The pandemic changed our relationship with our phones and Samsung’s upgrade accordingly


Samsung’s Galaxy S21 (left) and Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Sarah Tew / CNET

That Covid-19 pandemic required us to work, go to school and socialize from home – meaning our technology reached a new level of significance in our lives. Even though the shutdowns are over, gave the time we spent at home in 2020 Samsung lots of ideas for how smartphone the experience could be improved.

These takeaways appear in One UI 4, Samsung’s next big software update, which rolled out earlier in the month starting with Galaxy S21 series.

“We looked at pre-existing features and understood what was being used more because of the pandemic, and we amplified it,” Hyesoon Sally Jeong, Samsung’s vice president and head of framework research and development, told CNET via a translator.

The update focuses heavily on improving areas such as privacy, usability, personalization and communication, elements that Samsung noticed, had become particularly important as many people began to spend more time on their phones during the shutdown period. It is yet another example of the broader shift that has taken place across the technology industry as companies began tailoring their products to facilitate teleworking and socialization.

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One such feature in Samsung’s update is the ability to record audio and video during conference calls, an add-on inspired by distance learning. “We realized that our users might want to record the audio or video while having remote interactions with their teachers or students,” Jeong said. “So teachers might want to record the audio or video conference to monitor the lessons or sessions they had taught the students.”

But perhaps the biggest change that influenced Samsung’s strategy when we designed the One UI 4 was the increased amount of time we spent on our smartphones. A recent study published in the JAMA Pediatrics Journal showed that screen time doubled among teens during the pandemic, not including virtual learning.

As such, Samsung trying to make its smartphones easier to look at during long periods of cosmetic updates coming in One UI 4. “In terms of visual design, we made a lot of design-related decisions based on the key principle of comfort,” Hyun Kim, head of Samsung’s core user experience group, also told CNET via a translator. “Because screen time has increased, it’s pleasing to your eyes [and] Reducing eye fatigue has become more important than ever. “

The company made aesthetic changes to its software, such as reducing the number of colors in the user interface and adjusting the size and layout of fonts. It also worked with Google to activate screen dimming that is darker than previously possible when using the phone in low light conditions. Samsung’s emoji pairing feature – which lets you send two emojis at once – was also triggered by the way we relied on our phones to communicate and socialize in 2020.

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Samsung’s software update is just one example of the pandemic’s lasting impact on the way technology companies design and develop their products. That influence can be seen in Apple’s iOS 15 software, also. One of the main features of the update is SharePlay, which lets you easily watch movies and TV or listen to music with others over FaceTime. Such functionality would have been particularly handy during the shutdown period, when many people were looking for ways to hold virtual movie nights over Zoom.

CES 2021 also showed the technology companies’ best efforts to make products that reflected lifestyle changes caused by the pandemic. In addition to Razer’s high-tech face mask and a temperature-taking doorbell, we also saw laptops with better cameras that were apparently designed for remote work.

Aside from the additions mentioned above, One UI 4 also brings features like a new privacy dashboard, the ability to choose whether you want to share your exact location with apps, more consistent widgets with rounded corners, and more color palettes to customize your phone theme. The software is now available for the Galaxy S21 series and will soon be available for older Galaxy S phones, Galaxy A phones and Samsung’s foldable devices and tablets.

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