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August 14, 2015

Samsung Puts New Stars in Its Galaxy and Reveals Samsung Pay

The event was billed as Samsung Unpacked and Alice Tully Hall in New York City’s Lincoln Center was anything but unpacked as a standing room only crowd got to see, hear and touch the unveiling of the latest stars in Samsung’s Galaxy smartphone portfolio - the Galaxy S6 edge+ and the Galaxy Note5. 

Making the opening remarks was JK Shin, CEO and President of IT & Mobile Division, Samsung Electronics, who stated: “At Samsung, we believed in the promise that big screen smartphones could actively address some major consumers pain points by providing users with a better viewing experience and more productivity on-the-go...With the launch of the Galaxy S6 edge+ and Note5, we’re reemphasizing our commitment to bold, fearless innovation that meets the needs of our consumers.”

With the full disclosure that I happen to be a long-time and satisfied Galaxy user, I can say that Samsung based on its philosophy that bigger is better, has hit two sweet spots in the hotly contested smartphone/phablet markets. Plus, from a competitive perspective they have wisely stayed out in front of, and nicely out of the way of, the looming new iPhone announcement scheduled for a few weeks from now. Indeed, the fact that the new mobile devices can be pre-ordered immediately and will become available commercially in the U.S. August 21 illustrates the moves Samsung is taking to stem its loss of market share.  They do appear to have their mojo back.

 Samsung (Galaxy S6 edge+ on left and Galaxy Note5 on right)

Bigger screens, added functionality, great cameras, fast charging, live streaming and more

Rather than try and paraphrase the capabilities of both new products, which borrow heavily from the popular capabilities of the current Galaxy 6S for those of you who love reading specs you can see in the detailed chart which tells you almost all you need to know.

Source: Samsung (click on chart to enlarge)

Having extensively kicked the tires of both, I can tell you that the Galaxy S6 edge+ is not much bigger in size than my current phone, is smaller than the big iPhone, but the screen is a lot bigger and the display is superlative. It also takes great pictures, is slim, extremely light and true to its name - takes full advantage of its dual edge (hence the name obviously). It leverages the edges well as a shortcut from any screen to users’ top contacts and apps. In fact, ‘Apps edge’ allows users to access their favorite apps by just swiping the edge display while ‘People edge’ helps users quickly find their favorite contacts and send messages, or give a call directly from any screen.

Another really interesting feature Liive Broadcast, a feature within the camera app and a benefit over the popular live streaming apps, that enables users the ability to instantly upload video to YouTube. While I understand the desirability of this, which will no doubt be particularly attractive to younger users, given all the research that is coming out about distracted living being detrimental to the younger generation’s ability to communicate, it can be argued that this is a two-edged sword. 

For its part, the NOTE5, which Samsung VP Product Strategy Justin Denison pointed out, really is for multi-taskers. Not only does it have more horsepower, but its new S Pen is more precise and accurate than its predecessor, and there is a terrific accessory, a physical keyboard that snaps on to the front of the phone so it mimics the capabilities of the old BlackBerry that people cherished, and snaps easily onto the back of the phone when not in use.  What this means is that users have three interfaces to use depending on task and proclivities for I/O which is a welcome addition for those of use with fat fingers and who like to take cursive notes. There is also a new screen capture capability that allows the capturing of things like long infographics in one shot instead of many which for those of us who write content for a living is a godsend.    

A rundown of some features

Some of the core features and enhanced capabilities that are available in the Galaxy S6 edge+ and Note5 are also worth a quick nod. They include:

  • The front-facing and rear-facing cameras will be steadier and smoother with the added Video Digital Image Stabilization (VDIS).
  •  Video Collage Mode allows users to record and edit short videos easily in various frames and effects.
  • The Galaxy S6 edge+ and Note5 have 4K Video filming which can be displayed on a 4K TV, as well as full HD Live Broadcast for that instant streaming to YouTube Live.
  • Samsung’s advanced camera system, including Quick launch (double-click the home button to launch the camera from any screen), Auto Real-time High Dynamic Range (HDR), and Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) and brand-new filters.
  • Ultra High Quality Audio (UHQA) to upscale audio streams and files which is supported over Bluetooth on Samsung’s next generation wireless audio accessories, including the Level On Wireless Pro.
  • Support of SideSync 4.0, which offers both wireless and wired PC-smartphone integration for seamless connection across devices.
  • The upgraded Samsung KNOX, end-to-end secure mobile platform, offering defense-grade features for real-time protection from potential malicious attacks.
  • Support synchronization with Windows and Mac.

Finally, Denison noted that Samsung envisions a future without plugging in to charge.  While the new phones no longer will have the capability for battery swap out, they will be able to be quick charged, and done so wirelessly.  Samsung is sensitive to desires to not walk around with chargers or for that matter extra batteries and is delighted that there is a growing ecosystem of places like Starbucks and IKEA who are strategically placing wireless chargers in their establishments. I think I can speak for all of us in saying that this wireless quick charging world can’t come soon enough.

