Even worse is the situation playing out with brand new Android devices. Just this month, both the Dell Streak and Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 debuted running Android 1.6 under custom skins. I'll be blunt: There's absolutely no excuse for a brand-new Android device to be shipping with a year-old version of the operating system. Froyo aside, Android 2.0 has been out since last October, and Android 2.1 has been around since January. Despite the two manufacturers' vague promises of upgrades -- Dell has said its Streak will receive the current version of Android sometime this year, while Sony has promised to bring the Xperia X10 up to version 2.1 before New Year's -- it's simply embarrassing and unacceptable for new hardware to be launching with such outdated software.
Shifting the Android skinning strategy
So what's the answer? I would make the argument that Android doesn't even need these manufacturer-made skins anymore: The stock interface has made leaps and bounds in the last few releases, and word is Google's next major update will add on yet another layer of UI-oriented polish. I know I'm not the only original Droid owner who was disappointed to see the new Droid 2 arrive with Motorola's Motoblur instead of the vanilla Android its predecessor possessed; having the stock OS presents plenty of desirable advantages, and most of the skin-provided features are things you can easily implement on your own with third-party utilities.
That said, I can accept the fact that phone-makers want to put their own distinguishing touches on devices -- and realistically, I know that isn't going to change anytime soon. Both Motorola and HTC have already hinted about plans to continue developing their skins into the future, despite Google's advances with the Android OS.