New Galaxy S flagships are coming, and as is tradition this time of year, I feel like I must bring up an important issue that Samsung seems hesitant to fix — their fragmentation.
Even on their flagship line-ups, Samsung manages to split up its new phones into many variants, each updated separately, and in most cases, disparately too. In the flagship space, this began deeply affecting Samsung’s vanguard with the Note 4 and Note Edge, the latter being an experiment that didn’t get as much attention, didn’t push as many sales, didn’t get the exact same treatment and, sadly, saw less development support too. These things combined lead to a more restrictive user experience, one that makes the expensive upgrades much less enticing.
Samsung had multiple phones with almost equal hardware in 2015, but disparate software updates
With the Galaxy S7, we are hearing rumors of many versions — multiple sizes for both a regular variant and an Edge revision, some leaks suggesting up to three sizes for at least one variant. For a consumer, this isn’t bad. In fact, I love the approach, as it means we will get more options to choose from, in an age where demand has been divided into those who love 5 inch screens and those who love bigger phones. But the problem comes when you factor in the possibility of these multiple phones, in both the S line and the Edge versions, sporting different software — even within the same line-up.
“Some OEMs have been tackling the issue through unlocked phones, fully international variants, and software parity”
It wouldn’t be odd, after all, if Samsung added exclusive functionality or changes to make better use of the extra real estate the bigger phone would have (if there is a company making good use of big screens today, that’s Samsung). DPI, for one, would certainly be adjusted, as Samsung took the leap towards 560 DPI (as opposed to the 640 DPI of the Note 4, which looked awful). Other smaller changes could follow.
The regular variant and the Edge variant would certainly see different software, as the Edge will likely sport the exclusive “Edge features” (which, to be honest, work pretty well on flat screens anyway). All of this could come with the final nail in the coffin — the likelihood of the Exynos being the preferred (though likely not exclusive) processor this time, frustrating the possibilities of seeking faster updates through AOSP-based ROMs.
Samsung’s update game has not improved as much as we hoped it would, even after their commitment to security patches. While many expected this would translate to faster upgrades (and a faster Marshmallow release), it didn’t. We did get an early test leak and a beta, but plenty of OEMs have already beaten Samsung to the punch. The fragmentation of devices only makes things worse, and when you factor in carriers, the whole thing resembles a nightmare antithetical to that of Windows updates. Upon any news of a Samsung update, it’s not uncommon to read “coming to Verizon in [2 years]” in the comments.
UI elements and even features change from variant to variant for no good reason
Moving forward, Samsung needs to realize that this is an issue, and one that its competition has been tackling through unlocked phones, fully international variants, and software parity. All of the Galaxy flagships of 2015 ran the same processor, with the phones released in the second half having extra RAM. The hardware was almost identical, yet updates on those phones are still messy, and they haven’t even fixed the major RAM management issues so far.
At the XDA forums for these devices, you will find many, many ported ROMs, hybrid ROMs, and even ported features, that run flawlessly. Samsung managed to have multiple phones with equal hardware in 2015, yet disparate updates. Now the company will likely have even more variants with equal hardware.
Samsung, do us all a favor and spare us the headache. You were known for saturating the market with more phones than you can support, and while your flagships now get extra attention and meticulous care on the hardware side, the software still has a long way to go. Why not iterate faster? But also, why not update more intelligently? As it stands, TouchWiz still has issues, some of them have remained for years. The multiple software builds with all sorts of odd modifications, from small changes in the notification panels to the settings and even features, only make your flagship experiences more fragmented. I try to argue in favor of its improvements, as do many, but we can only do that so often if you don’t show us how it’s getting better.