from developing custom skins — but with Android 4.0 Google is trying to give developers the tools to make sure their apps look the same across all devices no matter what skins they’re running.

Right now if an app relies on a device’s default skin it could look very different on a Samsung device than an HTC device. That leads to an inconsisten user experience and makes it much harder for developers to extensively test their apps before releasing them.

Google is insisting that all devices that ship with Android 4.0 and the Google Android Market should also include the Holo themes.

That’s not to say that you’ll necessarily see the Holo themes all the time. Your phone could still have a TouchWiz or Sense user interface. But under the hood the Holo elements will be there — and that will allow developers to call on Holo widget styles so that their apps will look the same no matter what device you’re running them on.

Basically if you buy a device Android 4.0 and up that has the Android Market installed, you can be certain that Holo is also installed. Theoretically that means that apps you download from the Android Market should support these design elements.

But it will be up to developers to decide if and how to use the new Holo theme, which means that it could take a while before all apps really do look the same across all Android devices. In fact, it may never happen.

There are currently 400,000 apps in the Android Market, and it’s likely that some will never be updated. Some developers may also prefer to skip the Holo theme and use other tools to design the look and feel of their apps.

In other words, Android’s so-called fragmentation problem isn’t going away anytime soon. Your Android experience on one device could be very different from another person’s if they’re using a different device. But Google is taking at least one step to make it possible for developers to at least provide a consistent experience for their users.

Brad Linder

Brad Linder is editor of Liliputing and Mobiputing. He's been tinkering with mobile tech for decades and writing about it since...