S4 puts Samsung under the spotlight
Smartphone firm hopes new smartphone will chip away at Apple’s market share
Samsung prides itself on innovation. That was the message coming out of the launch of the Galaxy S4 in New York, where the Korean company showed off the device it hopes will chip away at Apple ’s market share.
At a Broadway-themed event in New York’s Radio City Music Hall, Samsung demonstrated the capabilities of its latest smartphone. Samsung’s mobile chief JK Shin took to the stage to extol its virtues, talking of the company’s commitment to innovation and taking the technology further. The S4, Samsung says, is a more than a smartphone; it’s a life companion.
Expectations were high for the device. Rumour had it that the S4 would use eye tracking to determine when someone had reached the end of a web page, for example, and scroll down accordingly. A flexible or unbreakable display was also discussed as a possibility, although it was generally seen as a remote chance for the S4.
In reality, the S4 looks similar in design to its predecessor, but with a few refinements: a larger screen, a slimmer body and weighing in a few grams lighter. Its camera has been bumped up to 13MP, and its been given new camera tricks that allow you to create shots from both front and rear facing cameras, remove unwanted moving objects from photos and create “drama” shots through composites of images.
The S4 will also use the Exynos 5 Octa-core processor or Qualcomm ’s Snapdragon chip.
Many of the S4’s new features are an evolution of what Samsung has already tried and tested in previous handsets. The preview feature that was introduced in the Note 2 has been evolved for the S4 and now works by hovering your finger over a folder, instead of needing a stylus.
The Air Gestures mean you can wave at your phone to answer it, or scroll through photos with a swipe of your hand, never having to touch the screen itself. And the eye tracking feature made an appearance, although not quite as expected; it tracks your eye movement to enable a “tilt to scroll” feature when you are actively looking at the screen. It also allows you to pause video simply by looking away from the screen.
But such enhancements, while interesting, could be viewed as gimmicks, analysts said, instead of the gamechangers that people were looking for.
The markets may have agreed. Following the announcement of the phone, shares in the company fell by 2.6 per cent.
"There was no 'Wow' factor, it only proved to the world that it's getting harder to make a difference on the hardware side," said Kwon Sung Ryul, analyst at Dongbu Securities. "But the number of carriers that will offer Galaxy S4 has increased from that of S3, so the overall sales are expected to improve."
It was a similar story for Apple when it launched the iPhone 5. Although the company continues to sell millions of iPhone every quarter, analysts were mixed in their reaction to the new handset when it launched last year, and questions have been raised about innovation at the company.
Ovum’s chief telecoms analyst Jan Dawson said the Galaxy S4 had lived up to expectations, but although it was a “worthy successor”, it also highlighted some of the challenges facing Samsung.
“Firstly, having innovated rapidly over the last several years to vaunt itself into top spot in the world smartphone rankings, Samsung now faces essentially the same challenge as Apple: how to continue to improve its devices year on year when existing phones are already top of their class, and there aren't obvious shortcomings? And secondly, how to set Samsung's devices apart from other devices that share the Android operating system that provides so much of the functionality?” she wrote in a note. “As rivals such as HTC and Sony up the specs of their devices and provide ever better hardware, it becomes more and more important for Samsung to differentiate on software and services.”
The smartphone is due to go on sale from next month, an analysts expect the company to sell up to 44 million units in the next two quarters.