Kies

Richard writes: 

Why does Samsung hate OTA updates so much? Using Kies sucks.

We feel you Richard. Having to load software on your computer to perform an update seems like a step backwards, and in the wrong direction. And speaking for the minority as a Linux user who can't install most of these desktop suite programs, they do indeed suck. But in some cases, using Kies to update phones is actually a good idea. Read on.

Put away your pitchforks and let me explain. Let's use a US carrier branded Galaxy S II as an example here. It shipped with Gingerbread under TouchWiz, and that offers a unique set of features. A lot of people absolutely love that feature set -- they did sell about a zillion Galaxy S II phones after all. Eventually, Samsung got ICS ready for all those phones, and the carrier gave the green light to roll it out. Maybe it was months too late, but that's not a factor in this discussion. It came, and needed a method to be installed on users phones. 

Some carriers worked with Samsung and sent out an OTA update. It's the easy way, and what most of us reading sites like AC prefer. But not everyone wanted to change the features they were accustomed to using for a new set with ICS. We think it all looks the same because of TouchWiz, but the number of posts in forums around the Internet and emails we receive from frustrated users say other wise. There is enough of a difference there to create a new learning curve, and at least a few lost something they enjoyed having. All because a notification told them to update.

Other carriers did not send out the notification, and instead opted to tell users via text or email that they could get a system update if they wanted one. A link to directions and downloads were provided, and those who wanted the ICS update were all over it, while those who didn't care were still loving their Galaxy S II -- and don't have a notification telling them to update that won't go away.

We often get wrapped up in the power-user (read geek) side of Android and forget about the majority of the 1.3 million users per day -- most of which are new users -- that just love their phone, and don't care about something new. they deserve a little love, too. Even if it means we're stuck using Kies.

 
There are 33 comments

Thanks, Jerry. I always enjoy reading your write-ups. They're very insightful.
@TonyLibations (shameless plug)

Barton82 says:

This post misses the point. Just turn off the notification about the available OTA, or turn off auto checking all together and problem solved. No "accidental" updates and still ability to go without a PC.

Uncle Louie says:

And how many normal users are going to know how to do that?

icebike says:

Every users knows how to tap Yes, No, Remind Me Later.

Those users that don't understand that much have zero chance of getting Kies to work.

You can't make an appeal to ignorance in defense of a solution that requires more intelligence.

hoosiercub says:

I think you're the one missing the point.

You CAN make an appeal to ignorance. I don't know why its so difficult for people on here, and other mobile tech sites like it. That WE are the minority. Fact is a lot of people buy Samsung phones.. Like the constitution of a fuckton. So in this magical theoretical world with a yes/no/remind me later theology to OTA updates. What if someone unwillingly says yes because a friend of theirs told them updates are good. They get their shiny new ICS update and squeal with joy, only to realize one or two features that they really enjoyed are now missing from the device. This happens especially with OEM customization of Android. It doesn't matter to them that ultimately they're getting a nerd-approved, better overall package. Samsung stole something from them.

When my mom got the 4.2 update for her Nexus 7, it ruined compatibility right off for quite a few of the games she plays. For about 10 days all she'd go on about is how the little green robot took her games away from her. *talking about the recovery screen while installing the update* It's all better now since devs have updated but that was an unhappy event for her and she lost interest in the device no matter how much I assured her that the people that made the games would fix it, it sat on the charger for at least a week with no interaction.

Nacos says:

I'm moderately between you and the other readers, sliding slightly towards believing that it would be normal even for the MAJORITY (the normal, non geeky users) to know and be able to either enable or disable the OTA feature. Probably a good analogy would be getting used to driving a new(er) car: it may or may not come with the features they were used to, however they would have to get familiar and eventually start using some of the new gimmicks - and, yes, while I'm well aware that there will always be some "special" drivers/users thinking that the manufacturer has featured their lovely car/laptop with a handy coffee tray, most would appreciate the CD player for what it is. :) I guess my point is that even most manufacturers are aware of the misuse of some of the features, they will keep on pushing; it's the nature of thinks and the healthy driver for implementing new technology. In the end it's your choice/capacity as a user to keep up with it or fall behind and live with the consequences - whether an option or a requirement.

icebike says:

Nothing you've said addresses the fact that applying an update with Keis leaves your mom in the same predicament.

Sooner or later, someone, perhaps you, will talk your mom thru the Keis process with the very same result.

crxssi says:

+1

There is no reason to avoid OTA updates for these reasons. Simply change the OTA process to explain something is available and what will change and make it optional and don't pester the user anymore.

Requiring proprietary software just to perform an update is cruddy.

ssummer says:

I agree.

