The Samsung ecosystem

In the world of Android, Samsung is regarded as one of the best manufacturers when it comes to hardware. Features such as styli and curved edge to edge screens set their designs apart from the competition. This years Samsung flagship, the S8, follows this superior design trend with its small bezel design. One might expect that the best hardware leads to the best user experience as well. Sadly for Samsung, their continuously horrendous software and insistence on pushing their unwanted ecosystem features tarnishes the user experience. In the world of Android, Samsung is regarded as one of the best manufacturers when it comes to hardware. Features such as styli and curved edge to edge screens set their designs apart from the competition. This years Samsung flagship, the S8, follows this superior design trend with its small bezel design. One might expect that the best hardware leads to the best user experience as well. Sadly for Samsung, their continuously horrendous software and insistence on pushing their unwanted ecosystem features tarnishes the user experience.

Samsung’s bad software is not a new thing. In fact, it used to be way, way worse. Android is an open source operating system, which means all Android phones run the same underlying software than can be changed freely. Android manufacturers try to differentiate themselves in the software space by creating what is called a “skin”. Android skins are widely regarded as inferior to stock Android in performance, user experience and design. Some skins offer features not included in stock android, but that doesn’t make up for the downsides. Samsung’s older devices, starting with the original Galaxy S, run a skin called TouchWiz.

TouchWiz is not just bad due to the poor design decisions, incredibly poor system responsiveness, extremely high ram usage and bloatware.

The worst thing about TouchWiz, is that it ran on the most popular Android phones for years. This might seem odd. Why would a device running such inferior software be the most popular? Marketing is the simple answer. Samsung launched a massive marketing campaign against Apple in order to wage war for market share in the high end smartphone market. Starting with the Galaxy S3, Samsung created many advertisements taking direct shots at Apple in many different ways. When people who were less informed found the user experience to be subpar compared to iPhones, especially when it comes to the fluidity of the operating system, many came to the conclusion that Android was simply a laggy and unpleasant platform. Some people still have this idea, as a bad experience with a device such as the Galaxy S4 still haunts them. This created a significant setback for the public image of high end Android phones as a whole.

Recently, Samsung has realised that their software needs some work. They have renamed their skin to Grace UI and focus on making it a lighter package that still includes their extra features. This change started with the Galaxy Note 7, which had some explosive problems of its own. The S8 is the first samsung flagship to have this new skin. Although the design and system performance has improved, frame drops are still all too common. And then, there’s Bixby: Samsung’s new voice assistant. Samsung saw Amazon Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant, and realized that their failed S Voice platform from their TouchWiz days needed a reboot. It works decently and does an alright job at being a voice assistant. The problem comes when you look in depth at how Samsung tries to push this new platform. The Galaxy S8 and S8+ both include a dedicated hardware button that cannot be used for anything but Bixby. In fact, 3rd party tools that allowed for the button to be remapped have been disabled by Samsung in a software update. Furthermore, Bixby themes are locked behind something called Bixby XP that you can only get by using the assistant. That kind of tactic is typically used in free to play games, and is just sad to see in a device that costs over 750 dollars.

Samsung could have a product that truly inspired if they managed to finally get the software right to match their beautiful hardware. Unfortunately, their current focus is on pushing their own ecosystem rather than making the most optimal user experience.