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Samsung will only allow free themes to be used for 14 days starting with Android 9 Pie update

The Verge logo The Verge 11/16/2018 Chris Welch
a close up of a computer © Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Samsung is headed towards a controversial change that impacts customers who like customizing their Galaxy smartphones with third-party themes. The company has begun sending a notification to users that warns beginning with Android 9 Pie, which Samsung plans to launch in January, it will only permit free themes to be used for 14 days. After that, the phone will automatically revert back to Samsung’s stock theme. The Verge has confirmed the notification firsthand, after Droid Life and SamMobile reported on it.

Users will receive two pop-up notifications before their free theme is removed; the first will be displayed 24 hours before the 14-day expiration. The second will hit 10 minutes prior to the cutoff. Samsung says it’ll “provide suggested themes along with the notifications in order to help you easily change your theme.” Presumably, those suggestions will be for premium, paid themes; Samsung gets a cut of those transactions from its Galaxy Store, whereas the company makes nothing from free themes.

Samsung’s reasoning for the shift is pretty questionable, to say the least. “We ask for your understanding as we have changed the policy in order to help our designers continue to create high quality products and also to provide stable and satisfactory services for you.”

a screenshot of a cell phone

For the last several generations of Galaxy phones, themes have been a way to switch up and personalize the look and feel of the devices and move away from the company’s own Touchwiz style. (Some of those free themes allowed users to adopt a Pixel-like theme, for instance.)

Last week, Samsung unveiled an overhaul to its software design that it’s calling One UI. The new visual style is meant to make large smartphones easier to use. One UI will debut alongside the Android Pie update, which coincidentally is when this new restriction takes effect. Putting an arbitrary limit on free themes is certainly one way to keep people using One UI; the number of folks who pay for a custom smartphone theme must be fairly small.

But there are still unknowns about this policy. Once a free theme expires, is it permanently unavailable from that point forward? Or can someone just reapply it and restart the 14-day clock? Do those who release free themes get any say in the matter? If stability is the concern, why not review themes with more scrutiny or just eliminate free ones altogether? Allowing them temporarily doesn’t make a lot of sense. We’ve reached out to Samsung for clarification on what’s going on here — and hopefully for a better explanation.

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