Over the course of the last week, the news coming out of Mobile World Congress (MWC) has been the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge along with the new LG G5. These three devices look stunningly impressive from a design and function perspective and early indications are they will be quite a hit here in 2016. But as the dust settled and people started taking a hard look at these devices, it became clear that one of the benefits of Android Marshmallow, which all three devices are running, is missing: Adoptable Storage.
For those who aren’t sure of what Adoptable Storage is exactly, it is a pretty cool concept. Basically what it does is allows you to take a MicroSD card, install it into a device running Marshmallow and tell Android that it is a part of the main storage of the device. In other words, Marshmallow looks at it as one big pool of storage so you can install apps and data on it seamlessly. If, for example, you have a 32GB device, install a 128GB MicroSD card, enable Adoptable Storage, you would have a total of 160GB of storage on the device and it would look like one storage location to Android and to you. It’s pretty slick and a feature that many users had requested over the course of the lifetime of Android.
Adoptable Storage however does have some limitations which is where it looks like Samsung and LG had issues with enabling it in the build of Marshmallow running on the S7, S7 Edge and G5 respectively. First, and perhaps the biggest issue, is once you have a card installed, you are pretty much going to have to leave installed forever (unless you completely reset your phone). Because it becomes integrated deeply with Android, removing the card can have some really bad effects on your phone and could force you to have to do a reset. Secondly, when you install a card into a device, it will pop up and ask you if you want to enable this feature. Doing so erases the card which, for some, may be an issue.
For their part, Samsung told Ars Technica that they do not believe that their users want the feature as they want to swap out SD cards on their devices at will. Samsung went on to say that the feature was really designed for emerging markets where devices with limited storage are available and adding Adoptable Storage would make more sense. To this, I simply call nonsense (feel free to insert your term here).
First, Samsung seems to think that Android users are not able to sort out what’s going on when they see a clear pop-up on their device that says “You are about to erase this card”. Android users are smart, they can even read for the most part. To assume that users can’t figure out a message on the warnings around enabling Adoptable Storage is quite… short sighted. Second, while there may be truth to the feature being aimed at emerging markets (I’ve never seen this from Google – but please, point it out to me if you have seen it), the problem is that emerging markets are simply not seeing Marshmallow released in those markets. Hell, we can’t even get reliable Marshmallow releases from Samsung or LG in this market. Third, Samsung states that users want to be able to move the card in and out of the device at will. Something that I did not find when talking about this to colleagues and friends.
To me, Adoptable Storage is a big benefit of Android Marshmallow and with these companies disabling it on their flagship devices, it makes me question if they really are wanting their customers to get the most out of their devices. I know, sounds Big Brotherish and all but seriously, why disable such a useful feature to a vast number of users who want it? I did an informal poll of many friends who use SD cards in their devices and none of them, not one, remove the cards once they are installed. They simply leave them and treat them as part of the device’s storage. Further, the few who have Marshmallow, have enabled Adoptable Storage. While I fully agree this was not a big sampling, I don’t think it is necessarily far off from the larger population either.
Interestingly enough, Google made Adoptable Storage customizable in the deployment guides for the platform. This is different than Doze, App Sleep and device encryption which Google mandates manufactures not screw with on their Marshmallow builds. Maybe, in hindsight, they should have mandated this feature as well.
Don’t get me wrong folks: I think the new Galaxy S7’s and the G5 are going to be awesome phones and are going to make a lot of people happy. It is just a shame that they limited the platform on these devices by not enabling a tent pole feature of Android Marshmallow.