Samsung Galaxy S5: Why I'm rooting for the little guys

Samsung Galaxy S5: Why I'm rooting for the little guys

Summary: The Mobile World Congress powwow in Barcelona illustrates the smartphone industry's innovation plateau and how the dominant players may need a kick in the butt from the more hungry upstarts.


The launch of Samsung's Galaxy S5 with the same plastic design, similar Android interface to the S4 and a few extra goodies like a fingerprint reader illustrate why the smartphone market really needs the hungry underdogs in emerging countries to carry the mobile ball.

Folks, we've hit a plateau in smartphone innovation and we can't count on two dominant hardware makers---Apple and Samsung---and two platforms---iOS and Android---to do everything. My patience for evolution over revolution is going to wear thin in the not-to-distant future. You can only spin Samsung's penchant for the same Galaxy smartphone plastic design positive for so long. 

CNET Samsung Galaxy S5 review | ZDNet: Galaxy S5: Evolution, not revolution 

In other words, I'm rooting for the likes of ZTE and the Firefox OS phone, Jolla in the EU and Xiaomi in China. How about Meixu and its Ubuntu phone as a fan favorite. Maybe we even toss in the Nokia engineers who developed an Android-forked phone as they were being acquired by Microsoft.

Hell, maybe BlackBerry or HTC can make a comeback. Both of those former smartphone stars have been bludgeoned enough to be a feel-good story if they capture just a quarter of their past glory.

Let's hear it for the hungry and potentially silly smartphone players who are finding novel ways to be a force. It's unclear how these stories will turn out, but it's hard not to root for David in the land of smartphone Goliaths.

Four colors! Gee, thanks.

At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week, it may pay to veer away from the incumbents. To wit:

  • Mozilla is doubling down on low-end smartphones for its Firefox OS. Even if Mozilla isn't successful pushing $25 smarpthones in emerging markets is a welcome move. And guess what? One day these cheap Firefox phones will be good enough. Meanwhile, targeting emerging markets is a viable business strategy in a crowded mobile market.

  • An Ubuntu phone strikes me as almost comical, but you never know. I have a hard time taking Ubuntu seriously relative to Mozilla just due to the partnerships, but who's to say Canonical, parent of Ubuntu, can't do more in the future than give existing Android phones a makeover. Maybe Meizu can make something work. 

  • Xiaomi isn't exactly a little guy anymore given that it aims to double smartphone production to 40 million, but the company is beating Samsung in China now. Xiaomi's global ambitions can't be too far behind.

  • Jolla and its Sailfish OS is about to exit beta and the company's efforts are a bit of a long shot. Nevertheless, Jolla may be able to generate buzz the way Nokia used to in Finland.

You get the idea. The point is that smartphone innovation can move forward, but the big guys are going to need a kick in the behind to get there.

Topics: Mobility, Apple, MWC, Samsung, Smartphones

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  • What a whimsical mindset

    First off I fully agree with the editors opinion about smartphones having hit a plateau of SENSIBLE features. 4k displays and 16 core engines in a 5" device deem me preposterous to say at least.

    But the conclusion from that insight is baffling as well. Why would I want to opt for a smartphone in a very early development stage probably suffering from many teething problems when Samsung finally managed to bring about a decent product ? I bet that almost all of the aforementioned brands still suffer from annoying shortcomings in many areas.

    Guess we all remember Samsungs early desperate steps debuting one half-cooked device after another accompanied by excruciating user pain due to a host of zany quirks. The S5 is in no way breathtaking, disruptive or staggering instead it delivers solid quality and proven working concepts.

    The editors stance deems me that of a nerdy teenage boy who is permanently looking for the next high-tech kick. I myself prefer proven concepts that work reliable.
    • That "WOW!!! factor" is addictive. Thanks, Steve Jobs.

      Yep, it looks like Larry, along with all those nerdy teen-age boys, has been bitten by the "I-need-a-WOW!!!" bug. They're not content with some pretty impressive technical enhancements in the new smartphones. What fun is that? They're really not sure WHAT it is they would like to see in a new product announcement, but they desperately want to be WOW!!!ed by something.

