Earlier today, Samsung revealed that it won't update the Galaxy S, its most successful smartphone to date, to the latest version of Android. You might shrug and dismiss that as just more evidence of Android's inherent fragmentation or the need for buyers to beware, but I take grave issue with it. This is a decision based not on technical constraints, as Samsung would have you believe, but on hubris.
Consider, firstly, that the Galaxy S sold 10 million units within its first seven months on the market and was recently nudging up against the 20 million mark. It wasn't merely Samsung's flagship phone for 2010, it was Android's. As if to confirm that, Google later chose the Galaxy S hardware as the base around which to build the Nexus S, its second Android showcase device. The Galaxy S was a big deal, as close to a halo Android phone as we've had prior to the grunting arrival of the Galaxy Nexus powerhouse.
It's not just ancient history, either. The Galaxy S was still the top Samsung phone you could buy in the US as recently as this September. In light of that fact, Samsung's choice not to upgrade this phone to Ice Cream Sandwich is simply unacceptable. As an owner of a Galaxy S, I would feel betrayed. As a technology journalist, I am appalled.
The Nexus S is receiving ICS over the air right now, while we've seen the hacking community install and run the new OS on older devices like Motorola's original Droid. Samsung protests that there's not enough RAM and ROM on the Galaxy S to operate Ice Cream Sandwich, but the Nexus S precedent tells me that the company could provide an unskinned build of Android 4.0 to users who'd like to upgrade their months-old phones. Unfortunately, however, Samsung doesn't seem to care. The company's failure to support its Android products stretches back to a promised Behold II update that never came, through the Fascinate that got it months late, to today's Galaxy S news.
The problem is a cultural one: Samsung considers its relationship with the consumer to be concluded the moment the sale is completed. Whereas Apple, Microsoft, and other software vendors have learned the value of supporting current users in the hope of enticing new ones, Samsung's attitude remains deeply rooted in its history as a hardware manufacturer. It sees production and R&D costs in one column and it tries to balance them against sales revenue in the other, never raising its gaze to the long-term consideration of whether anyone would come back for a repeat purchase.
People stand in line for the new iPhone because they believe Apple cares. If Samsung wants to start competing with those lines instead of just making fun of them, it had better start caring too.