Google confirms the death of rootless Substratum theming in Android Pie

User customization is one of the reasons so many of us choose Android as our mobile OS of choice, and in 2017, an app called "Andromeda" came out as a way to use powerful Substratum themes to completely change just about every aspect of your phone's UI and popular apps without needing root access.

Right after the first Developer Preview of Android Pie was released, however, it was discovered that Google had changed something deep within Android's core that stopped this rootless theming from working. It was unclear at the time if this was done intentionally or by accident, but we now have confirmation this was done on purpose.

On the Google Issue Tracker, a Googler issued the following statement on June 13:

We appreciate the feedback and would like to share some background information and clarifications.The Overlay Manager Service (OMS) is intended for device manufacturer's use. OMS, in its current form, is not designed to be a generic theming feature -- more design considerations will need to be put into it in order to uphold Android platform's security and product standards for users. Accordingly, OMS has never been advocated as a public developer feature.Earlier this year a security patch (CVE-2017-13263) was released to OEMs for Android Oreo devices. The patch restricts the installation of overlays to pre-installed or system-signed apps, in response to a legitimate security issue raised in Android Oreo. Android Pie also includes this critical security patch, so it restricts overlays in the same way as does Android Oreo.We understand that custom theming is an important capability for some users. We will take your feedback into consideration with any future work in this area.

In other words, the days of using Substratum themes without having to flash a custom ROM are over.

As disappointing as this news might be to power-users, Google has also confirmed it's going to soon give owners of its Pixel phones a toggle to manually enable a dark theme that's currently only accessible when applying certain wallpapers in the Pixel Launcher.

That may not be nearly as extensive as what's available with Substratum, but it could be a sign Google wants to move away from these hacky methods and start introducing proper, out-of-the-box tools that give users more control over how their phones look.

What do you think about Google's decision to end rootless Substratum theming? Sound off in the comments below.

Android Pie Beta hands-on: The best and worst features

Joe Maring

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.

