Listen up, Motorola, HTC, Samsung, LG, or whoever is making the next big Android smartphone. You want to be an instant hit with both mainstream users and enthusiasts? Become both a big hit and a cult classic? Here's a suggestion for you: make a stock Android experience ROM available for download for your phones that you fully support.
This will work better with HTC or Samsung, who already have a huge mainstream market share. It'll work because there are many users who are actually in love with the customized skin. I'm talking about the HTC Sense and Samsung TouchWiz. Come to think of it, I think HTC may benefit more since there are more fans of Sense than TouchWiz. If that's the case, HTC should also think about going back to removable batteries and expandable storage.
I know every manufacturer of Android phones want to differentiate from every other manufacturer, which is why they make these custom skins. I don't think it's a bad thing necesarily. A lot of non-technical people find them a lot easier to live with. Some even add real features missing from the stock Android experience. However, there are those "minority" who still want a stock Android experience.
Those people will flock towards Nexus phones. However, after the Nexus One, the other Nexus phones didn't really push the boundaries when it came to hardware. The Nexus S came out with a single-core CPU and a 5 MP camera when phones were coming out with dual-cores and 8 MP cameras. The Galaxy Nexus seem more like what the Nexus S should have been, but they still stuck with a 5 MP camera. Neither of the two had expandable storage. But, they were the only phones available with stock Android and (supposedly) frequent Google-sanctioned updates.
While the Nexus line of phones were behind, HTC and Samsung were producing excellent phones with drool-worthy specs. Of course, you do have to give up the stock Android experience for whatever HTC or Samsung decides to put on the phone.
So my suggestion? Why not also produce a fully-functional non-warranty breaking stock Android ROM that's downloadable for those people who want it? It can be updated quicker, and you'll appease both the mainstream and the cult users. It'll be an instant hit! And the kicker? Since you're the only company doing this, you will garner a lot of attention as well as customers. And guess what? If everyone else follows, you'll be a legend since you will be known as the company that started it!
To sweeten the pot, the stock Android experience ROM can be fully open source. This means that the community can improve the OS for your hardware, making it more desirable to have. You may have to make a deal with some hardware vendors (camera, GPS, etc) for making their closed-source drivers available to users, though.
As for proprietary technology such as Beats Audio and S Voice? Well, you can leave those out of the stock Android experience. After all, those who are looking for the stock Android experience don't care for such things anyways. Since it's open source, if they want these extra features, someone in the community can create something like it to fill in those gaps. And those who want it can support those programmers.
So who will be first? Any takers?