As a current Galaxy S9 owner, I love the handset but still have major gripes with the overall experience quality. As the Galaxy S10 was released, I knew that there were certain issues that would withstand and make it a beautiful, capable handset I would question just as much as I have with previous iterations.
Samsung devices, unlike those directly from Google, are easily available for subsidized purchase from multiple carriers, making them a more accessible touch-point for the Android platform experience. Unlike Google devices, however, Samsung emphasizes the Samsung experience as a layer over the Android/Google experience that drives it.
The Samsung experience comes with bloatware, an easily staggered experience, and a misconception about exactly what the Android experience is. I write this in hopes that both Google and Samsung stop fornicating and just get married already to change the negative perceptions of the Android platform.
The Android platform has an already tainted reputation. Google has been doing great work recently to change that in the minds of potential customers. Unfortunately, the points of access for the Android experience can be a bit scattered and confusing.
When it comes to actual phone makers, I think it’s safe to say that more people will associate Samsung with mobile phones than Google. Until a few years ago when Google decided to associate its name more with its mobile software, most people didn’t even know that the Android platform belonged to them. With the new Pixel devices, they attempted to leverage their name as a search engine brand to sell their mobile devices.
Here’s a call-to-action: over the next week ask some people about Android and tell me what gets mentioned more, Pixel devices or Samsung in general (or something else, maybe?) and let me know on Twitter.
While a brand like Samsung seems like a veteran in the game, Android/Google/whichever has more prominent associations can seem like a new competitor; one still warming up or figuring itself out.
Easy device access matters immensely for the platform because our phones are no longer things we pick up only when they ring. I think it’s safe to say many of us actually hate when it does that ringing thing (text me!!).
Our phones are a major part of our lives. If you had a choice between leaving your wallet or your phone at home, I believe you would gladly leave your wallet behind unless you were on a digital cleanses.
Our phones are more important than they’ve ever been before. This is why access matters so much. We need to feel them. We need to see them. We need to play with them. They are no longer just a thing we passively purchase for the sake of utility. They are, in essence, extensions of ourselves, and who we choose to ride with is a part of our social identity.
Samsung will continue to beat Google at the literal touch-point because people know of Samsung stores where they can experience their phones, people can see Samsung’s latest devices in any of their carrier stores, helping build a positive brand association even if simply for the opportunity to touch one and take a selfie with.
Quite simply, it’s easier to find a flagship Samsung device by accident than it is to find a flagship Google Pixel device on purpose.
Due to this access, people often experience Samsung devices and think, “Ah, this is Android!” The reality of it, however, is that what people are swiping on and taking selfies with is visually and operationally a Samsung experience simply running on the Android platform.
This presents Google with a bit of an issue.
Google started off Android with pure, vanilla Android experiences like the G1. For growth, they fragmented their software and put it on devices from many different manufacturers — often on handsets of questionable quality — leading to the associations between their mobile brand and poor quality. It seems like the Pixel was supposed to come in and battle that perception. Instead, it’s another addition to Android’s already extensive list of devices that are hard to keep track of.
This presents Google with two options: either keep pushing Google hardware — which is really just the vehicle for the software experience — or put their software into Samsung’s hardware, uninhibited by Samsung’s performance-impacting overlay experience, allowing both Samsung’s hardware and Google’s software to perform better in their respective departments at a consumer value-point.
I argue that without truly joining forces, Google will continue to play catch up to Samsung’s devices simply because they are easier to access.
Google devices are in fewer stores, meaning people are less likely to see them, making people less likely to think about them, giving people fewer experiential reasons to remember them, and can give potential customers — especially those who are not with Verizon, which is the only carrier offering the Pixel devices — even less reason to care.
One might argue that the Pixel should be in more places, making them easier to access. In an ideal financial scenario, this would still only help sell more Pixel devices. Google’s problem is far larger, however.
Google’s problem is that too many consumers perceive Android negatively. So while they’re pushing all of the good with the Pixel, there are still far too many under-performing Android devices on the streets and still in production. This is why I believe they should let Samsung do the talking for hardware.
Hardware Design Matters
Samsung’s mobile division offers some of the most beautiful handsets in the business. Wait on a line or stand on the subway and witness someone pull out one of Samsung’s latest phones and you’ll feel drawn toward their smooth designs, vibrant screens, and elegant minimalistic front-facing designs.
Google’s devices, on the other hand, aren’t as gorgeous. If you compare the Pixel 3 designs to those of the Galaxy S9, you’ll find the S9 to be a striking win over the Pixel 3 in design. Witness someone pulling out a Pixel device and you might think, “Ha, that’s… different.”
