With my phone configured and secured for daily use, I started to explore app stores, firmware upgrades, local file transfer. There is more to Google Play Store than meets the eye, and Google Play Store is not the only source of Android apps. Besides the upcoming release of Jelly Bean for the Samsung Galaxy S III, there are other firmware updates. How do I know that I have the latest release of firmware? What are the firmware update options? What is Keis and Keis Air? What is AllShare Play? AllShare Play is always running on the Samsung Galaxy S III, and restarts automatically if stopped. If I am stuck with it, what can I do with it? The conflict between documentation and actual software made the process even more difficult. Here are the results of what I have learned.
My Samsung Galaxy S III, which I purchased from Claro, comes with four stated sources of Android apps:
- iApps is the Claro app store. There are Claro app stores for Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, but not for Costa Rica. I tried connecting to apps stores in other countries, but received an error due to my telephone number. For the time being, iApps is not a viable source of apps.
- More Services presents an abbreviated list of Android apps that are customized for the Samsung Galaxy S III. All of the apps are available, except for My Story and S Health. After installing Flipboard, the Google Play Store upgraded the app to the latest version, so I am back to using the standard version of Flipboard.
- Play Store is the official Google Play Store, but not all play stores are the same. Google Play Store uses a market code that defines the country, and, in some cases, the mobile network operator. Thus, when I access the Google Play Store from Costa Rica, I only see the Apps Store. If I accessed the Google Play Store from the US, then I see sections for movies, music, magazines, and books. For paid apps, Google processes all payments through the credit/debit cards defined in my Google Wallet account. I had no problems adding a Costa Rica debit card to my account. i haven’t tested it yet, but I should be able to purchase apps through that account.
- Samsung Apps is a big mystery. According to the Samsung web site, Samsung Apps is a widget, but I could not find the widget. I opened Play Store, and swiped left to see all the apps installed on my phone. Near the bottom of the list is Samsung Apps. When I tapped the app, Google Play Store displayed the message: “Your device isn’t compatible with this version.” Does it fall in the category of country specific apps? Google’s Play Movies & TV is installed on the phone, but is not useable due to country limitations.
When I go to the Google Play Store Web site, my phone is identified as an “ICE Samsung GT-I9300.” It appears that Google has not discovered that there are multiple network operators in Costa Rica, which implies that the market code list has not been updated. As long as I remember to select the correct device (hazard of multiple Android devices), I can install and update apps directly from the Google Play Store Web site. Within seconds, Google pushes the app to my phone.
Android, as with any distribution of Linux, separates the user applications and data from system applications and data. The system applications and data is commonly referred to as firmware, in the Android world. Without root access, a normal user cannot view, or modify, system applications. The only access to the data is through the configuration menus, and those represent a tiny fraction of the system data.
While Google Play Store proivdes updates to user installed apps, manufacturers periodically release updates to the phones firmware. A phone receives the firmware update by either an OTA (Over The Air) update, or by downloading the update via Kies and then pushing it to the phone.
I learn of new firmware updates through Twitter feeds. However, there is a gap between when Samsung announces an update, and when it is available in Costa Rica. If Samsung pushed an OTA update to every Samsung Galaxy S III in one shot, it would drown the Internet and mobile network operators in traffic. Consequently, the updates are spread over time. The problem is knowing when the update is available. The Sofware update widget allows me to check for available updates. The widget also has an option to control how the phone is to receive the update. By default, the option is set to receive an update via Wi-Fi only. The widget does not actually control when the update is to be installed. The only way to expedite the installation of an available firmware update is with Kies.
Kies and Kies Air
Kies is the PC, or Mac, software that manages certain models of Samsung phones. I was looking to Kies as a way to reach the Samsung Apps store, as the Samsung Web site indicates. Alas, after installing the latest version of Kies, the Samsung Apps Store is still missing. I looked through every menu and found no reference to Samsung Apps, not even a greyed-out reference.
The easy way to connect the Samsung Galaxy S III to Kies is with a USB cable. The convenient way is through Kies Air, which allows for a wireless connection to Kies. The Windows configuration to support Kies Air is not hard, However, I could never get Kies Air on the Samsung Galaxy S III to discover Kies. Until Samsung fixes Kies Air, the USB cable is the only working option.
When I connected my phone to Kies, Kies verified the firmware status. I tried the “Transfer your Back Up data from non-Samsung device”, but it did not recognize the Nokia E5 backup files. Kies does provide the tools to backup and restore the Samsung Galaxy S III. Although much of my information is automatically backed up to my Samsung account, it does hurt to do an occasional manual backup of the phone. The backup only is for Internal memory, and not the SD card.
I can also sync contacts, music, photos, videos and Podcasts from the Samsung Galaxy S III to the PC using Kies. Kies Air also provides an option to use a Web interface to transfer files on the local network, much like WiFi File Transfer app. The difference between the two is that WiFi File Transfer app works, and Kies Air does not. AllShare Play is another alternative, and there is even a link to AllShare Play under the tools menu of Kies.
Samsung AllShare Play is yet another utility for sharing files across multiple devices. I actually downloaded AllShare Play to a Windows PC, by clicking on the AllShare link in Kies. AllShare Play is also availble from www.allshareplay.com. At this time, AllShare Play must be pre-installed on your mobile device, and there is only a Windows PC version of AllShare Play. AllShare Play shares files over the local Wi-Fi network, which is great for sharing huge photo libraries, or a large music library. With Kies, I had to upload photos, videos and music to my phone to see them. With AllShare Play, I make my choices from the phone.
AllShare Plays in still a work in progress. Although the Web site mentions a step 2, which should have registered the PC to my Samsung account, the registration step never appeared. There is no way to make this happen after software installation. It still works, and the Samsung Galaxy S III does see my wife’s PC. However, the AllShare Play app does not list the PC as a registered device. The Gallery automatically shows photos from the PC. As for the Music player app, I needed to scroll the menu bar all the way to the right side, and then tab nearby devices, and then tap the PC’s name. The PC now became the source of the music, for that session. Although it acts as a server, AllShare Play is not automatically started when booting the PC. If I want to use AllShare Play, I must manually start the application, after the PC is booted.
The AllShare Play app on the Samsung Galaxy S III does nothing more than provide a information and one configuration option. In addition to the AllShare Play servers on the local network, the app provides for connecting AllShare Play with an external storage service. Samsung spreads the wealth for external storage, as SugarSync is the only external storage service option. There is no way to link it to my Dropbox account. I was already using SugarSync to sync my photos from the Nokia E5, and my Android tablet. Yikes, my photos and videos are double synced, to both Dropbox and SugarSync. Dealing with this is the topic for a future article.
Samsung apps is missing in action, and iApps is not available in Costa Rica. This leave the More services and Play Store as the only sources for additional apps. Kies is only useful as alternate means for installing firmware, as Samsung Allshare Play does a better job of sharing files. I had problems getting Kies Air to connect to Kies, and I could not get the Web interface to connect to the Samsung Galaxy S III from another computer. At this point Kies Air is resigned to the junk heap. AllShare Play is a system app that is always running on the Samsung Galaxy S III. Even with its quirks, AllShare Play works.