The article presents two problems that don't have much to do with each other (other than one being an awkwardly indirect solution to the other):

1. At this point, smartphones are advanced enough that they should NEVER have to be tethered to a PC (whether for updating the OS/firmware, loading media, or anything else). It's just like when companies send out updates for their smart TVs or media streamers, no-one wants to have to get a PC involved. It should be the same for our phones.

2. When a phone manufacturer sends out an update for your phone, it should NEVER remove features that were present when you originally bought the phone. Whatever Samsung made available in Gingerbread should have been available in their ICS update. Yes, this obviously will affect the timeliness of updates but that's a whole other problem.

So in short, using Samsung's defective ICS update as justification for Kies' existence just doesn't make sense to me.

TenshiNo says:

I *think* in the discussion of "removed" features, we're referring to things getting moved around so that the user doesn't know where they are anymore, or maybe application compatibility being broken as a result of the updated Android API. Both of which are things that can be corrected in time, but many people don't have the stomach for deferred gratification. Sad but true. Especially less tech-savvy people.

I see the point made in the article, but I would also prefer to see something more like the "Yes | No | Remind Me Later" option. There should also be a link attached to the update notice to direct users to a website where they can get more information about what the update will do. These are smart phones with web access, after all. The give people the ability to access more information at the push of a button (touch of a screen, whatever) so why not try and inform users what, specifically, is happening at the time that they are looking to update? Then, let them make their decision about what they want to do.

And, before you go into the "their not tech savvy enough to know what they're reading" arguments: at some point, even using Kies, the end user is making a decision. If they don't want to try and deal with the update, or understand the changes, they just click "No" and be done with it.

dbareis says:

The Google OTA notifications are very annoying, not only would I like to configure it to only display it to me after the update has been out for a few weeks (a delay) but I'd also like to snooze the over eager update notifications. I don't think making updates harder for users is the solution.

Targon says:

With AT&T and Verizon, you never have to worry about THAT, because we get our updates a month or two after users in Europe.

nmccart says:

Here's an odd question for those of us in the US. I have a friend on AT&T that has used Kies since his original Samsung Galaxy. But, on Sprint, I've never seen anything about Kies. Is Kies something available for Sprint? Or do we always do a semi-OTA (since I had to force load my GS3 to JellyBean).

Targon says:

Kies is the poorly written application that in theory mirrors Apple iTunes. It lets you plug your phone into the computer for things like doing a sync, software update, and so on. The problem is that it is so poorly written, many people install it, and yet, it can't communicate properly with the phone for many people.

A big part of the problem is the phone drivers are in really rough shape, and don't interact well with the USB drivers from NVIDIA and other chipset makers, so you get things like "missing hardware ID" reported by Windows itself when you connect your phone. Kies itself MUST run as an administrator, and there is no warning when you install it, so people don't understand why it doesn't work for them.

So Kies...if you have an AMD based machine with AMD chipset(600 series and newer), then it SEEMS to work decently with an administrator account. NVIDIA chipsets may require you "diagnose connection problems" to force the drivers to reinstall when you connect your phone, but if you unplug and then plug it back in, you need to diagnose connection problems again for the driver re-installation. I have not tested this with an Intel chipset myself. In general, it is a mess, and MOSTLY caused by bad drivers.

When Kies works, it does an OK job, but still not great. It was enough to let me install my JB update, which is really the only use I have for it. To be fair, Samsung HAS been releasing updates for Kies which have helped a bit, but the driver issues, again complicated by the poor USB drivers for many computers are the source of just about all of the problems people have. Running as an administrator isn't a horrible requirement.

collett says:

Hadn't really thought about it that way. Good points.

QDOG8 says:

but the thing is that "Normal Users" are the ones who need the new updates the most, mainly for their security and stability features.

crxssi says:

Also a good point.

hoosiercub says:

What about the borked updates that have been known soft brick devices and make them worse?

LadyDi says:

I have love/hate with Kiers and right now I'm on the latter due to it not seeing the phone each and every time I start it up. But... in defense of the article, I love it as a whole WHEN it works. Here's my current situation that occurred just after reading this great article by Jerry.

I just started Kiers Air on the lappy and there is a update to the software. YAY, so I think. I finish with that and now the phone does not read ALTHOUGH... there was this lil notification off to the bottom right telling me my Samsung phone was connected. Still, the software does not see the phone and I am left on the screen to configure set-ups in order for the phone to connect. Grrrrrrrr...