The takeaway is this: while Google is fawning over its primary concern — it's Android software experience — it’s looking at hardware as a mere vehicle for that software, like when I use salads as a vehicle for the dressing. Because of this, they’ve put less time, energy, and scrutiny into the design process while Samsung is busy making arguably the most beautifully designed handsets in the mobile market.
While Samsung continues to pull people in with their gorgeous displays, well-designed handsets, and new camera setups, owning one of their devices can be a bit of a drawback because of their additions to the Android experience.
Google has done excellent work with their software. They’ve made their experiences across their vanilla Android operating system clean, intuitive, fast, and smart, feeling like they’ve approached software from a customer-centric standpoint.
On the contrary, while Samsung has made changes to the software on their devices, many of the changes feel like they started not with the customer in mind, but their brand instead.
If you do a search for “bloatware” you might get a sense of the problem is. Top searches will show that a lot of people ask about bloatware on Windows operating systems. Windows is a major culprit of bloatware, too. They’re like the M. Bison of bloatware, if I may use a Street Fighter reference here.
If you’ve purchased a new Windows PC you might notice it’s loaded with a ton of apps you have never used and don’t have any plans of using, no matter how persuasive an argument is presented to you.
Do you know who else blindly pushes bloatware because it’s branded and believes everyone who purchases their devices should care about it? Samsung.
Samsung devices are sent out loaded with bloatware intended to wow you, draw you into the Samsung ecosystem, and make you dependent on these particular apps to function day-to-day.
To sign up for many of them, you need to go through a time-consuming process — as few minutes as that may be — to dump yourself into Samsung’s ecosystem where they try to sell you themes, wallpapers, and countless other things.
The greatest offender of Samsung’s bloatware issues and customer annoyance? Bixby.
Bixby was introduced in April of 2017. Its purpose is to act as a personal assistant. Very few people — at least in a well-aware, American market — love Bixby. And Samsung knows this, which is why they’ve even dedicated a physical button on handsets to activate Bixby.
I’m sure they passed this off in a board meeting (and to customers) as making Bixby convenient to activate. The reality feels more like they figured if you couldn’t like Bixby on purpose, you’d be forced to like it by accident as you hit and held the button while trying to get your phone out of your pocket or get a better grip on it.
This results in you inadvertently activating Bixby, which takes over your screen and asks you to sign in to your Samsung account.
Show of hands, how many of you have Samsung accounts for anything other than being able to download Android beta software early?
Samsung’s greatest offense, personally, is in their camera software. Samsung, with the Galaxy S10, put out a phone with 5 cameras (2 up front, 3 in the rear) which they did to get consumers to believe that more cameras mean better photo quality.
As someone who has hacked their phones in the past after being dissatisfied with older Samsung device software, I’ve found that the over-saturated, somewhat cartoonish-looking photo quality was a result of their software, not the camera hardware.
Right now, you can find countless posts and videos about loading the Google camera — customized versions of the current camera enhancements Google is boasting about with the Google Pixel — to use on the latest Galaxy devices. The difference is evident from the first shot. Zoom in on details of the photos and you will find even more reason to Google, “Can you uninstall Samsungs native camera app?”
Aside from the camera and Bixby, Samsung is loaded with heavy apps no one asked for and uses an overlay system that can easily slow down a Samsung device at a years time if you don’t do a good job of managing your experience.
Google, on the other hand, has kept their apps and ecosystem to a minimum, doing the things that they do very well. Their apps don’t seem half-baked, they don’t feel like they’re meant to pull you into depths of the Google eco-system you don’t want to swim in and they feel insanely intuitive as if they’re reading your thoughts and coming out with better iterations of your favorite apps.
The Dream Device (Voltron?)
The dream Android device (for me) would have Samsung hardware — in all its beauty — with the nimble, smooth, and constantly updated software of the pure Android experience.
This change would also eliminate the issue many people using non-Google-direct Android devices have of not being able to use the latest version of Android on their device, and being unsure if they will be able to.
Unlike an Apple iPhone — which lets you use the latest version of their software as long as your phone has the storage space and physical capabilities to handle newer features — buying a new Samsung device might leave you waiting months or a year to get a taste of Android’s latest improvements, even if they came a day after release of your new device.
That’s because Samsung needs time to cook up some more branded apps and experiences you don’t need and never asked for that will work on the updated platform. Even then, if you do get the update, your experience will likely be hampered by Samsung putting layers on your experience that will slow down your phone in t-minus 12 months or less if you’re really unlucky.