I was hoping with the Galaxy S4 release announcement yesterday we'd see some really innovative, disruptive stuff coming from Samsung. But what we got instead was just another Android smartphone.
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 using an Android smartphone for some time now. I passed my Samsung Galaxy Nexus along to my wife, who is perfectly happy with it. I now have an iPhone 5 for personal use and a Nokia 920 Windows Phone 8 device as my business phone.
But I am always watching the progress of Android smartphone technology, if only because I continue to use Android tablets (I own a Nexus 10, among other devices) — and there is always a chance I may reconsider my position and go back to an Android device as my personal phone. Afterall, the platform continues to evolve.
With the release of the Samsung S4, 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. To quote perhaps the greatest blues guitarist in the entire world, B.B. King, The thrill is gone, baby. The thrill has gone away.
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 Windows RT devices like 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.
As with B.B's story of the baby that done him wrong, 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 S4, 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, as my colleague James Kendrick has pointed out in his most recent piece today.
In addition to independence from Google's implementation of Android, the creation of the Galaxy S4 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?
Like the Google Nexus 10, which the company also manufactured, the Samsung Galaxy S4 represents the integration of even more of the company's own home-brewed hardware components, such as their Exynos 5 series SoC, into mass-market smartphones.
This has nothing to do with bringing excitement and innovation 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 points out, 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 S4 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 thrill gone with Samsung's Android devices? Talk Back and Let Me Know.