What happened to Mass Storage & File Management? [Updated]

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Yesterday over at Engadget, Myriam Joire AKA tnkgrl, published her first impressions of the Galaxy Nexus and Android 4.0 (Ice cream Sandwich).

My rant is focused on just one point, and I consider it a major one. In the course of the review, here is something Mariam said:

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Using the camera exposed a major flaw in Ice Cream Sandwich, namely the lack of USB mass storage support (only media / picture transfer protocols are available). We can only hope this standard functionality will be restored in the very near future.

There. Hope you read it clearly. First it was Apple, then Microsoft, and now Google. Everyone is leaving mass storage functionality and file management out of their mobile OS. And we are talking of smartphones replacing or becoming more like PCs?

Ice Cream Sandwich

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I want to organize my files, but I can’t. I want to select a specific location for each download; oh, I can’t. Not only that, but I want to plug my smartphone to a PC and copy certain files from one location to another, but I can’t.

Likewise, I want to copy not just music and video files that some stupid synchronization software recognizes, but all sorts of files, for storage on my smartphone. I can’t.

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Possible Reasons?

To avoid Microsoft licence fees? Nonsense. Pay the damn fees and let’s have this feature. Oh, and is Microsoft scared of their own patents too? Sheesh.

Performance and stability? Cripes; file management is not rocket science. It works excellently on Symbian and on MeeGo. It worked smoothly on Windows Mobile (remember that dinosaur?).

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Why can it not work nicely on our GHz-toting super-phones?

Choices

I have been aching at the lack of file management and mass storage on Windows Phone and telling myself that I may have to go Android eventually, despite some of its other niggles. iOS? No mass storage cum file management either. This generation of nicely dressed up dumbphones!

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Now, Google’s dog gone thrown this out too; right? If this is true, what are we left with? Where are the choices?

Looks like I’m going to die using a Symbian or MeeGo smartphone. What I’ll do is buy about five more Nokia N8s, two more N9s, and a number of the upcoming 1GHz+ Symbian devices – enough to last me till 2071 when hopefully I’ll be too old to care any more – or be dead.

More Information Coming

Understand that what is going on with Android 4.0 (ICS) is not totally clear now. The details, the reasons, and the prospects are all pretty much still shrouded. But I needed to rant.

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Don’t pay me any bit of attention. No-one does anyway. In the next few days and weeks, we should get the full picture.

Still, you must wonder whether smartphones are really becoming more like PCs or not. At least in certain ways.

Read Tnkgrl’s review: Galaxy Nexus HSPA+ first impressions (video)

Update

Here’s the true picture of the scenario, as pulled out of the comments section (read through the comments for full details):

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Android as an OS still supports UMS but it is left for OEMs (device makers) to include that functionality in their devices. The functionality was disabled in the Galaxy Nexus, but nothing stops any manufacturer from including mass storage support in their phones. So, ask before you buy.


22 comments

  1. the gingerbread has a file manager.. does it mean we’ll be loosing that feature when we upgrade to ICS?? also if the ICS didnt come with it,there are third party applicationd that can carry out file management effectively.. correct me if i’m wrong

  2. I want to organise my files, but I can’t. I want to select a specific location for each
    download; oh, I can’t. I want to plug my smartphone to a PC and copy certain files from one location to another, but I can’t .

    I want to copy not just music and video files
    that some stupid synchronisation software recognizes, but all sorts of files, for storage
    on my smartphone. I can’t.

    There are too many file managers on the Android market to take care of file management. Certainly leaving out USB mass storage is a very bad one even though I rarely use it these days because of the existence of File expert a but still I might have need some day to exchange files with a system without WiFi hardware.

    Again, if licence fee is the problem, why wouldn’t they have added USB-on-go feature. At least it would have reduced the effect of lack of mass storage.

    Finally, I would rather wait for other ICS devices to be released before concluding on the issue of this possible omission from the OS.

  3. I read that too over at Engadget yesterday and couldn’t believe it. Of all platforms, android? I hope some update will later allow mass storage later in the future as mentioned. Those are what makes android thick. Why take it away?

  4. I’ll keep it short: Any OS that lacks Mass Storage Mode and requires me to use a particular app/program to transfer my files, CAN GO TO HELL !!!

    ‘nuf said.

  5. I think we need to get something clear here. File management support and support for Universal Mass Storage are two completely different things. The former is where the under the hood file system of a device or OS is hidden from the user. Like (I stand corrected) the case with ios devices where users don’t have access to the file system. And as such can not manage files directly in the device via a file manager. Android honeycomb and ice cream sandwich still has support for this.

    UMS support on the other hand is a situation where a part of the file system (the largest partition) can be mounted on a PC as a mass storage device. This has been removed from honeycomb and it seems ice cream sandwich. UMS support seems to have been dropped in favor of the MTP protocol. It was one of the down side of my galaxy tab when I noticed it could not be mounted as a UMS device.

