Most Android OEMs are still learning what it means to be a software and service provider, but I do not agree that they have no way to differentiate themselves.
An Android OEM can completely define the software and hardware experience on his devices. If he wants to stay compatible, he needs to pass the Android Compability Testsuite of course. But even then the final OS can look and feel very different from other Android-based systems.
I've owned four Android devices, and used a lot more. Three were Google branded, and were awesome. My current phone is an HTC Sensation 4G, which is awful. I don't know that I can blame Sense and HTC for all that sucks about this phone, but I miss my Nexus One pretty much daily. I'm eagerly awaiting the Nexus 4, because it'll only cost a little more than I can sell my Sensation 4G for, and will return me to living in a pure Google Android experience.
I want less OEM customization because the OEMs break the OS and make it less pleasant. Even if I couldn't sell my current phone to recoup some of the cost, I'd probably still buy a Nexus 4. The friction of using an unreliable and quirky phone has a cost that I consider too expensive. So, I regret buying a device that doesn't have a pure Android OS build, and I'm very unlikely to make that same mistake again.
If you decide that you want to license Google's Apps for Android for your device, then Google will try to use all its power to prevent you from using a competing technology like NFC. That is how software licensing works, and who comes out on top is usually the one with the most powerful decision.
But this has nothing to do with Android or the Compability test suite. It also does not interfere with any plan to use a unique look&feel. You don't have to license Android.