  • And the people that use Substranturn are already p**sed about this.
  • I think it's dumb because I think users should have a choice but if it's truly in response to a security issue and not just PR-speak to get people off their backs, then I at least understand it. I'm on an S8+ so won't be flashing custom ROMs but Samsung's theming engine is surprisingly acceptable for what I care to do with it. I just wish I could apply them in parts as opposed to all or nothing.
  • Good ol Google. Man, I can't stand them sometimes. Them getting around to adding stuff means we'll probably have it in 2025. They do everything slow AF.
  • Let me do what I want with my phone. That's why I prefer Android over Apple.......and that's why I have a OnePlus 6.
  • Phone is yours, do what you like with it.
    Load a custom ROM write your own software.
    But don't expect Google to write Android just for you.
  • 🤦‍♂️
  • Oh wow
  • I'm so disappointed as I just learned about this last year. This is such a disappointment.
  • One more differentiating feature gone. If consumers are forced to compare apples to Apples, they'll buy Apples.
  • Apple is far worse and other than ******* off the people who used Substranturn, Google is way better than Apple plus the majority of Android users (me included) won't care plus we can still do pretty much what we want with our Androids, but hey if you like living in Apple's limited, locked down and restrictive walled garden, good luck with being gouged every year by Apple.
  • Apple iPhone is better.....for privacy, security and 5 or 6 years of update cycle. best customer service.
    better re-sale value.
  • iPhones are overpriced and inferior with their locked down, boring and restrictive walled garden. Android is so much better, more customisation, flexibility and freedom to do what you want with your phone.
  • That's your opinion.
    Myself I prefer Android. You come across as a complete c.unt with no respect for other people's point of view.
  • I respect other people's views, just not those of an
    iSheep or Samsung shill. I apologise if I come off as a complete c**t but I can't stop Apple and was an iSheep until I finally saw Apple for what they really are, a bunch of money grabbing p****s that don't care about their customers and you have to pay for everything with Apple, even for fast charging which is a ripoff.
  • You have to pay to play with any company and Google give you jack for free.
    The pixel ain't cheap and also Google makes heap of money from mining your data from a phone you paid a lot of money for.
    Now too me they seem the same as Apple.,both trying to make money.
    Choose whatever suits your needs but stop trying to too justify your choice and ram the Google pixel 2 is God message down everybody's throat. We all have different wants and needs.
  • For me, the best part of this sorry excuse, including Google's merely reiterated canned response, is still the fact that the current "theme" on Android P is lifted nearly pixel for pixel from a Substratum theme that pre-existed DP 1. Grrrrrr! Innovation is sooooo hard!
  • I'm not sure does this mean launchers like Microsoft launcher Etc will no longer work?
  • This shouldn't affect any 3rd party launchers, i.e MS launcher, Nova, Action, etc
  • It does not mean no more launchers.
  • Yet!
    Don't like the direction Google are going.
    Locking down Android bit by bit in the name of security.
  • Do you think Google will stop is from downloading apps from outside the Play Store? Because that's my biggest concern more than Substranturn as I'm not into rooting my phone.
  • This would mean Chinese Phones without google for me (ok, already have that).
  • I have Chinese phones and still have Google apps on them. I can't image using a phone without Google apps not only that, I can't imagine using anything else other than a Pixel.
  • So I don't speak fluent Google, but "We will take your feedback into consideration with any future work in this area" definitely translates directly to "Piss off," right?
  • I think you translated that correctly.
  • You're wrong. Your Google is actually perfect, you speak it like a native.
  • Wow as much as I sympathise with people who used Substranturn, I'm not bothered as I've never been interested in rooting my Pixel and never will. Still we will at least finally be able to get a dark mode for Pixels soon.
  • That's too bad, rooting is like walking out of a cave you've lived in all your life and seeing the sky, rivers, and fields of grass. With a true firewall, ad-blocking, themeing, titanium backup, ROMs for many things including having security patches your old phone won't get, etc.; there's so much more out there.
  • I don't agree with rooting anymore than I do for jailbreaking as it makes your phone less secure and more volatile. I'd much rather have a secure phone.
  • You don't have to root it, that's the point. Reading helps. And your constant, purposeful misspelling of substratum doesn't mock it's users as you no doubt intend, it just makes you look like an idiot.
  • I wasn't trying to mock it's users if your comment was directed at me, I was actually interested in trying out Substranturn but when I saw the complaints about it on the Play Store in the reviews, I decide against it. It's a shame Google is doing this. I'm not liking the direction Google is going but its not enough for me to stop buying a Pixel so I will stay with the Pixel as I did want to give up the perks of bloat free Android along with the fast updates.
  • You had your friggen phone for only a couple of days and now your a professional pixel owner give it a rest already!
  • F*** you google!
  • This.
  • I'm assuming a routed version will be available?
    If so what's the problem?
  • Rooting isn't a viable option for everyone, unfortunately.
  • Apparently (i haven't used P) it's also blocked for root users, it has to be a custom ROM. Also rooting brings its own issues, so many apps refuse to run, and trying to stay one step ahead just isn't fun anymore with the speed of updates these days, at least not for me. I just want to use my damn phone.
  • Yea, I suppose your both right.
    Probably won't be long until routing is prohibited too.
    Maybe Google could buy Substratum and build it into the UI.
  • I am sad face. This sucks and Google suck. Their motto should be "one step forward, two steps back". I really wish there was a real alternative to Android... Why couldn't Microsoft make the things work? Oreo it is for the foreseeable future I suppose :(
  • Same, sticking with Oreo.
  • Microsoft would never have allowed something like Substranturn on Windows Phone that was even more locked down and boring than iOS and that's saying something. Both Windows Phone and iOS suck.
  • Hi sad face, my name is Alex, nice to meet u
  • I come here for these disproportionate responses to news. *munches popcorn* continue.
  • Right? How good does it feel to mindlessly judge people without any knowledge of who they are or what they need as a person! Stupid people that are different, differences are bad lol.
  • The Pixel version of dark theming is pathetic. Guess I'm never updating after Android P comes out. :-(
  • Others are saying it's embarrassing how close it is to Substratum.
    What phone are you using it on?
  • I like the idea of stock Android and can't say I love all the tweaks from manufacturers like Samsung, but things that Samsung adds on top of Android keep finding their way on to the list of things I actually like. Themes being one of the things on the list. I don't want any crazy themes but I do like a dark UI theme on a bright OLED screen.
  • They're becoming iOS
  • Nope, Android including the Pixel can still do way more than iOS and Google upsetters a few people doesn't change that.
  • You need to get your pixel keyboard fixed!!!
  • Maybe it's a bug that will hopefully be fixed with an update.
  • Right list me these way more things the Pixel can do that Iphone can’t? genuinely I’m interested
  • You just have to look at launchers and what they can do.
    You can transform the look and function of your phone.
    Make it unique and personal.
  • Ok I can name 3 things that a Pixel can do that the overpriced iPhone can't do. Multitasking, file management and downloading apks like ShowBox from outside the App Store.
  • To me that isn’t a big list of things? multi tasking can be done on iOS as I can on iPad but likely not on the iPhone, downloading dodgy apks from outside the store isn’t a pixel exclusive thing that’s a android thing and your risking your own security using them(can be done on a jail broken iphone too) and iOS does have a files management app (might not be as in depth as androids but it’s there) and has been since iOS 11. You told me all the things the pixel does over a Iphone and all you’ve mentioned is all standard android things nothing Pixel exclusive there? I can accept CJBarkers comment on launchers and customisable things the iPhone is never gonna have that but again that’s something your into or your not, certainly my parents etc aren’t and they love iPhones.
  • Ok can your iPhone automatically recognise a nearby song playing? My Pixel can and yeah the things I mentioned are standard Android features but it counts just like the pints you made about iOS which I know about a former iPhone user who's seen Apple for what they really are, greedy, money hungry company. Oh and another And ShowBox is not some"dodgy APK" it's very good and completely safe. 2 more things that are Pixel exclusive are fast updates and being first in line for the latest version of Android and unlimited storage for photos and videos in full resolution you won't get that with greedy Apple as they make you pay.
  • I think the issue is a lot a things that make iOS attractive to some put others off.
    This may be why Google is making their Pixels so like the iPhone and bridging the gap.
  • Showbox, MovieHD APKs are dodgy as hell you only have to look at the popups and the permissions you give those apps! but that’s your call, so the pixel has a fancy version of Shazam? not a deal breaker! you can’t sit and say Apple are money hungry and Google aren’t? are they handing out free cheap phones?
  • ShowBox is proven to be safe and I don't download just any apk, in fact ShowBox is the only apk I've download. I love the freedom that Android gives me and the "Now Playing" feature on my Pixel 2 XL isn't just a "fancy Shazam, it's actually useful and unlike Shazam which Apple stole it's features in iOS 8, none of the data gets sent to Google.i just hope Google doesn't lock down Android to be as boring as iOS, which I'm sure Google won't.
  • Well, that's disappointing. Google should include a color slider to customize the settings and quick settings, at least. I'm so accustomed to OEM themes.
  • and currently am using a rootless Pixel launcher from xda! and i know its a security risk, so i made an informed mistake/decision to install it, fck off Google 😏
  • Loving these fierce responses lol, time to grab the Popcorn.