    As much as I hate google dropping UMS support. After hitting my head the wall.. and wondering how I was going how I was going to transfer files to my galaxy tab. MTP support on Linux is flacky (same thing on windows as i couldn’t get it to work on a windows XP system either even with the drivers installed) eventually I settled to installing an SSH server on my device and settled to transferring files via scp which actually worked so well that I didn’t miss the lack of UMS support in the end.

    Concerning reasons why google decided to drop support for UMS no one knows for sure so we can all just speculate at this point. Here are my guess.

    MS patents over fat32? Couple of years back Microsoft sued amazon and (in tom tom) over the use of the fat file system n their devices. MS claim to own a patent on fat and the ability to read right to the file system. (Not really sure about tthe real meat meat of their contention) anyway amazon settled. On android gingerbread and other android release before it. The /sdcard which happens to be the largest partition on android was mounted as a fat32 filesystem ( while the rest of the file system was mounted as ext4 the defacto file system for Linux based OS) the /sdcard is what is mounted as mass storage which is why google formatted that partition using fat (the defacto file system standard for mass storage devices and one which is supported on all major and minor operating system.)
    With Android facing increased hostility from MS over patent. Google might have decided that using fat32 was a burden they could no longer carry and dropped the file system from their OS in favour of using ext4 through and through. The down side is lack of ext4 support on windows (and maybe Mac) hence the decision to use mtp for file transfer.. this theory falls on its head however considering that
    Microsoft is one of the pioneer of the mtp technology. (Though its since been recognised as a USB standard but with ms u never know)

    Speed and usability improvement.?
    This might most likely be the reason for doing away with ums in favour of mtp. Fat 32 is not known for its read write speed. Its very slow compared to modern file system like ext4 or even ntfs. Since /sdcard is where all user files like music, picture, videos and some application data are stored. The general speed and performance of the device is affected by such a slow file system especially during read write open operations something which the device does alot. On a PC this performance issues can be taken for granted. (Even then no PC os uses fat 32 in any filesystem) but with mobile.. a slow io affects the over head speed of the device requiring more CPU time which reduces batteries. Hence might be the reason google felt fat 32 was just not worth it and decided to use ext4 a journaling filesystem know for its speed in io.. and also use MTPto make this filesystem change transparent during file transfer with PC.

    Also the issue of usability. We all love UMS support but lets be frank, can be a pain to us due to its usability short comings. Some applications simply stop working during this mode (podcast or any download fails) and it never a smooth experience. Using mtp fixes this issue because here the storage transfer is handled by the device and the PC won’t have exclusive access to the mounted filesystem. Simply put mtp makes things easier and less complicated for noobies (which most have been the reason wp7 and ios devices adopted it in place of UMS)

    Fat32 limitation? Fat 32 can not handle any file greater than 4gb .with most tablet supporting high definition videos some of which can be as large as 5gb for a single file.. guess we can all se where this is going… it just had to be dropped to by pass this size limitations

    Security? One other major flaw of fat32 under Linux is the fact that it does not obey Linux permission regarding who owns and has access to a particular files. Every file under the /sdcard partion in previous version of android is essentially 777 which means anyone can manipulate as they which. For anyone who understands security this is very bad security practise which can compromise the whole os. Ext4 changes all that. And google can use a default file permission for files under the /sdcard and define who has access to work file. They can even make the whole partition read only to “others ”

    Like I said no body knows why support for UMS was dropped on android 3+ could be any of this reasons could be all.. could be non.. but looking at the issues critically. It might not be as bad a move as initially thought. My hope is that this move would allow for more work on standardizing the mtp protocol across the board so the support with OSes is improved.

    In anyway case the good thing about android is that its open source. All u have to do is install a custom kernel with UMS support enabled and you are in business. 🙂
    That’s one thing that can not be said about wp7 or even ios devices. But of which have their own proprietary DRMed implementation of the mtp protocol.

  6. I don’t get the whole geeky-language but i have a fair idea what bigbrova just told us. As long as we can still get UMS with a few tweaks, we’re good. And for file management, thats where the apps come in…

  7. Well as it turns out both honeycomb and ice cream sandwich does support USB Mass Storage. However the galaxy nexus does not a google engineer explains further here.

  8. THANK God for choice.

    Looks like I’m going to die using a Symbian or MeeGo smartphone. What I’ll do is buy about five more Nokia N8s, two more N9s, and a number of the upcoming 1GHz+ Symbian devices – enough to last me till 2071 when hopefully I’ll be too old to care anymore – or be dead.

    Good thinking; impeccable reasoning.

    Nobody used to the painless Symbian way – will find these immature OSes funny.

    .

