Will Samsung ditch home button for new Galaxy S8?

Phone maker plans all-screen front for new phone, with virtual home button

Photograph: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

Photograph: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters


Samsung will create an all-screen front for the Galaxy S8 smartphones coming out next year and will scrap the physical home button, sources said.

The bezel-less displays will provide more viewing real estate, while a virtual home button will be buried in the glass in the the lower section, the sources said, asking not to be identified because the details haven’t been released. The new phones will only come with wraparound displays using organic light-emitting diode technology.

Samsung needs the Galaxy S8 to be a hit after suffering through the Note 7 debacle that tarnished its brand, led to an embarrassing recall and may cost the company more than $6 billion.

The world’s largest smartphone maker is already under pressure from Chinese rivals, while Apple is said to be planning to adopt OLED screens, which are thinner and use less power than liquid-crystal screens, while also offering deeper colours.

Tougher testing

Samsung is targeting a March release of the S8, but that could be delayed until April, sources said. The company is adopting tougher testing procedures in the wake of the Note 7 debacle that could push back the launch by about a month, sources said.

“Since the phones have a record of burning up, it needs time for these phones to be verified as safe. How safe the phones turn out to be is more important than any hardware innovation,’’ said Greg Roh, an analyst at HMC Investment Securities. “It will take about a month or two for people to actually start opening their pockets,” he said.

Samsung declined to comment.

For years, manufacturers have been looking for ways to reduce the size of bezels – which frame the screen and typically provide space for speakers, buttons and cameras – to make smartphones smaller while increasing the size of their displays.

Samsung isn’t the first to do away with the feature. In October, China’s Xiaomi showed off its Mi Mix concept phone developed with designer Philippe Starck that has a display covering 91 percent of the front.

Samsung has built a physical home button into every previous model in the Galaxy S range. Apple moved to a pressure-sensitive home button with the iPhone 7 that provides a vibrating sensation when pressed instead of an actual click.

New look

Apple plans to ship at least one iPhone using OLED next year, featuring a new look that extends glass from the display to the device’s back and edges, a source familiar with the plan said last month. It is also said to be planning a virtual home button.

The changes to Samsung’s screens will be housed in devices of a similar size to the preceding model, the 5.1-inch S7 and 5.5-inch S7 Edge, according to sources. Some of the phones will use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 chips while others will feature Samsung’s own Exynos processors.

Samsung also plans to introduce an upgraded digital assistant that will use voice commands to send text messages, make phone calls and provide daily appointment scheduling.

The South Korea-based company acquired US-based artificial-intelligence software company Viv Labs in October and said last month that its new S8 will come with AI-enabled features “significantly differentiated” from those in the market. Viv was founded by the developers of Apple’s Siri.

In the three months ended September, Samsung reported a 17 per cent slump in net income from the impact of the Note 7 recall. The company has predicted a multibillion dollar hit to earnings in the December and March quarters also.

The company is considering scrapping plans for a dual-camera on the S8 due to higher manufacturing costs, one source said.