Samsung, Android, Tizen: is the future open?

The Galaxy S 4 is gimmick-heavy, but does not change the game

Tags: Apple IncorporatedHuawei Technologies CompanyNokia CorporationSamsung Electronics Company
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Samsung, Android, Tizen: is the future open? The S 4 represents a gimmicks-only approach to smartphone innovation. (Getty Images)
By  Stephen McBride Published  March 18, 2013

To describe the coronation of the Samsung Galaxy S 4 as "lavish" would be akin to referring to a Formula One Grand Prix as "a weekend drive". The South Korean tech peddler threw millions of dollars at a gala event that already had the world's attention by default, and laid on extraneous Broadway-style pageantry in between bouts of showing the audience at New York's Radio City Music Hall what they came to see.

The S 4 itself is a perfect reflection of the pomp employed to launch it. Adorned with what are essentially bells and whistles, it blows the gimmick trumpet loudly, and with good reason. While analysts worldwide repeat the news that the smartphone premium segment is becoming saturated, a point that is more rarely made is that the feature set within smartphones is scraping its own kind of ceiling.

Anyone in attendance at the Nokia Lumia 920 launch in Dubai will remember the stress placed on the camera, said to be best in class as far as smartphones go. Nokia also proudly brandished the Location suite as the app to beat.

Similarly, Huawei's smartphone models have recently come with bragging rights such as "the world's largest smartphone screen" (Ascend Mate) or "the world's fastest LTE-compatible smartphone" (Ascend P2). While Apple's iPhone 5 launch was a damp squib by comparison, largely due to a wonky OS and that map app, the intent within the segment is clear: squeeze out as many more gimmicks per product cycle as possible until the next revolution occurs.

The S 4 follows this blueprint to the letter. Eye-tracking features, translation software, hands-free text dictation for the car, gesture control and an eight-core Exynos 5 Octa processor... and that's just to begin with. The five-inch screen may be smaller than the Ascend Mate's 6.1-inch display, but at 441ppi, the S 4 offers almost twice the pixel density.

"The Galaxy S 4 is a worthy successor to earlier members of this line, and will doubtless sell well," Jan Dawson, chief telecom analyst at Ovum, told ITP.net.

"But it highlights a couple of the key challenges Samsung faces. 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.

"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."

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