Product positioning

Many years ago a sage marketing person told me to never underestimate the ability of consumers to make purchases on differentiated value that may seem incremental. In other words, one size does not fit all. In fact, the trick is to make a platform designed for the many to feel like it was designed for a market of one.  In this respect from a design perspective, the fact that the Galaxy S6 edge+ manages to provide users with a bigger screen with a smaller footprint makes it fit a lot of personal attributes the mass market wants in its smartphone—fits in pockets or purses, is lightweight, has great cameras front and back for all of those selfies, can be charged fast and not often, and can be used with one hand. 

The last point is non-trivial. Think about how often you have been frustrated by literally and figuratively having to have two hands on the virtual wheel. This is a thought not lost on competitors as well it should be noted. 

The more interesting product as a category creator with some legs is the Note5. Samsung in essence created the phablet category, and much is riding on its success as competition from inexpensive Chinese smartphones running Android have put pressure on the consumer market. The Note5, is big but not that big, put its multiple I/O capabilities and the ability to actually be able to read multiple windows when they are open makes this a platform that many enterprises should be evaluating as tablet alternatives or adjuncts.  While both new products share a lot of technology in common, Samsung seems to understand that there is an appetite and appreciation of devices that are slightly different but have profoundly different use cases. 

Samsung is not positioning Galaxy S6 edge+ and Galaxy Note5 as being mass market and enterprise. It is taking the higher plane of saying one is for multimedia consumers and one for multi-taskers.  However, Note gets its name from the origins of tablets starting way back with Apple’s ill-fated Newton where the pen was the thing that was supposed to capture the imagination of the king. That said, the pen still makes sense in a mostly business context for obvious reasons, i.e., quick capture and now the ability to rapidly input and send handwritten notes and messages. Coupled with all of the multimedia functionality of its brethren, for things like video conferencing and streaming, and this is not something for your teenager or tweenager.

FYI. In the U.S., the Galaxy S6 edge+ will be available in Black Sapphire and Gold Platinum, and the Galaxy Note5 will be available in Black Sapphire and White Pearl – in 32GB and 64GB memory options. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon Wireless will carry the Galaxy S6 edge+ and Galaxy Note5. The devices will also be available at Samsung Experience Shops at Best Buy, as well as Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, Costco Wholesale, Inc., Sam’s Club, Target and select Walmart stores. Carriers and retailers will confirm specific pricing and availability.

Samsung also said that in Berlin on September 3 it will be revealing its updated Gear Smartwatch whose integration with the new Galaxy products will be something to keep an eye out for.

And, don’t forget Samsung Pay

Finally, and this is really is a story for more comprehensive coverage, Samsung introduced Samsung Pay, its entry in the mobile wallet race that will be pre-loaded with the new Galaxy S6 edge+ and Galaxy Note5.  Ultimately, this may be the most important part of Samsung Unpacked as it provides not just differentiated value for the devices, but is enabling Samsung to build on what is already an impressive and growing ecosystem of merchant and financial services partners.

Samsung Pay will be preloaded on select Galaxy S6 edge+ and Galaxy Note5 devices and a free software upgrade will be rolled out beginning mid-August, to enable Samsung Pay on Galaxy S6 and S6 edge devices in the U.S. and Korea. Select U.S. users of Galaxy S6, S6 edge, S6 edge+ and Note5 will be able to participate in a beta trial from August 25 ahead of the September 28 launch.

Here is how it works and why Samsung believes in its trustworthiness:

  • To make a payment on Samsung Pay, users can simply swipe up, scan their fingerprint and pay.
  • Samsung Pay uses tokenization, Samsung KNOX, and fingerprint authentication to provide secure payments and reduce the security risks inherent to plastic cards.
  • With Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST) and Near Field Communication (NFC) technologies, Samsung Pay works with most existing point-of-sale (POS) terminals.

In short, like Apple Pay, it does not capture and store transactional information using a one-time token for the specific transaction instead without revealing personal or transaction data. What it means is that it will be a mobile service that works anywhere a person typically swipes a credit, debit, reward or loyalty card. 

“The future of mobile payments has arrived,” said InJong Rhee, EVP of Samsung Electronics, Global Head of Samsung Pay. “We are partnering with card networks, issuers and acquirers, and Samsung Pay will also be the first to support contactless payment for store-branded credit cards. The list of partners will only grow.”

 The point seems well-taken in terms of the partnership ecosystem, as Samsung says it anticipates working with payment networks such as, American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa, major banks including Bank of America, Chase, U.S. Bank and key financial partners including First Data, Synchrony Financial and TSYS and others. In fact, it got testimonials from most of the above as part of the launch.

As someone who over the years has seen concerts, plays and dance recitals in Alice Tully Hall, watching the orchestration of major product launches has become its own type of special entertainment that is well-suited for such a venue.  Truth be known, I can’t wait to have an opportunity when my current phone comes off of contract to upgrade and to use it with my Samsung smart TV. I could also use one of those wireless chargers.   

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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