Samsung has been criticized for years for its bloated version of Android once dubbed "TouchWiz". While There has been a name change to "Samsung Experience" it's still the same software underneath. It has reduced it's bloat and crapware lately, however, the bad reputation and criticism still stand. So why would I go as far as compliment it with calling it the "true stock Android"?
It's not a compliment but a conclusion.
What is Android?
Let's go back for a minute and take a look at what Android actually is. Stock Android, per definition, is the pure vanilla variant of Android, officially called the Android Open Source Program (AOSP). This is the version of Android that ships with many different handsets, and more famously Nexus and Pixel devices. The issue is that we are starting to see two different stock Android experiences, one of them being the Pixel software from Google and the other one being AOSP, also from Google.
To us, tech-enthusiasts, stock Android is what "Android" is to us. When someone mentions Android, we think of Google's latest Pixels and their software, not of Samsung, LG, HTC or whoever else that happens to make their own version of Android. It's imprinted into our brains like an obvious thing, however, mentioning Android to the average consumer may bring different, unexpected reactions.
We are a minority.
If you're a tech-savvy person, you might be familiar with the question "Should I get a Samsung or an iPhone?" and while it's definitely an annoying way of asking for advice, it surely represents the general consumer very well. The average Joe doesn't know better than calling Android phones "Samsungs" and the term "iOS" is just an annoying pop-up that asks them to update to the latest version of something they have no idea of what it is. To them, Android is the most familiar version of it and that's most likely Samsung's TouchWiz.
Let's face it. We are a minority and we are overwhelmed by people who do not know anything about Android as an operating system.
If you'd ask me, I'd never respond that TouchWiz is the Stock Android. However, if you get in depth on the matter, to the billions of people out there, Android is essentially Samsung, not AOSP. Go ahead and ask one of your co-workers with an iPhone and they'd have absolutely no idea what stock Android is. If you tried to explain it to them, they might get it, depending on how intelligent they are, but that doesn't change the fact that there are still loads of people out there that have no idea what you're talking about. And that's fine.
It's not wrong to not know.
Why would your grandma know what stock Android is? Does she have any use of that information? You're probably the one choosing the smartphone for her if she has one at all. It's not wrong to not know what stock Android is and it's not wrong to think that Samsung is Android. According to IDC, Samsung owned 23.3% of the global smartphone market share in 2017Q1 and that percentage would be far greater if you excluded Asian countries and focused on the western world. A big part of the "other" category are extremely cheap handsets produced by Chinese companies for second- and third-world countries.
While it's true that the statement that Samsung is Android is wrong, the reverse is not and people do not understand that it is not vice versa. It's a one-way connection which makes us geeks boil inside when it's connected the other way, just like puzzles.
If you take a quick look at Samsung's strategy lately, it is not to please the hardcore fans who swear by Samsung's brand. Samsung has taken the same approach as Apple and it's focusing on the consumer, not the enthusiast. The interface in TouchWiz is bright and colourful as opposed to the toned down and dark (if enabled) motive in OnePlus's OxygenOS. OnePlus is an enthusiast brand which tries to please blogs like ours and Reddit users around the world which makes it natural to include a dark theme and a tonne of customisation options.
While Samsung does have a theming engine, it's far from being advertised as one of the top features of their devices. I, for instance, love that feature and I could actually see it as a plausible reason to buy one of Samsung's devices. Samsung advertisements usually feature things like the camera, the headphone jack, wireless charging and other things that the consumer might be interested in. The software is not important, or at least not seen as important, to the regular consumer. They don't know how important it is.
It's not a bad thing
Once again, it's important to point out that it's not a bad thing. TouchWiz is getting better and better, and what we consider stock Android is slowly fading away with Google's own Pixel software which becomes more and more different from AOSP for each day that goes by.