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Summary:

The Samsung Galaxy S smartphone and Tab slate won’t see an upgrade to Android 4.0, leaving owners to decide between buying a newer device, sticking with Android 2.3 or installing a custom build of Google’s latest mobile operating system. Here’s a suggestion to make everyone happy.

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The second best-selling Samsung smartphone in history won’t officially see an upgrade to Android 4.0, leaving owners to decide between buying a newer phone, sticking with Android 2.3 or hacking on a custom build of Google’s latest mobile operating system. The reason Samsung won’t be offering such an upgrade? According to Samsung Tomorrow by way of The Verge, Samsung’s own customize TouchWiz user interface is the answer, which sounds more like a lame excuse instead of a valid explanation.

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab — a 7-inch slate I’ve been using daily for more than a year now — is also on the “won’t see Android 4.0″ list, says the Samsung Tomorrow blog. I can understand we’re looking at a smartphone and a tablet that debuted in 2010, and there’s a limited shelf life for future updates on mobile devices. What I don’t understand, nor accept really, is that the issue is Samsung’s user interface software. Even worse, I think Samsung is shooting itself in the foot. Here’s why.

  • You have to treat current customers well. On one hand, I can see Samsung’s stance if it chooses not to bring Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) to these older devices. From a financial standpoint, those handsets and tablets are already sold, and Samsung has earned all the income it’s going to from the sale of such devices. To bring Android 4.0 to the Galaxy S and Galaxy Tab, the company would have to invest time, effort and money to deliver the software. It has no financial incentive to do so. But customers don’t care about that, and could decide to buy a competing product if they feel slighted.
  • Software add-ons should never stop product advances. Some people like TouchWiz and some don’t. The same could be said for HTC’s Sense. But both are user interface add-ons atop Google Android. and neither should be the primary cause of stopping an Android update. HTC once fell into this same trap with Gingerbread on its Desire handset, and eventually compromised by removing some custom apps to make room for the update.
  • This isn’t a technical issue, it’s a bad decision. My first thought about this situation was that perhaps the Galaxy S and Galaxy Tab didn’t have the horsepower to run Android 4.0. Yet the Nexus S, made by Samsung, will get the ICS software  and it has very similar specifications to the Galaxy S in terms of memory, storage capacity and processor. And I’m willing to bet the Android enthusiast community will have a custom build of Android 4.0 for both devices, if it doesn’t already. How sad is it that external developers can make this happen, when Samsung can’t?

Will most people who own a Samsung Galaxy S or Galaxy Tab be in an uproar over this? Probably not, as they’ll likely never know about Samsung’s decision nor will they be thinking about Android 4.0 for devices that are 18 months old. But the decision sets a bad precedent going forward and suggests that Samsung is more concerned with selling newer hardware than supporting existing customers and their current devices.

My suggestion would be a compromise of sorts: Offer a stock version of Android 4.0 for these devices with the customer understanding and accepting the fact that the TouchWiz interface will no longer be available after the upgrade. Unless there’s a real technical reason for the lack of an Android 4.0 upgrade — something Samsung should make clear — this might be the best answer. It wouldn’t cost nearly as much for Samsung to develop and test, while consumers thinking Samsung has let them down might be more accepting of the situation.

  1. ICS has already been ported to the Galaxy S already by some developers on XDA. Its my daily driver, only thing I can find that isn’t working is 720p video recording.

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  2. I’d be more than happy with a non-TouchWiz ICS for my Vibrant. T-Mobile Vibrant users never even got Gingerbread, so the lack of an ICS update is not surprising. My Vibrant wasn’t even usable until I installed a custom Froyo ROM that resolved the lag issues, and the phone’s GPS still doesn’t work satisfactorily. That, combined with Samsung’s vague promises for Android upgrades over the life of this phone have soured me on their products.

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    1. Yes, when we forget the past we continue to repeat it…Samsung lost me as customer last year after all the broken words…I just purchased the LG LED 3D TV whereas I had a Samsung and was going to get their TV and HTIB, never buy Samsung again. The CEO needs to take the honorable path and resign!

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  3. Joshua Goldbard Friday, December 23, 2011

    Doesn’t this sort of encapsulate both the virtue and crime of the Android platform? I mean really, on the one hand you have Kevin strongly desiring a new OS version, but Samsung refuses to support it because it will disable their customer interface overlay.

