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The fuss over Samsung's Magazine UX is all about fragmentation

New Pro tablets will run customizable user interface that users can't remove -- to Google's annoyance

By Matt Hamblen, Computerworld
February 04, 2014 02:37 PM ET

Computerworld - Samsung announced Tuesday that its four newest Android KitKat tablets will include the somewhat controversial Magazine UX, a customizable user interface (UI) designed by Samsung, not Google, that runs on the home screen to give users direct access to content with a single touch.

A Samsung spokeswoman said that users will not have the option to turn off the Magazine UX in the new Pro series tablets, which range in screen size from 8.4-in. to 12.2-in. and in price from $399.99 to $849.99.

"Users do not have the option to 'turn off' Magazine UX," the spokewoman said. "It is built into the Pro series tablets. Users can add or delete Magazine UX and standard Android screens as they wish, but at least one Magazine UX screen must be present at all times. The 'classic' home screen is standard, with the Magazine UX accompanying it. And of course, users can change this and set Magazine UX as the default."

The Samsung Tab Pro 8.4 is one of the tablets running the Magazine UX. (Image: Samsung)

This matters, especially to Android purists, because Magazine UX's first appearance at the International CES showlast month apparently dismayed Google officials who want future Samsung devices to remain closer to true-blue Android.

Since that time, Google and Samsung unveiled a sweeping 10-year cross-license patent deal and Google announced plans to sell off its Motorola unit to Lenovo for $2.9 billion. Ousting Motorola is widely seen as pleasing to Samsung, which -- along with other third-party Android manufacturers -- saw Motorola as having early access to Android innovations.

The Samsung spokeswoman didn't say whether the Magazine UX will eventually disappear out of deference to Google, and sounded somewhat defiant. "To continue our momentum of delivering great user experiences and bringing greater value to people's lives, Samsung will continue to identify and provide differentiated and innovative service and content offerings on our mobile devices," she said.

Those who have seen and used the Magazine UX say it seems to have elements of Microsoft's tiled Metro tablet interface (which itself evolved from the Windows Phone UI) as well as Flipboard. Several analysts recently said they expect the Magazine UX to eventually be abandoned by Samsung to show cooperation with Google by adhering to a more pure Android in Samsung products. But the shipment of the new tablets came too soon after the patent deal and Motorola sale for Samsung to drop Magazine UX right away.

"I'm not surprised the tablets are shipping with Magazine UX [since] it's been in development for some time and was too far along to not be shipped with the devices announced today," said Jack Narcotta, an analyst at Technology Business Research.

But Narcotta quickly added: "I can't imagine Google was pleased with what they saw on Samsung's tablets at CES, given that one of the major knocks on Android is its fragmentation."

Narcotta said Magazine UX "is flashy and looks pretty" but also does represent "a departure from Google's vision for Android."

Originally published on www.computerworld.com. Click here to read the original story.

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