Last year’s Google I/O saw the launch of the Nexus 4. This year, Google doesn’t seem to have a new phone. Nor do they have a new tablet, media streamer, or any other hardware. This year is all about software and services. But no, not Android itself. It seems like a very uninteresting year at Google I/O 2013. Google, however, did slip in a small surprise.
Samsung’s latest flagship, the Galaxy S4 (SGS4) will be sold by Google on their Play store in a modified version. It will be a pure Android Jelly Bean device, without Samsung’s TouchWiz. Software OTA updates will come from Google, instead of Samsung. This means that this version of the SGS4 will receive prompt Android updates, at about the same time as when Google updates other Nexus devices.
This all sounds great for people who love the pure Google Android experience.
But what about the special features of the SGS4? Things like Smart Stay, Smart Scroll, Air View and Air Gesture? I suspect these features use proprietary Samsung software which they would not want to release source codes for. Since Google would make publicly available the full Android source code for their gadgets, that probably means these Samsung features would not be in the Google version of the SGS4.
It seems like a big pity. You have a very pretty smartphone, stripped bare to a plain vanilla one. It’s not like you’re going to get it at a meaningful discount anyway, as this Google SGS4 will sell for US$648 with 16GB of flash memory. Perhaps a small consolation is that it will be the LTE version.
Now, who would want this phone? Oh yes, those who are after the pure Android experience. However, it would seem to me that all the extra hardware capabilities might not be fully used in an pure Android Jelly Bean ROM.