    This is the crux of the issue with Android; the fragmentation of the platform gives an inconsistent experience. Kevin’s demands for the platform are radically different than the vendors expectations for the OS and this results in a dissatisfying experience. It is the illusion of choice that creates this feeling and Apple has skillfully evaded the issue entirely by telling the consumer what they want.

    Two different vantage points, but Apple’s is the one that creates higher satisfaction. Strange that enforcing dogmatic viewpoints about the limits of software would be the prevailing system, but that appears to be the case.

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    1. Can you explain it in layman’s terms?

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    2. Google would be able to get away with this if Microsoft hadn’t proved them wrong. They updated ALL of their launch Windows Phone devices around the world to 7.5 in 6 weeks. 6 WEEKS. And all because Microsoft didn’t allow OEMs to skin or muck around with the OS. I’m sure they’ll all get Windows Phone 8 too.

      Unless you’re getting a Nexus device, you’ll always be getting shafted with updates.

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      1. @Jeff Yeah. MS updated all 5 of their phones since WinMO7 came out about a year ago. And they do not allow custom UI’s. OMG! They had such a difficult time doing that. *rolls eyes*

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    3. ah, yes: accept the true faith and be welcome to the comforting bosom of the church of apple. you’ll be so much happier when you don’t need to consider the ambiguities and choices of secular reality…

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    4. Let’s get this straight. There IS NO FRAGMENTATION OF ANDROID as a platform. A UI isn’t a platform just as with Linux distros … the kernel is Linux and the rest are add-ons. It is not Google nor Android that is at fault here. Samsung put Touchwiz on non-Android phones before Android and it’s how they see themselves making the experience enjoyable or value add for their customers. Just like HTC had Sense UI on WinMO before they put it on Android. The issue is the manufacturers NOT the platform and NOT the primary care taker of the platform … ie. Google.

      Apple has ONE phone .. one … say it with me .. ONE phone to worry about not 100’s. Google could lay the hammer down and say no more UI’s but then Samsung and HTC could stop using it … it’s BETTER if the customers speak on this issue.

      And Kevin should get over it. Apple doesn’t upgrade his laptop for him but puts the software out there. Google has put Android 4.0 out there and the 156 pages in the ICS thread saying how good 4.0 runs on the Galaxy S is proof it works. I mean seriously … these are mini computers … if the manufacturer doesn’t give you an update then go get it. Much like Apple … never seen HP or Dell offer up a Win7 license for those who bought PC’s 2 years ago when Vista was current.

      STOP the WHINING.

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      1. Ben, there’s no reason for me to “get over it.” I use Android 4.0.2 on an unlocked and rooted GSM Galaxy Nexus. And before that I ran every official version of Android plus a few dozen custom ROMs on a Nexus One. ;)

        The point is: you and I may be capable of getting whatever Android version we want to on a phone, but most people can’t or won’t. And the bigger point is that Samsung’s “value add” of TouchWiz is a now a negative since that’s the reason an Android 4.0 ROM won’t fit on 10M+ handsets.

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  4. Surely Galaxy S owners will be due for an upgrade within a couple of months, and once they upgrade, their complaints will be a thing of the past.

    Besides, how long would it take SG S ICS owners before they begin complaining about UI responsiveness issues before upgrading or jumping ship to iPhone anyway?

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    1. Well yes. We can solve it buy *giving Samsung more money*. You do realize that your solution is precisely what Samsung wants, yes? They’re refusing to support the Galaxy S because if they do it’s less reason to upgrade the phone – which is how Samsung makes their money. They’re basically saying “Oh, we already have your money. Support? Screw you, we don’t make money doing that.” They can do this because we’re not their customer. The carriers are. They make money by putting out new phones which the carriers buy and subsidize. Neither of those parties have any interest in making me, the end customer, happy. Yes, I’m the carrier’s customer but what are my choices, really? To switch carriers where I’m going to be treated the same and deal with what are essentially the same policies?

      Of course, I can buy another Android phone and get basically the same treatment again when my contract is up. Or I can go get an iPhone where I *am* the phone vendor’s customer. Gee, which will I do? Hmm….

