Groundhog Day: Why the Samsung Galaxy S5 is just another Android device

Summary:After the wait and the anticipation, Samsung has produced... another Android smartphone. But you've read this article before, haven't you?

Editor's Note: The original version of this article was published in March of 2013. It has been updated with virtually no refreshed content. Rest in peace, Harold Ramis.

I was hoping with the Galaxy S5 release announcement yesterday we'd see some really innovative, disruptive stuff coming from Samsung. But what we got instead was just another Android smartphone . Just like the S4 and the S3 that came before it.

groundhog-day-bill-murray-in-car

Maybe I am jaded. Maybe I've been playing with these devices for too long. Or maybe the Android arms race has now escalated to the point where product differentiation has been reduced to "who's first to integrate the latest hardware components."

I have  not been a user of an Android smartphone for some time now. I now have an iPhone 5s on Verizon for personal use and a Nokia 920 Windows Phone 8 device on AT&T as my business phone.

But I am always observing the progress of Android smartphone technology, if only because I continue to use Android tablets ( I own a Nexus 10 , among other devices, such as two Kindle Fires) and there is always a chance I may reconsider my position and go back to an Android device as my personal phone.

After all, the platform continues to evolve.

With the release of the Samsung Galaxy S5, however, I've come to the conclusion that it would take a majorly disruptive effort by Google and the OEMs to get me back as a smartphone customer. 

It's like we've seen this all before. We've lived it all before. Hell, you've read this article before.

Sure, I'll continue to buy Android tablets in order to follow developments with the OS and keep pace with the industry. I'll also continue to do the same with iPads as well as with Microsoft's Surface. That's a no-brainer, considering that with Wi-Fi only devices, there's no carrier commitment and you're not tied at the hip to the thing all day long. 

However, a smartphone is a commitment. Not only do you need to carry it all the time, but at least here in the United States, the major wireless carriers require two-year contracts in order to provide smartphones at a subsidized price level.

One has to have a trusted and intimate relationship with one's smartphone. Without being particularly excited about the technology, it's hard for me as a smartphone user to justify going back into the Android ecosystem.

The Galaxy S5, much like the the Galaxy S4 (and the Galaxy S3) that came before it, it seems to me, was created in part to address Samsung's need to become increasingly independent of Google from a software differentiation standpoint.

This includes a gradual move to more homespun solutions like Tizen, which is now being incorporated into their Galaxy Gear line of smart watches .

In addition to independence from Google's implementation of Android, the creation of the Galaxy S5, like the S4 that came before it, is part of a critical path in Samsung's device evolution towards becoming 100 percent vertically integrated, and reducing their dependence on external component suppliers.

Sounds a lot like what Apple is doing, right? Groundhog Day.

Like the S4 that came before it, the Samsung Galaxy S5 represents the integration of even more of the company's own home-brewed hardware components, such as their line of  Exynos SoCs  into mass-market smartphones.

This has nothing to do with bringing excitement, innovation and value-add to the end-user. This is purely an economics and margins play.

Please don't interpret this as a negative. I believe vertical integration is an important part of any device manufacturer's recipe for overall success.

But as my Editor-in-Chief and colleague Larry Dignan pointed out a year ago, Samsung's directions, translation and cloud storage features are simply duplications of what Google has in their native Android implementation already. It's very hard to say that this is actual differentiation and value-add.

It would certainly not surprise me if Samsung, along their their increasingly deviated Android build and default applications, built out their own App Store to compete with Google Play, just as Amazon has done with their own Android implementation on the Kindle Fire.

So yes, the Galaxy S5, like the S4 (and the S3) that came before it is a nice piece of hardware. But at the end of the day, it's just another Android phone, and one that is only distinguishing itself in component integration and ecosystem (albeit duplicated) land-grab.

But exciting? A product I want to use and make a contract commitment to? No. 

Is the Samsung Galaxy S5 more Groundhog Day, or legitimate innovation in the smartphone space? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Smartphones, Android, Mobile OS, MWC

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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