Has Samsung's TouchWiz become too complicated?

Chase Bonar
 from Winter Springs, FL
Published: April 25, 2013

There are many software features that add value to a smartphone's interface. The ability to share apps and photos via NFC and SMS first come to mind. The same goes for a battery icon that displays your actual battery percentage. But there is a unique corollary that more software features equates to a better experience. After all, these are phones at the end of the day, and everything else is just a bonus, so why is so much more suddenly so much better?

The "more, more, more" argument is easily applicable to hardware features. More pixels on a display makes text crisper and more enjoyable to look at. More efficient processors increase battery life and reduce our dependence on external power sources. And more money for the next best smartphone typically deems these hardware specifications as "worth it" because we notice the difference. But even this argument has worn itself out with the introduction of such high performing devices that we no longer need to worry about lag or performance hiccups. That's left us the desire for more battery life, and that's pretty much it.

However, here we have an interesting argument being pitched by Samsung. The mentality of this company has always been about "more." Whether by offering almost every smartphone screen size possible, or by developing its Android skin TouchWiz Nature UX to appear in every aspect of their devices, Samsung has clearly decided that the more you can pack inside of a device, the less likely you are to find its faults. In fact, there are no clear faults of the Galaxy S 4 over its predecessor, the S III.

The Galaxy S 4 ticks all the boxes required for a follow-up flagship device. It has a bigger display, faster processor, a larger battery, and an absurdly long list of software features. In fact, all of these features on paper amount to a smartphone that makes every competing device look tame. This is part of the reason why I plan to buy the Galaxy S 4. It seems like quite a value proposition on both hardware and software fronts. I feel the sheer technological overload of features elevates the S 4 into the flagship category with little else to desire. 

But that long list of software features is where I've noticed Samsung may have gone overboard, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little intimidated by all of these features. If you want a thorough run down of the new TouchWiz Nature UX, you can catch Aaron's Software Review here.

Where most can argue that more software tricks add value, features that do not immediately provide value can easily be written off by the average consumer.

The first argument is "I won't ever use these features, so I don't need them." If you're reading this editorial, you're definitely a part of the tech savvy minority, and this argument is less likely to affect you. To me, software features are nice to have; I like having these choices. Likewise, features are only features if they're useful, and the functionality of additions like Air View, Smart Pause, and Smart Scroll has yet to be deterimined in daily practice.

Yet the Galaxy S 4 is not unmanageable. Some could argue it will just take some time to learn. This is why Easy Mode is being marketed so hard as it is, and for the most part, it could serve as the determinant in a purchase if you're worried about all of TouchWiz's knick-knacks.

Easy Mode minimizes the "smart" phone experience by dumbing down TouchWiz into a set of larger icons and enlarged text. Widgets are also displayed differently. TouchWiz's interface is limited to three home screens, initially. Samsung says it's "an easier experience for first-time smartphone users with a simpler layout and bigger icons."

This is a solid marketing tactic from the Korean smartphone maker. Make it easy to learn/use and eventually everyone will know how to, or so they hope.

Likewise, Easy Mode is not a new feature - it's just more accessible now.  A smartphone with over 15 additional software features likely has a steep learning curve and Easy Mode will be more helpful now than ever.

But if Easy Mode is a "feature," then TouchWiz may be too smart. Let's not forget that at the end of the day, all users need to use their smartphones for consistent purposes. S Health, Air Gestures, and Dual Cameras are just extras.

The idea that smartphones have become more complex is fair, but what Easy Mode says about a software is that it's too much to handle if you're not sure what you're doing.

Normally, I'd be able to drop the idea of a software tutorial pretty easily. I'd deem it as necessary for a desktop OS where we are in and out of multiple programs regularly. But as smartphones are edging closer to full-on computer replacements, the software that goes along with it also needs to maintain a sense of familiarity such that core functions like placing calls and sending texts are not neglected. After all, that's what these smartphones do best.

I enjoy choices and additional software features, but not to the point that an interface wears so many hats that it can't identify a competitive advantage. Does TouchWiz Nature UX have a clear advantage over Sense 5.0, or iOS? Well, if you want more of everything, yes. There's no point in arguing that the Galaxy S 4 doesn't have everything it needs to be called the best Android smartphone of 2013. But what are you getting out of a device that requires training to use? It all just seems overwhelming.

I appreciate certain aspects of TouchWiz Nature UX like S Health and Air Gestures. I can actually see myself using these features. S Health would help me keep up with my work outs, and Air Gestures would help me while in the kitchen. But everything else is bordering trivial.

Hit the comments below and tell me your thoughts of the latest version of TouchWiz Nature UX thus far! Does it come across as too much, or just enough?

Image via Android Central.

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