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January 09, 2014

Samsung's Next Gen Galaxy Phone - Curved Screens and Multiple Displays Coming in March or April

If we were gambling types we would have bet a lot of money that Samsung would be introducing its next generation of Galaxy smartphones at Mobile World Congress (MWC) towards the end of February 2014. We've suggested as much in other articles as well. But apparently we would lose that bet. If Samsung is being honest, it now appears that the company will launch its new toy either in March or April by way of its own event, most likely duplicating its S4 New York City launch effort last year.

In a recent interview with Bloomberg News (our quotes below come from that source), executive vice president of Samsung's mobile business, Lee Young Hee, made this abundantly clear. "We’ve been announcing our first flagship model in the first half of each year, around March and April, and we are still targeting for release around that time,” according to Hee.

We suppose this makes sense but MWC would have offered a much larger global stage and an already assembled horde of tech media. In any case we have some assurance now that we'll see the next gen Galaxy within a few months. Let the image leaks begin!

Recently Samsung reported a profit for its most recent quarter that did not quite match up with analyst estimates. Operating profit was 8.3 trillion won ($7.8 billion) for the three months ended December 2013, a drop from 9 trillion won a year earlier. Predictably, share price has dropped and the company has recently lost about $22 billion in overall market valuation. It's still merely a drop in the bucket for the company in any case.

The drop of profits appears to be directly traceable to the S4 not achieving the level of sell-through that had been expected - keeping in mind that S4 sales were never the less robust. It has been the case as well that S4 sales slowed measurably after Apple delivered the iPhone 5s and 5c in September 2013. According to Daewoo Securities, Samsung "only" shipped 13 million units of the S4 in Q4 2013, down from the 17 million it shipped in Q3 2013. Originally Samsung had though it might ship as many as 100 million S4s in 2013…not quite.

In the end it is the low margin, low end of the market where Samsung and Android gain those league-leading smartphone market share numbers. Samsung shipped 91 million smartphones in Q4 2013, up 4 percent from the previous quarter, according to an estimate by KB Investment & Securities.

Before getting into the still speculative particulars of what the S5 (assuming that is what Samsung ends up calling it) will offer, it is worth noting that we don't really know what Samsung has up its sleeve for the lower end of the market. One reason it is worth asking this question is that we believe Nokia is poised to begin making some serious inroads on the low end - especially in China, where to date Samsung has had an almost free hand to win market share.

The Galaxy S5

We find it a bit amusing that Samsung believes it may have delivered an S4 that perhaps looks a bit too much like the S III. "When we moved to S4 from S3, it’s partly true that consumers couldn’t really feel much difference between the two products from the physical perspective, so the market reaction wasn’t as big," Hee said. "For the S5, we will go back to the basics. Mostly, it’s about the display and the feel of the cover."

Did sales of the S4 possibly fall short because of this? We hardly think so. The real problem in our opinion is that the S4 was loaded with software gimmicks most users didn't really care about (and some of which would become available on the S3 through software upgrades) and with hardware gimmicks that simply didn't work all that well or that were all that necessary - finger hovering, gesture controls and eye scanning among them. We've had very little success and lots of frustration in trying to use these S4 features - for the most part we've entirely given up on them.

Hee's comment about the display is interesting. In order to make things different we have anticipated that Samsung would finally deliver on its curved screens as suggested by its prototypes. We don't mean the Samsung Round here but rather something much more along the lines of the following:

Aside from the curved screen, which of and by itself isn't that useful, note in the above image the different display along the edge of the device. A similar display would appear on the opposite edge - potentially providing three different customizable screens of information on a single curved screen display. That in fact may be something of significant interest and could prove quite useful in every day usage. In other words, we don't find it the least bit gimmicky.

The S5 will supposedly also be shipped with a 64-bit processor. One has to keep up with the Jones and even though Android won't be able to take advantage of it (so in fact it will prove inconsequential from an application perspective when it first ships) Samsung still needs to match Apple's latest iPhone 5s features. One thing Samsung can do is to offer much more internal RAM - perhaps as much as 4 GB of it. When Android finally supports 64-bit architectures that extra RAM will prove itself to be quite handy.

The iPhone 5s includes, of course, a fingerprint-identity sensor and scanner - which has turned out to work remarkably well, as we know direct everyday use. We find that we no longer even think about it. It simply works and it is highly effective. That is the way Apple invents.

To combat the fingerprint scanner feature it isn't enough for Samsung to attempt to deliver its own version. Rather Samsung is definitely considering the use of eye scanning technology for the S5, and probably for the next iterations of the Galaxy Note tablets (ok, phablets) as well. The Note devices may also end up with curved screens.

"Many people are fanatical about iris recognition technology," Hee says.  "We are studying the possibility but can’t really say whether we will have it or not on the S5." The problem we anticipate here is that the technology simply won't work a good deal of the time and will require some odd head and eye behavior to get things locked in correctly. The beauty of the fingerprint scanner on the iPhone is that it is natural and extraordinarily easy to simply place one's thumb on the Home button. We remain entirely skeptical on eye/iris scanner authentication capability and reliability at this point in time.

Hee underscores that the S5 will be paired with a new wearable device that will be based on the original Galaxy Gear smartwatch. Hee also noted that Samsung will announce at least one other wearable device this year, though Hee offered no further details.

We can note that Samsung registered a design in South Korea in October for smartglasses. Perhaps this is what Hee is referring to. Or it can simply means there is yet another activity tracker headed our way - though Samsung is just as likely to try and incorporate activity monitoring capabilities and sensors within the next gen Gear.

Hee notes that, "When we release our S5 device, you can also expect a Gear successor with more advanced functions, and the bulky design will also be improved." We certainly hope the design will prove itself to be less bulky and more refined. The current Gear, as we noted when it was released, looks rushed to market and incomplete. Should we expect a similar curved screen, multi-display capability for the Gear? Why not?!

We do need to note that the one real key to effectively tracking activity and biometric information is getting accurate heart rate data - we doubt Samsung can incorporate such a monitor/sensor within the Gear at a cost point that will make the Gear affordable. The current Gear is already laughably expensive for mass market consumption and Samsung needs to keep costs in check.

Hee did also say however that, "We are targeting consumers who want more professional use and tend to be willing to pay more for handsets." So perhaps we will actually see a suite of products emerge that will allow users to mix and match - a high end smartphone and a low end smartwatch, a lower end smartphone with a high end Gear. Or the extremes at either end. Perhaps.

There are many other things we can speculate about. For example, Samsung has also made it clear that next gen devices will deliver huge new pixel densities - as much as twice what the S4 currently offers. We're not quite sure why this is necessary - "retina quality" means a user already cannot see the pixels so how much density is enough before it becomes meaningless? We don't have an answer for that yet. Perhaps the extra pixels will help deliver deep 3D imaging and color fields we haven't really considered or imagined yet.

In any case, it should certainly be a fun time when Samsung does finally show it all off. We look forward to it.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

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