Samsung Intercept gets Froyo -- so what about the Epic 4G?

Article copyright 2010 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

Samsung Intercept Froyo Android 2.2

Google's latest creation may be Android Gingerbread, but for plenty of Android owners, the focus is still on Froyo. Today, one more phone steps up to the Android 2.2 ranks.

Sprint has just confirmed it's rolling out the Android 2.2 upgrade to its Samsung Intercept starting right now. Like most Android upgrades, the software is being sent out over-the-air in waves; that means it'll reach only a subset of users each day and may take a good few weeks to hit every handset.

[UPDATE (12/20/10): Sprint investigating issues with Samsung Intercept Froyo rollout

Along with Android 2.2, the Samsung Intercept's upgrade includes access to Sprint's navigation utility and a couple of system bug fixes.

Samsung Intercept and the Froyo Rollout Question

So here's the big question: Why is the Intercept getting Froyo while higher profile Sprint phones, like the Samsung Epic 4G, are still waiting in line with no definite dates? On the one hand, the Intercept was released a little over a month before the Epic. In reality, though, I suspect the reason is related to a broader issue.

The Samsung Intercept, you see, runs a relatively stock version of Google's Android operating system. The Epic 4G, on the other hand -- like all Samsung Galaxy S phones -- is loaded down with Samsung's proprietary TouchWiz user interface.

As I wrote earlier this year, baked-in manufacturer UIs can make the Android upgrade process painfully slow. Even with Google's updated software out in the wild, manufacturers have to make their own modifications and bake their custom skins back in before users can get the goods. So while a phone like the Samsung Intercept requires only minor adaptation to get a new version of Android ready, a phone like the Epic 4G requires a relatively massive amount of programming to make it happen. The Intercept, after all, is more or less using the software Google provided, while the Epic 4G is essentially running its own custom version of Android based on the latest release. (Remember: Sprint has actually been testing versions of Froyo for the Epic for some time now.)

To be clear, my suggestion isn't to eliminate manufacturer customizations entirely, but to build them as standalone elements instead of baked-in system modifications. Most of the same end-results could be achieved, and the users would get a far better overall experience -- both in terms of upgrade timeliness and in terms of customization potential. (See my rant "It's time for the baked-in Android UI to die" for the complete call to action.)

Now, will that sort of separation ever actually happen? We'll see. Google seems to be focused on enhancing the base Android interface, reportedly with the hope that manufacturers will eventually feel less compelled to mess with the core UI. But Google has also made it clear that it has no intention in limiting what manufacturers are allowed to do; the entire point of Android's open system, as Google has stated, is that developers are free to tweak it and make it work for their needs.

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For many of us, that means more waiting for now. We can only hope that manufacturers will adjust their approaches as time moves on and start focusing on what's best for their customers -- not only for their company -- with future devices.

In the meantime, you can keep tabs on your phone's Froyo upgrade status with Android Power's Android 2.2 upgrade list. It's always kept up-to-date with the most current info available.

JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. You can find him on Facebook, on Twitter, or at eSarcasm, his geek-humor getaway.

Article copyright 2010 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

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