By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
New York — Samsung took its battle for U.S. smartphone supremacy to Manhattan Island, where it unveiled a flagship product that it hopes will vault the company ahead of Apple in the U.S. smartphone market after having gained the lead in global smartphone share.
Hoping to boost sales in a smartphone market whose growth is slowing, Samsung executives took to the Radio City Music Hall stage, here, to unveil the Galaxy S4, the first phone announced to date with global 4G LTE roaming. The presentation was also broadcast live to an outdoor digital display in Times Square.
The phone will be available through 327 carriers in 155 countries starting at the end of April, said J.K. Shin, president of Samsung’s mobile communications business. U.S. carriers AT&T, Cricket, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and U.S. Cellular will offer the phone but declined to state a price or availability date.
The phone, available in black or white, boasts many hardware and software advances over the Galaxy S3 and the iPhone 5. The S4 offers a faster CPU than any other phone announced to date, with a choice of 1.9GHz quad-core or 1.6GHz octo-core processor depending on the geographic market. It also boasts such hardware improvements as 5-inch screen vs. the S III’s 4.7-inch; 1080p FullHD display with 441 ppi vs. the S III’s 720p screen with 306 ppi; and front and rear FullHD cameras (13 and 2 megapixels, respectively) vs. the S III’s 8-megapixel 1080p main camera coupled with a front 1.9-megapixel 720p camera. The screen and camera specs exceed those of Apple’s iPhone 5.
Samsung packed the advances in a chassis that’s slimmer than its predecessor at 0.31 inches and lighter at 4.6 vs. 4.7 ounces, while packing a stronger 2,600 mAh battery compared with the predecessor’s 2,100 mAh. Its polycarbonate case also makes it stronger than the S III, said Ryan Bidan, product marketing director for Samsung Telecommunications of America.
The Android 4.2.2 phone, which features 2GB RAM like its predecessor, also boasts more than a dozen key software and user-interface advances. They include:
* Smart Scroll, which lets users tilt the phone up or down slightly to scroll text up or down;
* Smart Pause, which automatically pauses a video when the users looks away from the screen;
* Air Gesture, which lets users wave their hand to change music tracks, scroll through a web page, and accept a call;
* A Dual Camera feature that places the face of the person taking a picture into a window appearing on the picture taken by the rear-facing camera;
* Dual Video Call, which lets users make and receive a video call while showing people on the other end of the call what you are looking at;
* Sound and Shot, which records sounds when a picture is taken and plays the sounds back when the picture is displayed.
* S Translator, which translates up to nine languages, enabling someone to speak a phrase into the phone and hear the translation though the phone’s speaker. It also translates email, text messages, and ChatON video chats.
* An optical reader to translate written words, such as text from menus, into nine languages.
* Air View, which enables a quick preview of content, like an email, by hovering a finger over the screen;
* Drama Shot, which takes 100 pictures in four seconds, enabling the user to create a collage with some of the shots.
* Share Music which enables multiple nearby S4 phones to play the same song in sync.
* Eraser, which speeds up the shutter to take multiple shots, enabling the picture taker to select a photo without strangers walking by in the background.
* Adapt Display, which automatically changes the brightness, saturation and contrast of the screen depending on content source, such as movies or emails, to make viewing more comfortable for the eyes.
* Story Album, an automatic album-creation feature that gathers pictures sorted by timeline, geo-tagging information, or a specific event to create a photo album. Users can also order a hard copy from within the app at a price of $10 to $30 for a 20-page album;
* Samsung Knox, which creates separate personal and enterprise identities on a phone so users can use the same phone for personal and business uses and prevent IT departments from accessing personal information.
* S Health, which uses multiple types of sensors to do such things as track calories burned during exercise and monitor heart rates. With optional accessories, the phone will also monitor blood sugar and blood pressure and collect information into a report.
*And S Voice Drive, which offers a more intuitive user interface with bigger letters for users when a car is in motion. The feature also offers more text-to-speech conversion options than before and voice command to place calls, choose songs and access weather reports, among other things.
Like the recently announced Galaxy Note 8.0 tablet, the S4 smartphone will feature WatchOn, which lets users search for specific TV shows and movies across multiple Internet-video sources and a home’s TV-service provider. The phone and tablet also have IR remote to control channel selection and other home-entertainment system components.
The phone will be available with 16GB of storage, but embedded 32GB and 64GB options will be available. A 64GB MicroSD card slot is included for additional storage.
The S4 might also be the first phone announced to date with Wi-Fi 802.11ac in addition to a/b/g/n. It also offers LTE Category 3 technology, allowing for downloads up to a theoretical 100Mbps and uploads up to a theoretical 50Mbps. A Huawei Ascend P2 phone unveiled at the Mobile World Congress, however, is the first phone announced to date with LTE Category 4 for 150Mbps downloads and 50Mbps uploads.
The phone will roam in up to six LTE bands globally, and a dual-mode LTE version incorporating today’s FDD LTE standard and the next-generation TDD LTE standard will be available later in the year. The phone also features 4G HSPA+42Mbps technology.
Despite the advances, some analysts have already called the device evolutionary rather than revolutionary, although they believe the device will nonetheless be a strong seller. One of them is Jan Dawson, chief telecom analyst at Ovum, who called the Galaxy S4 “a worthy successor to earlier members of this line.” Although it “will doubtless sell well,” he said, the launch “highlights a couple of the key challenges Samsung faces.”
Dawson said “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?” The second challenge is how to set Samsung's devices apart from other Android rivals, such as HTC and Sony, who are also raising the specs of their devices. “It becomes more and more important for Samsung to differentiate on software and services,” he said.
Some improvements, such as eye tracking, “can be seen as gimmicks rather than game changers,” he pointed out. “At this point, Samsung appears to be trying to kill the competition with sheer volume of new features. There should be something here for everyone, even if most of these new features won't be used by most users.”
For now, Samsung can “likely rely on its vastly superior marketing budget and the relatively weak efforts of its competitors in software to keep it ahead,” he said. But competitors will catch up, and Samsung “will need to continue to stretch.” The company “needs to build a stronger set of content offerings that cross its various platforms so that it can extend its leadership in smartphones into the tablet space, and give consumers a reason to buy into an ‘all-Samsung’ experience with their consumer electronics,” he added.
Analyst Jeff Kagan also expects the S4 to be a hit, but he said Samsung “only partially answered” the question of “what makes this phone special?” Many of the phone’s features are similar to those of other handset makers, he said.
The answer could determine whether Samsung can continue gaining on Apple in U.S. smartphone share.
Samsung raised its share of retail-level unit purchases by consumers to 28 percent in 2012 from 2011’s 16 percent, The NPD Group statistics show. That put Samsung only 5 percentage points behind Apple’s 2012 share of 33 percent. In 2011, in contrast, Samsung lagged farther behind Apple, which posted a 31 percent share to Samsung’s 16 percent.
In 2012, Samsung posted a 76 percent unit-sales gain in smartphones compared to Apple’s 7 percent gain, NPD said.
Worldwide, however, Samsung is the clear leader in smartphone share, according to IDC. Samsung’s worldwide share grew from 19 percent in 2011 to 30.3 percent in 2012, while Apple share grew only to 19.1 percent in 2012 from 2011’s 18.8 percent.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.