At a Broadway-style premiere this evening at New York’s Radio City Musical Hall, Samsung unveiled its heavily anticipated Galaxy S4 handset. The event had the hype and production values of an Apple product launch. But, what barely seemed in attendance was any idea that the S4 is an Android phone or contains Google services.
Samsung obviously spent a great deal of money on the show. Parts of it were awkward and many of the scripted jokes fell flat. But, the phone is sure to be a hit.
The new S4 looks very much like the Galaxy S III (I watched the live stream and haven’t held it in my hand) — or perhaps more like the offspring of the Galaxy Note II and the S III. It’s thinner than the S III and has a larger display (5 inches) like the original Galaxy Note.
The Life Companion, No Google Required
Much of the product launch was devoted to showcasing software rather than hardware features. Samsung is positioning the phone as a “life companion.” Perhaps most interesting, Google was never mentioned and Android drew one lesser mention in the context of the phone’s “Knox” enterprise security system.
Different features of the software and user experience were introduced in theatrical vignettes that illustrated a range use cases, such as “dual camera,” which merges images from the front and rear cameras and “group play” that allow multiple Samsung handsets to effectively become a single sound system.
The phone will roll out globally at the end of April and will support 3G and 4G/LTE. It’s made out of polycarbonate plastic and will be available in two colors: “black mist” and “white frost.”
S Stands For Swapping Out Google For Samsung
Samsung has developed or upgraded lots of proprietary software to sit on top of the core Android OS, which is now almost totally obscured to end users. In fact, in a few cases, it replaces or buries the Google software features with a Samsung alternative. S Voice and S Translator are two examples.
Even when Samsung discussed navigation this evening, in the context of S Voice Drive, the screen shot also looked like a different UI than the native Google Maps, although I didn’t see enough screens to be sure. (I wouldn’t be surprised if Samsung acquired a navigation company and replaced Google Maps eventually with “S Navigation.”)
Standout software features included: dual camera, group play, multi-user video chat, eye-tracking (which pauses video when you look away), S health, home sync family cloud and air gesture (allowing interactions with the phone without touching the screen).
Samsung has become by far the most successful maker of Android handsets. And this new phone is likely to continue and accelerate that trend. It’s clear that Samsung sees tightly integrated software as a way to further differentiate from other Android OEMs (including Google itself). And it’s using certain hardware-software innovations (e.g., air gesture, dual camera) to compete with the iPhone.
It’s unlikely that any of Samsung’s Android competitors, including HTC and Motorola (Google), will be able to match the S 4′s feature set and marketing muscle. (However, Gizmodo has a surprisingly negative review of the handset, calling it a “missed opportunity.”) Samsung is not only outspending other Android OEMs but is also spending more than Apple on handset marketing.
Google is rightfully nervous about Samsung’s growing dominance of the Android handset market. The company may opt to develop a proprietary (“forked”) version of Android, as Amazon has done. Or, it could potentially make increasing demands on Google, which is now both dependent upon and competitive with its South Korean partner.
Be sure to read our related story: Samsung Launches The Galaxy S4.
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