Samsung, Stop Putting Trash in My Notification Tray
There is more we care about beyond the extra swipe
There is one thing I love about getting Nexus phones, and that’s the wonderful feeling one gets when setting them up. Why? It’s hassle free, fast, unobtrusive. It launches you right into the experience, no questions asked.
The same can’t be said about Samsung phones. While I reckon that TouchWiz as a ROM has truly been getting better, some of Samsung’s more pervasive practices remain — and to make things worse, said practices spread to other OEMs as well. The setup process of Samsung phones is a stark contrast to that of Nexus devices, especially if you have a carrier device. Instead of being thrown into a launcher to explore, your first 5 minutes are met with notifications from various Samsung applications urging you to try them, and Samsung apps you’ll never use updating in the background through the Galaxy App store, murdering performance in the process. If you have apps like Lookout pre-installed, expect even more nagging.
And this is what I find most obnoxious — the nagging, the undesirable suggestions, the constant bombardment of unwanted messages that I couldn’t care less about. Since I am an enthusiast, it doesn’t take long for me to find the ad-pushing cancer and disable it like the illness it is. Yet I am still exposed to the practice when I set up new phones and ROMs, and through friends and family who use Galaxy phones; then hear their frustration, that of a regular user.
My girlfriend is currently running CM12.1 on a Galaxy Note 3 (SM-N900). She was not happy with the S-Pen support on that ROM, so she asked if I could make the S-Pen better.
I quickly flashed a TouchWiz ROM for her, and not an hour later she was begging me to flash CM12.1 on it again. To her, a casual user, multi-window and even the S-Pen are not worth the compromise that bloat brings, particularly on a phone that is not quite as powerful as Samsung’s latest, and especially after experiencing a cleaner Android. There is no doubt in my mind that the Note5, for example, owes much of its performance prowess to the Exynos 7420 and not Samsung’s optimizations, even when much of the bloat of old disappeared.
This year, the main issue we’ve seen across OEMs and their software UX is push notification ads. We’ve seen them from reputable manufacturers — big ones like Samsung, HTC and Sony. Smaller ones, like ASUS, have also been overly intrusive (the ZenUI is so bloated that it deserved an article of its own). HTC’s BlinkFeed ads came under fire once they began feeding the Fantastic Four film posters to users — which is ironic considering that movie flopped harder than the M9. Sony, too, sent out notifications about movie posters, this time in the form of custom themes one could install — while intrusive, the ad at least offered extra value in the form of a theme, and opt-outs helped after accepting the Xperia Lounge EULA.
Now it’s important to understand why these push-notifications are not OK. It is not an arbitrary whim by those who complain about an extra swipe to the side every now and then, but a problem dating years back. Google amended its Play Developer Program Policy over two years ago to prohibit ads in the status bar. The amendment reads (emphasis added):
Apps and their ads must not display advertisements through system level notifications on the user’s device, unless the notifications derive from an integral feature provided by the installed app (e.g., an airline app that notifies users of special deals, or a game that notifies users of in-game promotions)
Samsung is no stranger to this. Their “Samsung Push Service” is not just for adding unread counts to app icons, as the annoying background process likes to deliver ads about all sorts of things — sometimes useful, sometimes not. While I appreciate learning that I could claim $50 by activating Samsung Pay when I am rooted and Samsung knows it, I don’t appreciate the other ads that just see me as a money cow.
“When it comes to these ads, most casual users just sit there and take it”
But it’s not just this kind of trash on my tray, there is also nagging. For example, on my Note 4, Samsung kept nagging to me about LMT Pie Controls, saying it was a potentially dangerous application, and prompting me with a disable button. I think we all know which process ended up disabled instead; I willingly gave up my warranty to use software like LMT Pie Controls, so the last thing I need is Samsung telling me I am doing the wrong thing while it sends me promotions I can’t possibly claim.
Yet there is another consumer that I care about as well — my girlfriend, my mom, my un-savvy friend. If and when they receive these ads, they are helpless: they don’t know how to block the notifications, as straightforward as Android has made the process lately.
They are afraid to disable the process involved, as they don’t know which consequences such action might bring. In many cases, all they can do is sit there and take it. Maybe they’ll get fed up, maybe they won’t, but either way this is one of the things that gives Android a bad image.
Phones like the ZenFone 2 also show how awful this trend has become. As much as I appreciated the hardware (for the price), the ZenUI’s bloat left a bad taste in my mouth. Comparatively, Galaxy phones (and especially those from carriers) come with their own suite of applications that also send notifications. For example, the Peel Smart Remote app in Samsung devices, which sends out TV series promotions.
Ultimately, there is an implied contract in place, and these companies are selling us devices that they then use as advertising platforms. They are selling us these phones at full price, with no mention of these practices — Samsung conveniently leaves out bloatware from its commercials, of course. Companies like Amazon at least have the “decency” (if you could even call it that) of telling you that their cheaper device is going to be riddled with ads, whereas companies like HTC prey upon the unknowing consumer who bought into their latest phones. Considering the M9 drama and situation HTC got itself in with it, I think that’s borderline disrespectful to both loyal customers and clueless consumers.
The problem is not the few extra swipes throughout the day, but the involuntary nature of it all.
So this hurts not just the enthusiast, but also the general use, and thus the platform as a whole. I’d argue that my problem with the notifications is not so much the need to incorporate a few extra swipes throughout my day, but the involuntary nature of it all. The violation of trust that comes with this issue does not help Android, only the interests of the perpetrators at the expense of an Android user experience. The same goes for apps of all kinds, but when you pay $700 for a smartphone, the issue intensifies. Putting obtrusive advertisements in core services of the phone should never be tolerated… especially if they are there to tell you that you missed out on $50!