The Hills Are Greener: Software Upgrades and Ethics

The Hills Are Greener: Software Upgrades and Ethics

Feb 13, 2012

Is it ethical for an Android phone manufacturer to hold back a later software update in favor of their own software? This was a question on my mind when I was upgrading my Samsung Captivate to Ice Cream Sandwich recently. Samsung has ICS developed for the Galaxy S line of phones, and have source code released. It can be compiled and works perfectly fine on the phone – there are multiple ICS roms available. The reason it’s not going to be officially released? Samsung can’t put TouchWiz on it. This appears to be the truth – there’s only about 6 megabytes of ROM space left after installing it.

This just seems wrong. After all, Samsung really just wants to promote TouchWiz, their customized Android experience, not give users the latest version of Android. With most apps supporting the latest release, Gingerbread, this means that the outdated OS shouldn’t be a problem, and the hardware should be outdated well before the OS is an issue. However, maybe this is more innocuous than it seems. Maybe they honestly believe that they provide a superior experience to stock Android, and don’t want to release an OS version without it. Anecdotally, advanced users seem to reject TouchWiz en masse – many custom roms exclude it entirely. Plus, even regular users don’t get the choice to decide which they prefer: stock Android or TouchWiz Android.

In fact, I wonder if the constant re-skinning and re-developing of Android is to blame for the myriad of issues with Android hardware. Despite Android having a stock experience to go on as well, there’s still so many other alternate software implementations. Based on this Engadget article on the launch of the Motorola Atrix, minor hardware and software implementations require massive new amounts of testing. Even new firmware upgrades require extra testing. This is probably a good thing for users, but it slows down the process of updates so much that it’s no wonder that users are constantly left behind thanks to all the bureaucracy. With so many phones to develop and test, is there any wonder that there are so few truly great Android phones?

Apple may have the right idea here with the iPhone. Focus on a limited number of models – their lower-end models are already developed, and they release one new phone a year – and really only redesign it every other year. That, and their control of the software experience, instead of having to essentially play to the carrier’s whims, makes for an easier software update experience. Users can reasonably expect their phone to last them for their contracts, whereas Android phones are outdated from the day they go on sale. It just does not need to be this way. The carriers and manufacturers need to streamline the hardware and software development process, and not be afraid to keep their users happy, even if that means ditching the customized experience when necessary.

Samsung Reports the Galaxy S and Galaxy Tab Won’t Get Ice Cream Sandwich…Officially

Samsung Reports the Galaxy S and Galaxy Tab Won’t Get Ice Cream Sandwich…Officially

Dec 29, 2011

The Galaxy S line of phones and the Galaxy Tab, one of the first mass-market Android tablets, may be old news, but there are still millions of users with these devices (this author included) and Samsung has at least seen fit to upgrade these devices to Gingerbread. However, with Ice Cream Sandwich rolling out, it appears as if Samsung cannot or will not be putting the latest tasty Android treat into these users’ hands.

The problem appears to be partially self-inflicted; namely, TouchWiz is the problem. The devices appear to lack some of the space for both Ice Cream Sandwich and for TouchWiz customizations that Samsung wants to offer. In an attempt to have their cake and eat it too, Samsung apparently wants to try and emulate some ICS enhancements by offering them through the Market to Gingerbread-toting Galaxy S/Tab users. It’s not Ice Cream Sandwich, but it is at least a gesture.

However, here’s the dirty little secret: Ice Cream Sandwich can fit on these devices. Enterprising Android hackers have gotten early builds of Ice Cream Sandwich running on devices like the Samsung Captivate. The catch of course is that they don’t feature TouchWiz or any other Samsung customizations; of course, advanced users may be more likely to want to ditch them for a stock experience, using their own preferred launcher instead of TouchWiz, and ditching any unnecessary Samsung apps.

So, basically, Samsung is going to be depriving users of the latest pure Android experience, because of their own attempts to improve on it. These attempts can easily be removed by users enterprising enough to hack their devices, but users having to hack their devices and violate their warranties in order to get the best experience with their phones seems paradoxical. Of course, who knows – Samsung could definitely find a way to get TouchWiz working with ICS given the space concerns. Or, they could decide that giving users the stock experience as Google intended is the way to go. However, the big manufacturers feel like they have to apply their own interfaces to their phones for better or for worse, so expect TouchWiz to live on, even if it means limiting the number of users getting the latest Android updates.

Samsung Debuts Galaxy S Wifi 4.0 and 5.0

Samsung Debuts Galaxy S Wifi 4.0 and 5.0

May 3, 2011

Samsung are announcing two new products aimed at consumers who want a smartphone, but without the phone.

The Samsung Galaxy S WiFi 4.0 and 5.0 are Android-powered, handheld computing devices that look set to provide the perfect solution for the consumer who wants an entertainment device capable of playing music, video and games, surf the web and send email via WiFi without committing to a contract. In essence, it’s a smartphone, minus the phone. For some of us, that’s perfect.

I used to carry around an iPod touch with a pocket router and 3G USB modem just so I could have all the power of an iPhone, but without the costly AT&T contract to go with it. It was a cumbersome solution that didn’t always work, but when it did, I was quite happy. These days, I could never imagine going back to that. I have a contract I’m happy with and an Android-powered smartphone that does everything I need, but I have no doubt that there are still those like me out there who would be very interested in these new devices.

With two variants, boasting 4-inch and 5-inch screens, the devices are meant to have all the power of their smartphone brethren through the virtue of their 1GHz single-core processors. Their displays rely on the mDNIe image engine technology to ensure stunning video and image quality. In addition to the 1GHz processor, the features of the Galaxy S WiFi include 8/16GB memory configurations with a microSD slot for plenty of expandability and a built-in camera capable of shooting HD video and images.

Running on Android 2.2 “Froyo” with the possibility of upgrading to 2.3 “Gingerbread,” you get access to the more than 150,000 apps available on the Android Market, as well as Google Mobile Services, such as Gmail, Google Talk and YouTube. The Galaxy S WiFi even features integrated GPS support for use with Google Maps and other directory services. You also get Samsung’s Social Hub, allowing you to simultaneously post messages and pictures to Flickr, Facebook and Twitter. As well there’s, VoIP for voice and video chat through Qik.

Even if you never leave the house, these devices seem perfect for playing games and surfing the web. Looks like the iPod Touch is finally getting a serious competitor!

Currently, there’s no word on pricing or when the devices will come stateside, as they are only available outside the U.S. Let’s hope they make it here very soon.