Themer offers a radical new look for your Android phone

Android is very customizable, and Themer lets you browse and pick a new home screen that can freshen up your phone's look.

Some of the themes available for download on Themer.
Some of the Android skins available for download on Themer. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Some folks really like to take advantage of Android's customizability, as evidenced by the 48,763 (and counting) different home screens that people have uploaded to the MyColorscreen site. Now the company has begun trying to make an app business out of the idea.

On Thursday, it launched Themer, an app that can replace the standard Android home screen. With the app, you can browse and rapidly install a wide variety of new looks for your phone. Express your enthusiasm for "Breaking Bad," glance at a heads-up display from a sci-fi movie, pare back your gaudy jumble of apps into something more austere.

"We'll have iOS 7 on there at some point soon. Right now, one of the most popular themes is the Android Kitkat concept," said Chief Executive Ashvin Dhingra.

It's still Android underneath the covers, but the casual observer won't recognize it. It's easy to try new themes, though configuring them to your liking will take a little time.

Themes have long been popular for those who want to express themselves with a computing device that looks different. You can get themes to reskin Windows and your browser , for example. For some, the idea is silly and cosmetic, but for others, it's a way to bring a personal touch to a slab of electronics.

Themer works only on Android 4.1 and up and doesn't support tablets yet. It's in beta testing that requires people to go register at the Themer app Web site for an activation code. So far, more than 114,000 people have done so. If you sign up now, you'll get this message advising patience: "We know that the whole app waitlist thing is a bit cliche at this point, but we're adding users as fast as our little servers can handle."

Themer and its themes are free. So how exactly is this a business?

"There are many monetization models that we may pursue in the future," Dhingra said. Here are two ideas: Themes from companies that want to have their brand names promoted, and themes with suggested apps that developers want people to install.

"We don't have any partnerships at this time and have not yet pursued any. But brands may want to pay us to promote their themes in the future," Dhingra said of the first idea. "This is a great way for brands to interact with mobile users."

When you hit the home button on your Android phone, Themer asks you if you want to use its launcher. You can set it to be default, and if you don't like it, you can go back to the regular Android home screen.
When you hit the home button on your Android phone, Themer asks you if you want to use its launcher. You can set it to be default, and if you don't like it, you can go back to the regular Android home screen. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

For the second idea, themes already can include icons for apps such as Groupon and Candy Crush that people may not have installed on their phones. Clicking on them produces a suggestion that you do install them.

"Part of our business model is app discovery," Dhingra said. For now, though, "we do not get paid for any of the apps placed in those folders. We just put popular apps in that we think people like and use. If one of the apps in the folders is installed on your phone and you tap on it, it opens the app. If it's not installed, it takes you to the Play store to download the app."

Most people probably didn't know there was a launcher app -- it's the one with the mundane job of showing you your grid of app icons -- much less that it could be changed. Themer handles the new look with combinations of icons, wallpapers, and widgets. It all could be done before Themer, but the software makes it simpler. For an idea of how much manual fiddling otherwise would be required, check this recent tutorial at MyColorscreen for an iOS 7-inspired look.

Those who can navigate the technical and aesthetic complexities, though, might be interested to know that they can go pro, because Themer is hiring designers.

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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