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Samsung Galaxy S4 stirs questions about Android customization

Can the Android OS be so customizable through fragmentation and app development that it ceases to be Android? Let us know what you think.

The vast majority of reviews for the new Samsung Galaxy S4 conclude that the phone rocks. Several reviews (such as CNET's review of the Samsung Galaxy 4S) go into exquisite detail about the operating system, the hardware, and the tech marvel's various options. The Samsung Galaxy S4 is listed as one of the only true iPhone 5 competitors, preceding the HTC One in user reviews and performance ratings.

Despite all of the information that has emerged about the device, I'm still pondering two questions:

Why was there barely a mention of the OS that comes with the phone (Android 4.2.2) when it was unveiled, and why were so many additions made to the OS?

Looking closer

The latest and greatest version of Android is only the foundation Samsung used to facilitate the phone's customized functions. For example, several options don't include touch interface, including Air View (you hover your finger over certain apps for more information) and Smart Screen (it creates smarter video by monitoring your head movements while filming).

At the Samsung Galaxy S4's unveiling, the OS seemed to be minimized in lieu of the overall performance of the hardware and the multitude of options. I realize this emphasis might be natural given it was a product launch, though I wonder if the omitted hype about the best Android version was directed at Google. On that note, are the non-Android additions simply "part of the new product," or is Samsung proving that the Android platform is too flexible?

The nature of Android

Android gives developers freedom for personalization and allows them to format their applications to the OS in a way that grants more license than Apple. The OS is designed for freedom and grants the developer options for application creation and improvement. At what point in personalizing the system and adding one's own flair, is Android no longer Android? If your answer is, "when it's another operating system," you missed the point; customization of any kind warrants a natural danger to the foundation OS. In extreme cases, the touted OS is no longer a marketable picture of itself and can therefore be ignored or even duplicated.

The overarching question is: Has Android invested too much in customization and pitted its own OS against itself? Most developers would say no, but those are the ones using the system as they see fit. Samsung created a smartphone that is now the 800 lb. gorilla battling it out with the iPhone 5. Its application, usability, and performance were all started with the 4.2.2 OS but was then modified to the point that it's almost unrecognizable. Do such practices help Android or hurt Android? That remains to be seen.

Note: TechRepublic, CNET, and ZDNet are CBS Interactive properties.

About

Joseph Parker has worked in management, supply chain metrics, and business/marketing strategy with small and large businesses for more than 10 years. His experience in development is personal, stemming from his work in mobile marketing and applicatio...

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