  9. A lot of the explanations that have been offered here and by the Google guy are technical mumbo-jumbo that only hard-core geeks understand.

    Here’s the point: people are used to connecting something to their Windows PC and being able to copy and paste files directly.

    Can someone who speaks English tell our readers – most of who don’t care or know what MTP, MIC, CIA, SSS, KGB or NCIS are – whether the new flavour of Android allows them to do this very simple thing that they are used to doing?

    If it allows it, I suppose that means some Android phones will have it while some others will not, as we see in the case of the Galaxy Nexus here? In which case, those shopping for droids need to ask questions before buying. Which further just complicates things for consumers; right?

    English, anyone?

  10. I tried to adjust my post to the level of something which would be understandable on a tech blog. Some issues are complex and require some basic knowledge of how PC works. concerps like MTP (Media Transfer Protocol ) or UMS (USB Mass Storage) surely don’t require a degree in computer science to understand. If someone like me (a lawyer by training) with absolutely zero formal computer science education can understand them really anyone could. Especially anyone with interest in technology as I (wrongly?) Assumed people here are. A question was asked on while major mobile OS seems to be dropping Mass storage support and I tried to provide an answer in the most simple language as can be used for such a question.

    In any case, android (as the google developer clarified) as an os still supports UMS but it is left for OEMs (device makers) to include that functionality in their devices. The functionality was disabled in the gakaxy nexus (he explained why.. however if found my comment as too too geeky don’t even bother clicking the link 🙂 ) but nothing stops Samsung or HTC from including mass storage support in their phones.

    On the issue of symbian. Symbian just gained UMS support (relatively) recently. Before then file transfer could only be made via PC suite.

    On which knowing which device to buy. Its simple. Caveat emptor (buyers beware) there is a duty on any buyer to do diligent research on an item before he buys. It won’t change with android device only now u know unlike wp7 or iPhones .. there are android devices out there which supports UMS.

    On file management. Android still supsports and allow the user access to the filesystem. All u need is a file manager and u are in business.

    I hope my comment is English enough. If not well this is the best I can do 🙂

  11. I have actually not yet recovered from the lheadache that the long post by Bigbrova gave me. The google guy now turned it into migraine!

    I am obviously too illequipped to understand their brand of special ‘English’

    Mobility for dummies? Thay’s a laugh!

  12. LOL!

    I tried to adjust my post to the level of something which would be understandable on a tech blog

    Here at the Mobility Blog, we try to present info in a way that non-techies can understand and use.

    Here is the bit that everyone can understand:

    Android as an os still supports UMS but it is left for OEMs (device makers) to include that functionality in their devices. The functionality was disabled in the gakaxy nexus, but nothing stops Samsung or HTC from including mass storage support in their phones.

    Thanks for the info!

  13. (
    Android as an os still supports UMS but it is left for OEMs (device makers) to include that functionality in their devices.
    )

    Well, that is great to know!

    How would an intending know if this particular Android phone supports UMS.
    This feature is not one of the ‘specs’ listed for devices, is it?

    Now i know why this OS is named after a robot! Strictly for uber_geeks!

  14. @Eye.Bee.Kay

    I am struggling to understand your point. Are you really reading the comments? Let me break it down

    Lack of UMS support does not mean filetransfer is not possible. Users would still be able to transfer files to their android devices but the transfer would be handled via mtp not UMS users don’t have to care about the protocol as long as it works. If you care about how your files transferred then u should be capable of researching and getting a device with UMS support.

    Secondly devices which support external sdcards would automatically support UMS. Galaxy nexus does not have support for an external memory card support so alas.. so the best way to be sure your device would come with UMS support is to hunt for devices with external sdcard support (just about every android phone in the market beside the nexus line which really are meantnfor developers as a reference device to show case the latest android)

    If all these is too geeky for you. Then get an iphone or wp7 … oh wait those devices don’t have UMS support what so ever .. but they also don’t have robot names :p

  15. @Bigbrovar, now that you have started speaking ‘pure english , my headache has abated. I made my last comment before seeing the first comment you made in real English.

    I understand…..

  16. bigbrovar and eye.bee.kay oooo ….lol

    Well I understood right from his first explanation probably because I have both the galaxy tab and Sgs. I have experienced both filing systems on both and how contents are transferred using PCs.

    Thanks bigbrovar.

  17. Google’s Dan Morrill confirms USB Mass Storage in Ice Cream Sandwich, not present in Galaxy Nexus, however

  18. They said ICS was built to avoid patents and Google has stylishly transferred the liability to Manufacturers.

    Way out; There is now an App for everything.

    But never the less…..

    Long Live Symbian.

  19. @bosun99uk:, that is quite some thought there.
    The fear of patent litigants. (Chief among them – Apple)

    I daresay this patent war is stifling innovation. If you try to ’embrace & extend’, you get your corporate pants sued off you…

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