Apps

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...

13 comments
Jennah Barnes
Jennah Barnes

The reason I shifted from Apple to Samsung is that Android is easily customizable. But if others think that it should have a different name, it does not matter to me as long as it is still flexible. Got my Galaxy S4 with a great deal at http://www.squidoo.com/s4-galaxy

Samsunk
Samsunk

Does so many changes mean that upgrading phones is a real problem? have tried to get an answer from Samsung on how to transfer data from my S2 calendar to my new S4 calendar...silence. Maybe another reason why the iPhone is popular even though it doesn't have as many features.

bobcash
bobcash

Rather than integrating all the fancy functions into the operating system, why not use stock, unadulterated Android then have the user choose the various functions they want to add. That way when a new version of Android is released, all phones would be able to immediately upgrade rather than waiting for the manufacturer and carrier to integrate all their mods into the system before putting out an upgrade. It infuriates me that carriers include useless apps into the operating system that I cannot delete. They run in the background consuming resources and are never used. Don't get me started on apps running even though they are rarely used.

Knighthawk5193@Yahoo.com
Knighthawk5193@Yahoo.com

I feel that Android being "fractured" and altered at every turn isn't a bad thing at all, if there was just one version, one "plain vanilla" OS that ran on ALL phones then we'd have something to complain about, but variety helps to make things interesting, and the most interesting thing of all is to watch and see what others do with the same code and programming language that you used to creat an OS. And who knows? there could be a "fork" of what you've done that can go on to bigger & better heights, or someone could write code for an app that no one has thought of before....the possibilities re endless! And then there are those that would argue that when things get too varied and "different' you lose the essence of the "core" system, you lose sight of the original intention of what you created,...and WHY you created it! The because of all the differences in what was originally put out there is cannot be called "Android"...or "Windows"...or whatever it is you created originally....

AidanRoberts
AidanRoberts

There's a few points here for me. First, don't fix it if it ain't broke - there's no need for a newer version that isn't new at all, the only reason for a new version is if it does have something to offer that people want and need. I love Android for their innovation and yes customization is a huge plus. It's not the phone's fault if people buy one and can't handle it.

mkottman
mkottman

This isn't about if the S4 is good or bad. The higher level question is if this level of customization is good or bad for the Android platform. At some level of customization, the underlying OS is irrelevant and taken to the logical limit, Samsung could replace Android with its own Linux OS and own the whole ecosystem, just like Apple. I think we would all agree that would be bad for Android, although it could be good for Samsung and might be good for consumers. The consumer side is the most difficult to predict because without knowing how Samsung would manage their own OS it is impossible to predict if it would be good or bad for consumers. In all likelyhood it would end up a mixed bag of good and bad, just like Android and iOS, since all decisions come with tradeoffs. If they didn't, designing the perfect product would be easy.

mike-022
mike-022

I agree that change is freedom and i can say the S4 seem really look nice and i am really very interested to see it personallyn or having it.

Gisabun
Gisabun

So on one hand you have the flexibility in customization of a Samsung Galaxy S4. On the other hand you could end up with an iPhone 5 that has less customization. No brainer. [The iPhone was like all (?) other Apple products. In the Steve Jobs bio Jobs said the consumer basically didn't know squat and was better off to tell them how things are done and that's it. Somewhere around chapter 14. Sort a bit of a communist slant actually.]

lstuart
lstuart

Android was built from the Linux platform where creative thinking and customization are encouraged. If Google started to lock down their OS all phones would have the same problem that apple has NO customization. Every thing would be the same OS no matter what manufacture. Samsung in my option has taken this open source idea and ran away with it. They are giving the consumer what they want and people are recognizing the power that gives them.

Kameir
Kameir

In truth I see it as a double edged sword. One that could help and at the same hurt depending on the outcome/results of the customizations. Samsung, has been seen over time as quite the innovator in a number of its endeavors, however with innovation comes mistakes or the development of new things that are way ahead of its time for people to embrace. I have not yet received my S4 so I base my opinion only upon what I have read or seen, however I believe that the S4 has done the Android market justice. Could a little more innovations been used in the actual design of the physical device? I think it could have. However from what I have seen in reviews and hands on previews, I believe Samsung put all their time and effort in the guts of the device, along with its features. IPhone people are all about features and style, I think Samsung missed the mark on style however I think it knocked the ball out of the park as far as features. Some of the features might seem a bit freaky in truth, with the knowledge that the phone is watching me as I look at its screen. That being said, there are a great deal of other features that it provides that I believe are of great benefit to the user as well as the experience. To answer your question however, I think the only answer will be found in Time. Time will tell us whether or not it has a positive/negative effect on Android as whole.

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

Ditto for developers, as you indicate in the article. Especially as politicians, for years, have said we need more programmers (and other STEM fields) - the freedom of customization should allow anyone and any society to flourish. Create one standard everyone must toe the line for and you lose a lot of freedom, at every level. And noting a coworker, a once-staunch iPhone supporter, migrated to the S4 and citing how iOS hasn't changed over the 4 versions (under two models) he's used, many people do want changes from time to time. Change is freedom.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

Developers complain that it's hard to get apps to work properly on all the different android devices. I think it is a bad thing when people buy a phone and then the app they want doesn't work on it. It creates bad feelings between all parties. That is the bad part of being "fractured". Bill

radleym
radleym

Just a little disingenuous isn't it? Now trying to call the choices programmers make in interface design "fragmentation"? There seem to be those who fix on "Android Fragmentation" and try to make a career out of blowing a minor geek concern into a major consumer problem. That's OK - self deception is fine if that's what you want to do to yourself. But trying to convince us that ANY choice or variation in programming styles or UI choices is fragmentation, and bad for the consumer, is really too much. Let's try to let a little reality seep back into the discussion. OK? And while we're looking at the myths of Android fragmentation, let's also get rid of the myth that many Android programs will only run on one Android version, and also kill the one about developers worrying and fretting about fragmentation - both fallacies have been addressed by developers themselves in earlier discussions on these sites.

Editor's Picks