Samsung Galaxy S and Tab may yet get Android 4.0

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Samsung is reportedly in discussions to offer Android 4.0 software upgrades to its Galaxy S smartphones and Galaxy Tab slates. This news, spotted by The Verge, was reported Tuesday through ajnews in Korea, where Samsung is based. The reports follow last week’s news that Samsung would not be offering the Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) version of Android on the Tab or the Galaxy S; Samsung’s second-best selling smartphone ever.

The reason Samsung offered for last week’s pronouncement had little do with Android 4.0 or the devices in question. Rather, the company’s own TouchWiz software, a customized user interface for Android, wouldn’t be able to fit alongside ICS on the smartphone or tablet. When the news hit, I offered a potential solution:

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.

I don’t expect Samsung to take this route if it does deliver the software upgrade. Instead, it’s more likely the company removes a few apps or features from the software update and instead offers them as installable downloads to free up the needed space for Android 4.0 and TouchWiz.

After using Android 4.0 on an unlocked GSM Galaxy Nexus for the past four weeks, however, I’m not sure there’s much of a need for Samsung’s TouchWiz interface. Google has vastly improved the Android experience; enough so that average consumers can get by without a custom interface. I like TouchWiz; I’ve used it for a year on my own Galaxy Tab, and it helps Samsung differentiate its mobile devices from competitors. But it’s not so good that it should hold up Android 4.0 on devices that are capable of running Google’s stock software.

Regardless of what Samsung decides, there’s still another aspect of the situation that’s unknown: network operators. It’s very possible — indeed, likely, given mobile phone history — that Samsung solves this problem only to have some carriers not support it. Of course, at that point, Samsung can simply point the finger at those carriers, who are really the organizations that own the end-user customer relationship for mobile device users on contract.

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