Feature Article

March 12, 2013

Countdown to the Samsung Galaxy S IV

In two short days we'll have arrived at yet another smartphone launch as Samsung prepares to set the world on fire with its newest device. Nothing is official until then of course, but the usual rumor mill circuit has been busy putting numerous little pieces in place. Is there anything we know that is likely to be true on Thursday? Aside from a faster processor and a 13 megapixel camera (ho-hum)?

Well, several things are certain. First, the design will be Samsung's usual plastic. There are valid reasons for taking the plastic route - for one it makes it exceedingly easy to create a back that is easily removed in order to replace the battery. It may be something handy for road warrior sales people who can easily spend 10 hours a day actually "talking" on their phones (a strange concept in today's world we understand, but some people still do it).

Second, plastic is not only cheap - and in our view consequently cheap-feeling, which is something we personally care about - but which we know for a fact does not bother many others – but it is also light in weight. No need to be creative to make the smartphone lighter. Another way to look at it is that more stuff can also be packed into it - such as NFC and wireless charging, without the need to be too careful. Not that we're saying Samsung's smartphones are not carefully crafted internally - they are. But trust us, overall external design via plastic makes it easier to build the internal ends of it.

Damn the cheap feel, full speed ahead. It's a fine Samsung strategy. We view it as a lifestyle choice. The iPhone 4S and 5 and new HTC One are far more to our personal liking regardless of any incremental features the S IV is likely to deliver.

The video below (hat tip to The Verge) offers some very interesting insights - the plastic comes across quite well, but there are other things that it provides some previews into - certainly far more than Samsung's own little teaser ads have shown us.



Way Big

Next, we can rest assured that the new smartphone will be damnably large - pushing 5 inches diagonally but likely falling a tenth of an inch short of the big 5 itself. When it comes to a mobile device that we need to carry with us wherever we go, we're not fond of overly large phones, and we're seriously not fond of overly large phones made of plastic. We're not saying they don't have their place - our Samsung Note II gets occasional use when we're at our desk but it doesn't sit in any pocket on any of our clothes and never will.

Nor would a Galaxy S IV of almost identical size. The S III itself is a tough one to carry and we don't. Ours sits next to the Note II and we have it in hand at our desk to run Android and stay on top of whatever Samsung is doing user interface-wise.

These are all personal choices. Clearly, many people love their large display phones and are willing to drag them around. That's fine with us, but there are many people in the other camp as well, and we believe that a near 5-inch Galaxy S IV won't have the impact on sales - outside of media-generated (and, granted, excellent Samsung marketing-generated) hype.

That this represents Samsung's state of the art is interesting, as a smaller form factor - by which we mean both height and width - is really what we believe would be a true Apple roadblock were Samsung to deliver on it. That Samsung has gone so far in the big display direction for its state of the art is, we believe, a mistake - once the fad dies out, it will be tough for Samsung to then meet Apple head-to-head as Apple continues to deliver on a smaller form factor as its state-of-the-art. You heard it here first.

NFC and Wireless Charging

NFC itself is not an issue or cool feature, as NFC has been there for Samsung. The possible real benefit for users here is the partnership and alliance that Visa and Samsung have crafted. We're not convinced this will mean much in the short run…until shoppers and retailers are both fully on board it won't amount to much of anything, so that it will likely be prominently pushed on Thursday won't mean much.

Wireless charging - such as what Nokia offers with the Lumia 920 is, again, going to be a personal choice. We personally have no interest in the current methods for doing so, which involves using a charging pad that ultimately takes up more space than any wired charger. It's a nice to have for some, and not needed for others, but in any case is hardly something that we believe defines state-of-the-art.

The Eyes Have It

Finally there is the so far rumored "eye-tracking" that the Galaxy IV may bring to the party. Is it real? Very likely. Will it work or be effective? We doubt it. But that is about all we can say at this point in time. In case you aren't sure of what it does, supposedly the S IV will actually be able to track your eye movements, so that, let's say, you are reading an article and your eyes move to the bottom of the screen the S IV will detect that and automatically scroll the text to load new content.

Ideally the phone would need to work hand-in-hand with users in an unconscious way for this to be useful. We're not sure the world is ready to interact this way, and most certainly it won't eliminate the need to swipe or tap the screen - but if it works effectively to load new content and you don't need to go back and forth it may prove to be a very interesting little bit of innovation. We'll put a checkmark on innovation here for Samsung, but also an asterisk until we're able to really give it a whirl. For all we know we may end up with total eyeball whirl, but maybe not.

Samsung's Last Hurrah or a Mighty Next Step?

Most of tech media likes to paint the Samsung-Apple rivalry in zero sum game scenarios. For one to win the other must lose. Gladiators in the coliseum fighting to the death, where only one finally walks out. In truth, this isn't going to happen. Samsung has a temporary opportunity to raise its own technology and innovation bar a tiny little bit, and with massive marketing efforts - and to be sure, its marketing efforts over the last 8 months or so can only be rated A+ - it will do so. There will be some buzz, and there will be ever more hype.

And media headlines will begin to spell out the doom of Apple, and will begin to claim that Apple is under tremendous pressure to deliver. We're not in that camp. Keep in mind that Apple has more or less won the iPhone 5 vs. Galaxy S III head to head battle - eventually it will do the same to the S IV as we head into the holiday buying season.

Apple never the less needs to deliver true innovation to raise the innovation bar enough to give it longer term advantages - both technically and from a business perspective. If it doesn't both it and Samsung will more or less remain equals, with Samsung the perennial chaser to incremental innovation.

It all promises to be quite an interesting year. The only real question is whether or not Apple can innovate at a level that we haven't seen in several years.

And good luck to Samsung as well on the launch - we want the Galaxy S IV to be highly successful - it will ensure that everyone stays on their innovation toes.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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