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      1. Carriers lose money when they have to subsidize. It is carrier’s interest to keep the paying customers on the same phone as long as possible. Samsung will release newer software as soon as all bugs are workout from Android 4.0.

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      2. I hear your frustration, but on the grand scheme of things, it’s a luxury item, a privilege rather than a right.

        How would you really benefit by upgrading to ICS? If you really can’t live with Gingerbread, why haven’t you moved to iPhone already?

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      3. Mitch – I’m under contract. Note, btw, that the Vibrant variation of the Galaxy S never got past Froyo. That’s right, we didn’t even get 2.3.

        Dandycon – You do realize this story is about how Samsung ISN’T releasing 4.0 for the Galaxy S series, yes?

        Carriers don’t lose money by subsidizing me. Do the math… I spend $90/month with T-Mo. A new phone is $200 usually. The unsubsidized price is about $650. So in return for fronting me $450 they’re assured of my $90 for 24 months or a revenue stream worth $2160. If I terminate early, there’s a fee. They WANT me to do the 2 year contract as lock-in and I guarantee you they have allowed for the subsidy in their margins. is it a slight margin hit? Yes. But it’s far cheaper to take that margin hit than it is to acquire a new customer.

        If they don’t upgrade me at the end of the contract I can freely leave them, so they are more than happy to subsidize a new phone every two years… something that they’re less likely to be able to do if the new phone doesn’t have significant advantages over my existing one. One of those? A new OS that they won’t release for my phone.

        Samsung, meanwhile, has zero incentive for me to keep using this phone. They make money by getting me to upgrade.

        TLDR: Both players are incented to have me upgrade every 2 years by buying a new phone. Neither has an incentive to support devices that are close to being out of contract or that are out of contract.

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    2. If you bought a Galaxy S device right when it came out in 2010, you aren’t due to upgrade until Aug/Sept 2012. 10 months is a long time to be using old software.

      The even bigger problem is if security flaws are found in Android 2.3, they will never get fixed after having only a year of software support. That’s pathetic.

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  5. Sebastien Le Calvez Friday, December 23, 2011

    Android is having the sames problems Windows Mobile had in terms of fragmentation. Microsoft learned its lesson with Windows Phone and they got it right.

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  6. This is precisely why I went for Windows Phone a year ago. As iPhone is same ol’-same ol’ and Android seemed to never have their act together no matter what. Windows Phone promised to have lifetime software upgrades and felt a very natural replacement to iPhone. While Android was out of question since I simply don’t have time to tinker, load custom ROMs, and keep fixing it, I just don’t have time in life for such silly things, as pocket device is always supposed to stay a reliable “phone” and not a laptop… Its been over a year and I don’t regret a thing for choosing Samsung Focus Windows Phone now loaded with Mango and especially after reading articles like this.

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  7. here’s a thought. Release an official 4.0 upgrade with all the crapware stripped out. Just warn people that it is basically a stock OS and provide a link to restore back to the old version if they don’t like it. I bet most people wouldn’t even miss the bloatware with all the improvements in ICS.

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  8. ok, let me play devil’s advocate:

    Samsung has sold 10 million+ Galaxy S phones, you expext even 10% of those people to know about “ice cream software”?

    People rarely like change, and if all of a sudden their phone changed overnight to another interface with half the features missing, they would be pretty pissed.

    I think what samsung can do is provide the Open source community with all the required drivers so a vey stable ROM that is easy to install can be produced, so techy folks can install the new light version of touch wiz free software.

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  9. Most people (excepting real gadget freaks) give a dam about upgrades. All they care about is apps that can take care of their needs and Android Market has more than enough of them. Hence Android sales continue to grow. Last heard : 700000 devices a day.

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  10. Actually, isn’t there a big difference here — dual-core versus single core?

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    1. The Nexus S is getting ICS and it has a single core processor, so I don’t believe that’s the issue.

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      1. Ah, right, I was confusing Nexus S with Galaxy Nexus. Forgot the previous Nexus was also Samsung. Although they have halted that update for now…

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      2. @kevinsneel

        The update hasn’t been “halted” however anytime an update is rolled out, they pause after updating a certain % of handsets to make sure there are no issues.

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