Samsung unveiled its latest flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S4, on Friday and amid the fanfare, analysts believe the South Korean giant's established branding, marketing clout, and efforts to innovate on its software and services will continue to draw customers, particularly in Asia.
In a launch event held in New York, U.S., this morning, the company showcased the Galaxy S4, which comes in a 5-inch, full HD Super AMOLED display screen. It also boasts a 2,600 mAh removable battery, 64 gigabyte (GB) of internal storage and option for expansion of another 64GB via an external microSD card, and two cameras--a 13-megapixel on the back and 2-megapixel front-facing camera.
The company did not reveal pricing of the device, but said it will be made available by 327 carriers in 55 countries.
Commenting on the device, Jan Dawson, chief telecom analyst at Ovum, said the Galaxy S4 is a "worthy successor" to earlier iterations of Galaxy smartphones and "will doubtless sell well".
"As anticipated, the device features a slightly larger screen, an improved camera, and beefed up processor power and memory. The company also augmented various features previously available, including its eye-tracking capabilities," Dawson said.
Melissa Chau, senior research manager of client devices at IDC Asia-Pacific, added the Galaxy S4 is a "solid device" and there is nothing really lacking in the smartphone. Asian consumers will particularly appreciate the Korean company's decision to expand the screen size as people here are generally more receptive toward larger display real estate, she told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview.
She added the lack of leaks regarding Apple's next mobile phone also plays into Samsung's favor. "With more information on Apple's next device, consumers might choose to wait and see before buying the S4. But since there's not much news, consumers are more likely to buy before the next iPhone is released," Chau predicted.
Consumers have their say
Singaporean consumers ZDNet Asia spoke to had mixed feelings regarding Samsung's smartphone, though.
Chris Lim, an events manager, said the S4's large storage capacity was very useful, and the camera function which allows users to take photos using both the front-facing and back cameras at the same time was "quite innovative".
Lim, who uses Apple's iPhone 4S, added he would "definitely" consider switching to the new device should it prove to be easy to use and practical. "I have grown tired of the iOS platform, which is restrictive and troublesome. There are actually quite a number of my friends who are using the S3 and are waiting for the S4, which shows how strong a marketplace presence Samsung has," he said.
Another iPhone user, Adin Tan, was similarly impressed by the new software Samsung touted, but he stopped short of saying he was going to jump on the Samsung bandwagon. He picked out Air View, which allows users to hover their finger over e-mail, text messages and image galleries to preview the content, as "especially appealing".
"I have always wanted to use my 'force' to do things," Tan, an asset management associate, said.
Other features such as Smart Pause and Smart Scroll were less well-received. He said he was "quite apprehensive" as people do not stare at the screen all the time when watching videos, but would multitask and consume other content on other devices.
"The new features sound really cool, but I would definitely want to test it out before deciding to switch. Apple's Siri, for example, sounded cool when it was first introduced too, but it is a feature I have personally not used much because it doesn't work well," Tan noted.
Then there are consumers who will base their decisions solely on physical considerations. Lawyer James Teo said regardless of the innovations Samsung have introduced, the 5-inch screen is just too chunky for his liking.
"I know it sounds very low tech, but I just don't need such a big phone. I want a phone that can fit into my pocket," Teo explained.
Taiwanese rival HTC also took the opportunity to downplay the Galaxy S4. Benjamin Ho, chief marketing officer at HTC, said in terms of innovation, Samsung did not show much of it during its launch event.
"With a continuation of a plastic body, and a larger screen being the most obvious physical change, Samsung's new Galaxy pales in comparison to the all-aluminum unibody HTC One," Ho told ZDNet Asia. "Our customers want something different from the mainstream, which appear to be the target [demographic] for the Galaxy S4."
The executive was more reticent when commenting on the expected end-April global launch date of the S4, which is very close to the delayed launches of the HTC One device in certain markets, and how it will affect its overall sales.
He said: "We are thrilled with the positive response to the HTC One and we are working tirelessly with all of our channel partners to ensure we can fulfill as many orders as possible. We will start fulfilling pre-orders by end-March in certain markets and will roll out to more markets as we approach April."
Samsung's mobile future less clear-cut
The mixed consumer comments back up Dawson's view that Samsung is now facing key challenges in terms of how it advances its mobile strategy going forward. For one, the company has innovated rapidly over the last few years to vault itself into the top of the global smartphone rankings.
"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 analyst said.
He also pointed out that the company will face challenges to differentiate itself from other vendors touting Android-based mobile devices too. With rivals HTC and Sony Mobile Communications upping their device specifications and hardware, it becomes more important for Samsung to differentiate on software and services.
"The improvements to eye-tracking and the additions of S Translator and the hover feature and so on are good steps in this direction, but they can be seen as gimmicks rather than game-changers," Dawson said. "For now, Samsung can rely on its vastly superior marketing budget and the relatively weak efforts of its competitors in software to keep it ahead."
Chau had a slightly different perspective to Samsung's software focus. She said the company traditionally had a reputation of copying others and is good at playing catch up, but it is now trying to create new software features and things that its competitors are not offering which is laudable.
She added the company's strong market position means it has the necessary "buffer time" to refine its software products such as S Beam, as these tend to need several iterations before they "click" into place. There's also the element of user education to highlight the use case for the applications too, she said.