Unveiling the Truth: Uncover the Secrets Behind Google Pixel's Operating System!

Unveiling the Truth: Uncover the Secrets Behind Google Pixel's Operating System!

Debunking the myth: Is Google Pixel's Android truly stock? Discover the truth behind Google's 'pure Android' claim on Pixel devices in this eye-opening article

Key Takeaways

The Pixel devices from Google do not operate on the unaltered version of Android known as "stock Android." These devices include unique hardware, proprietary Google apps, and exclusive features that are not accessible on other devices.

Stock Android, commonly known as the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), is an open-source platform that serves as the foundation for manufacturers to develop their distinct variations and custom Android skins.

Although Google Pixel devices represent the ideal Android experience envisioned by Google, other manufacturers also provide exclusive features and personalized enhancements.

Google, as the primary maintainer of Android, is often assumed to offer the least modified version of the operating system known as "stock Android" on its Pixel devices. However, this assumption is incorrect. When Google introduces new devices like the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro, they also release a significant Android update. During these events, the company typically highlights the features introduced in these new versions. Unfortunately, many of these features are not made available to devices manufactured by other brands. This raises the question of why these features are not accessible to every phone or tablet that receives the update. This is where the distinctions between "stock Android" and "Google's Android" become apparent.

What Is Stock Android?

Unveiling the Truth: Uncover the Secrets Behind Google Pixel's Operating System!

AOSP Android 12

Stock Android refers to an unmodified version of the Android operating system, free from any customizations by Google or other parties. It is worth noting that devices with this version are not commonly found in retail stores.

Although Google is the owner of Android and holds significant influence, the Android system is actually developed by a group of companies known as the Open Handset Alliance (OHS). The unaltered form of this system is called the Android Open Source Project (AOSP). Manufacturers of Android devices utilize AOSP as a foundation to design their own customized versions, typically referred to as Android "skins."

AOSP, short for Android Open Source Project, gets its name from being an open-source platform. This means that it is readily available for anyone to access and download directly from Android's official website. AOSP can be obtained in the form of a "Generic System Image" (GSI), which can be installed on any smartphone that supports Project Treble. This installation process can be likened to installing an operating system (OS) on a computer.

The AOSP GSI serves primarily as a basic framework intended for developers. Nevertheless, it offers the purest version of Android that is attainable. It is comparable to manually downloading Android's source code and personally compiling it.

Which Devices Run Stock Android?

Unveiling the Truth: Uncover the Secrets Behind Google Pixel's Operating System!

Cameron Summerson

No major manufacturer currently sells devices with stock Android. However, brands like Lenovo/Motorola and Google minimize visual changes while still implementing customizations in the background.

In the past, until 2015, Google collaborated with various manufacturers to create the "Nexus" line of phones and tablets. These devices were specifically designed to showcase the capabilities of stock Android.

Additionally, there were two other initiatives aimed at promoting "pure Android." The initial one was the "Google Play Edition" (GPE) devices, such as the first-generation Moto G and the Galaxy S4, which operated on the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) platform. However, the GPE program had a limited lifespan from 2013 to 2015. Succeeding it, the Android One program emerged, although it allowed for hardware-specific modifications, such as camera apps.

While Android One continues to officially exist, there has been only one model introduced in 2023: the Kyocera Android One S10 exclusively available in Japan. Despite the existence of high-end devices, Android One primarily caters to mid-range and entry-level devices.

Nowadays, lower-end smartphones often come preloaded with Android (Go Edition), which is a streamlined version of the operating system that offers fewer features and has lower requirements. Unlike the Nexus and GPE lines, Android (Go Edition) allows for manufacturer customizations, such as Samsung's One UI Core. As a result, it cannot be considered a pure "stock Android" initiative.

Google’s Android Is Not Stock Android

Unveiling the Truth: Uncover the Secrets Behind Google Pixel's Operating System!


That brings us to the point: how are "stock Android" and the system used in Pixel devices different? The simple answer is Pixel devices are all-in on Google's services.

As explained, "pure Android" (AOSP) undergoes no modifications and is essentially basic. Due to this minimalistic approach, certain essential functions such as Bluetooth connectivity may not be supported. Manufacturers take this raw foundation and incorporate the necessary software to ensure that specific features work on their devices. This includes the programming required for camera functionality, mobile connectivity, fast charging, and more.

Additionally, manufacturers introduce their own customizations such as unique icons, settings menus, and in-house apps (sometimes considered bloatware). Some interfaces, like the now-defunct MIUI, have undergone such extensive modifications that they no longer resemble "stock Android" even remotely. One UI serves as a more common example of a highly tailored Android skin.

Google incorporates the same strategy with Pixel devices. These devices are equipped with specific hardware, such as the newer Tensor processors, which necessitate modifications in AOSP for optimal functioning. Just as a Galaxy device comes preloaded with the Samsung Internet browser, or a Realme device includes the manufacturer's Photos app, Google's phones and tablets are also equipped with Google-branded apps.

While apps like Chrome or Maps are accessible to all users, others like the Pixel Camera are exclusive to Pixel devices. Moreover, Google's Pixels offer more than just exclusive apps. They also provide unique features like Smart Selection, Live Translate, Call Screen, and Hold For Me, which are not available on other devices.

Nexus and GPE devices served as "reference platforms" for enthusiasts and developers, gaining popularity during a period when several third-party Android interfaces were slow and fragmented. While certain interfaces, such as HTC's Sense, played a significant role in the system's history, they negatively impacted the device's speed.

Unveiling the Truth: Uncover the Secrets Behind Google Pixel's Operating System!

Justin Duino  

Pixel phones and tablets represent Google's ideal interpretation of what Android should be. Unlike being solely catering to developers and enthusiasts, they are designed to cater to the general public as well. The Pixels can be considered as Google's equivalent to iPhones, with Google even acknowledging this by positioning them as direct competitors.

This similarity becomes evident in various ways, such as the significant reliance on customized hardware and software in both Pixel and Apple devices. Additionally, like Apple's operating system updates being released simultaneously for all compatible devices, Pixel devices also receive new Android versions ahead of others.

However, is it really a negative aspect that Android is open to any manufacturer? In fact, other Android manufacturers provide their own unique features as well. Take Samsung's One UI for example, which offers numerous exclusive features such as the Second Screen feature - allowing users to utilize a Galaxy Tab as a wireless display for a Galaxy laptop.

Xiaomi devices feature a uniquely distinct interface that diverges from Android to such an extent that new versions of MIUI are not reliant on Android updates.

Motorola's smartphones are renowned for their unique Moto Actions, which include gestures like chopping to activate or deactivate the flashlight and twisting to open the camera.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Google also desires a share of that. The obsession with "stock Android" has primarily been confined to tech-savvy enthusiasts. For those in this category who wish to continue utilizing the basic version of the system, options like installing an AOSP GSI or experimenting with custom ROMs are always available.