On a whole, I welcome the fact that when I picked up the GS2 there was a OTA as it was what I was used to since the G1, my very first Android, days. But, I was not ready for 4.0.x, so I thought. I was very hesitant to install something over top that which I had not fully grasped. And by this reading and typing, I've probably still not grasped a whole lot. But to know that I could install 4 anything at my leisure was a welcomed experience. I was still learning the installed OS at that time and wanted more time to tinker with it. Thank you to whomever developed Kiers Air and whomever decided the Galaxy 2 should utilize it. You've simplified my life WHEN IT WORKS. Ok, rant over.

In closing, my next phone "rent to own" will include looking for a device that uses Kiers or I will not purchase it. That simple. I really never want to go back to OTA's as a standard all or nothing option ever again.

Come on jerry, carriers use programs like Kies for one reason and one reason only ... So the end user isnt downloading 400mb update files over cellular. For some users that is more than an entire months data and would incur an overage not to mention slowing the network to a crawl when a hot device gets an update and everyone is downloading it. WiFi is standard now but it wasn't that many years ago that it wasn't and old habits die hard.

icebike says:

Not sure I totally buy that.

Some of my android devices refuse to download OTA updates over Cellular, and require wifi connections for the OTA. Carriers have other methods of pushing downloads off of cellular.

The average new upgrade is around 360MB, so its not likely to kill anyone's data plan, and they always have the option of waiting till they are on wifi.

Targon says:

AT&T has 300MB data plans available, and for those without WiFi at home(I've run into a few), it ends up being an issue.

kinster02 says:

You mean that you can't do OTA with a Samsung device like Apple use to be with the iphone and itunes? So if you don't have a computer or kies your shit out of luck?

MrLadoodle says:

Yes but if you just send a text to someone they will most likely forget about it and never bother.

Gearu says:

Currently it's best to just buy a phone that comes with the version of Android you want out of the box, and not push your luck with trying to get update features that you probably won't use that much.
When you look back on your smartphone adventure years from now, do you want to remember having a series of great phone experiences, or having phones each with a disability(s) after giving them an update? And being annoyed each time.

The reliability of updates is appalling, the people who have a phone that is actually better off afterwards are the minority (I believe), and manufacturers should really lift their game and put more effort into the troubleshooting before release, that means keeping multiple stock of every single variant that is distributed for each country and carrier, and testing every update for those before they are offered.

Targon says:

Features you probably won't use that much...like Google Now? People who get the JB update really do seem to like the new features that are being added. As far as the reliability of the updates, Keyboards, Launchers, and Anti-virus are the three categories of apps that DO have the potential to break DURING an update. If you uninstall them, update, then re-install those apps, most if not all the reliability issues would probably be a thing of the past.

zhecht says:

I've seen the carrier message boards after an update, and it gets ugly. I remember the posts on Sprint.com after one of my phones got its Gingerbread update, and there were so many people complaining about the black statusbar, the ugly green notification icons, the changed appearance of the dialer, etc. There were people canceling their service over it, threatening to sue Sprint, and lots of people that were genuinely unhappy. Major OS changes should be a user-initiated process to avoid luddites who don't like change.

pincherdemus says:

I just updated my at&t SGS3 with Kies. It was the slowest ROM change (upgrade, flash) ever. I could have flashed at least a half dozen ROMs on my Captivate with CWM Recovery. I am no fan of Kies at this point.

Targon says:

You must have an old/slow computer, possibly due to low RAM or a slow hard drive. The update process involves downloading, then EXTRACTING the files from the downloaded image. That extraction process takes time, but that is the flip side to downloading a compressed update compared to downloading a much larger image.

Mine took perhaps 15 minutes on a Phenom 2 X4 955, so it isn't as if I have the fastest machine out there.

asterather says:

I had kies, but then I rooted my phone. Good riddance I say, but yes, most users have no need for anything more than what they bought in the first place and barely know how to use it. They can leave it alone. I can't. I hate stupid bloatware.

Slusho64 says:

This argument would make some sense if Kies worked. I tried updating a GSII (AT&T) to ICS and it wouldn't let me, thinking GB was the latest version. I never got it to work.

jdod says:

Wait, what, we're geeks?

Hi Jerry,

you have raised an interesting point of a missing feature, namely the "ignore this update in the future" checkbox.
Yet, as an SGS2 user, I must totally disagree with Kies's being a viable option for updates.

In my experience, Kies is an unstable, unreliable, hectic peace of sh... software, which is perfectly unsuitable for both sw updating and other tasks like creating backups. I had spent many painful hourswith Kies trying to upgrade from 2.3 to 2.4, while the OTA ICS update was one simple tap.

I don't like the idea that for the sake of that 10% who don't wish to upgrade, the remaining 90% who has long been wainting for the respective update should be treated badly.

All in all, the ultimate solution would be letting people choose to ignore an update and eliminate that malware called Kies.