Ontario Journalist, Writer, Photography & Filmmaker

An Open Letter to Samsung

Late in 2014, an announcement was made by Google that the new ‘Android L’ mobile operating system, later dubbed Lollipop, would include a new camera API (Application Programming Interface – the building blocks of the camera software and what third-party app developers use in creating their companion apps). That new camera API would allow for the capture of true RAW images, using the Adobe DNG specification, by mobile devices.

RAW capture was first ushered into the mobile sphere by Nokia with its 1520 ‘phablet’ and later its flagship 1020 smartphone. As I noted in my write-up on the RAW capabilities of the 1020, there is a significant quality difference for the better. Expecting a similar improvement in photo quality from RAW capture on Android devices is not unreasonable.

In order for mobile devices and third-party camera apps to take advantage of the RAW capability built into Lollipop, the new Camera 2 API needs to be implemented. Thus far, only the native Google Nexus 5 and Nexus 6 have the new API implemented.

Using the new camera API is not a requirement for updating to Lollipop. Phone makers can decide to continue using the older version in a Lollipop update. Some will continue using the older API because the phone hardware may be able to support some of the new features in Lollipop but not all. The camera is a processing-intensive function and, particularly for RAW capture, requires significant on-board processing capability in terms of the CPU and RAM.

The Nexus 5 was announced in October 2013. It has a 2.3Ghz quad-core processor, a Snapdragon 800 chipset and 2 GB of RAM. The Nexus 6, announced a year later, has a 2.7Ghz quad-core processor, a Snapdragon 805 chipset and 3GB of RAM.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4, the current flagship in the Samsung phablet line, has a couple different  chipset/processor combinations depending on geography but one of which is the Snapdragon 805 and a 2.7Ghz processor with 3GB of RAM. The other is a twin quad-core processor and an Exynos chipset. Samsung’s current top-of-the-line smartphone, the Galaxy S5, uses a Snapdragon 801 chipset, a 2.5Ghz quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM.

The purpose of that techno-spec-babble was to show that the Samsung devices are at least comparable in terms of hardware and in some cases better than the Google devices. Why?

Samsung has not yet fully rolled out the Lollipop update to these devices. Apparently the update is available in some regions but not yet all. Samsung is not, seemingly, updating to the Camera 2 API in its Lollipop update. The company is set to announce a new Galaxy S6 phone, perhaps, sometime in March. One would expect that new phone to use the Camera 2 API, but what about existing users of its top-of-line devices?

Samsung touts itself as the world’s leading smartphone maker. It produces a range of devices including high-end phones and phablets that are, arguably, some of the best in the world. Many users will be locked into contracts with their phone supplier that may prevent them from updating to the S6 when it comes out. Using Samsung’s past product announcement schedule as a guide, users of the Note series may not see a new device until late 2015. And even then, those users may still be locked into a contract and not be able to update their devices.

If Samsung wants to be considered the top manufacturer of mobile devices in the world, it needs to put the latest technology and features in those devices. Hobbling devices and degrading the user experience by deciding not to include important and desired new features in OS updates does not make sense for a company that wishes to be at the top of the heap of the mobile device industry. Samsung is making a mistake if it does not incorporate the new camera in its Lollipop update. It needs to hear loudly and decisively from users that the Camera 2 functionality is desired. There are two third-party apps that can take advantage of the RAW capture capability even if Samsung does not wish to update its camera app to do so.

Make your voice heard. Contact Samsung and inform them that you feel leaving out the new camera functionality from its OS update is a mistake and that you want the RAW capture ability included.