      Why? Because Steve Jobs did a masterful job of WOW!!!ing---not just once, but three times, with the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Yes, those products were WOW!!-worthy, but Steve, the master showman, made the hotly-anticipated unveiling even more WOW!!!ish. And there's the problem. Now, every new product announcement--and not just Apple products--is expected to be a WOW!!!er. When it's not, all the faithful, and even the stock market, is mightily "disappointed". Well, when you've been WOW!!!ed a few times, it's tough to get back to reality with mundane, non-WOW!!!ing announcements. But that isn't going to prevent Larry and all those teeners from hoping for just one more WOW!!! fix, is it?
      • As far as addictions go

        this one is better than most.
        Still, addiction implies increasing doses to keep that same high, and, as one would expect, it is getting harder and harder to get it.
        • "Wow factor" is one thing, but when I see that photo of SGS5 I suddenly ...

          ... feel "Ugh (this looks horrible) factor".
          • Tizen just makes it worse

            Agreed GS5 ugly and Tizen makes it undesirable.

            How many of you trust Samsung software. I don't, so an OS is out of the question.
      • I remember differently.

        When I look back at those Apple product announcements, all I remember is that while they were greeted enthusiastically by the Apple faithful, they were also panned by the majority of the tech press and industry as well as the stock market. The Wow factor only came gradually as a result of adoption, resulting in copycat behaviour and many people having to eat their words.
        • Agree except for iPhone

          I agree that many people didn't "get" the iPod or iPad when they were first introduced. That came as people actually got to touch and use them. However, the iPhone was truly new and different than anything before it, and most (except Microsoft?) understood that pretty quickly. As for the copycats, there's a reason every smartphone OS available when the iPhone came out was retired within 3 years for something "new."
          • iPhone still the same

            The iPhone still looks the same as the original?
            Still a brick that's been stretched a bit.
            change for the sake of change doesn't usually work, but staying the same too long becomes boring.
    • What he said.

      Change for the sake of change and you end up with god-awful abortions like Windows 8, so far "different" from what came before that it looks closer to Windows 3 (the current generation haven't seen it, so won't be able to make that comparison) but doesn't even have the good points of 3.11 - if you don't maximise your windows, it's real tricky to tell where one ends and the next begins.
  • Competition

    is always good for consumers, so I too pull for the little guys. If for no other reason than to have the "big guys" not rest on their laurels. The two most innovative phones I have seen from MWC are the Blackphone and the new Yotaphone. Each for different reasons, but they both offer something unique.
  • Too Late

    "The little guys" needed to make themselves known at the onset of the smartphone boom. Unlike prior mobile devices where users typically would only fret about migrating their phone books and little else, now with each passing day, users become more entrenched in the "ecosystem" of their chosen platform. While there are interesting alternatives, at the end of the day, if I buy a new Android (and I've been with Android since the T-Mobile G1), it's a trivial matter for Amazon and Play store to reinstall all of the accumulated applications, paid or otherwise. Restoring the same functionality to a non-Android device would require a measure of effort and cost that I'm not willing to expend.

    What is probably needed is a new paradigm that obsoletes current smartphone technology completely. Create a new ground floor opportunity for these companies. Of course, if the interest is in competing in markets that have low smartphone penetration (I do not miss the Blackberry knock-off "MyPhone" I had in the Philippines one bit), more power to them, I just don't see them getting much traction or visibility in the US.
  • Sometimes a plateau is a positive sign.

    A plateau doesn't necessarily mean stagnation.

    It may, if you look at Apple's history of stagnating, while others around them continued to evolve. Today, Apple is forced into the embarrassing position of having to "copy" Android, because that's where the features are that people are voting with their wallets that they want. And it's a sign that Apple lost control of the mobile paradigm.

    It may not, if you look at any given time at whoever IS controlling the mobile paradigm. Currently, that's Android, and that means (unlike when Apple was controlling it) there are no real artificial limits to innovation. It's not just Google evolving Android.

    So when I see the author saying "we've hit a plateau", I think he's reached the wrong conclusion. Let me draw a parallel to a highly progressive, always evolving sport I grew up with:

    When I started skateboarding in the mid 80's, boards had funky shapes, very unique, every board was different from one another. As time went on, and board shapes evolved, they actually evolved towards a common shape - the one that literally is every board shape today, they are all the same - because all that evolution led to that one shape of superior functionality. There are still minor differences between boards - board width, depth of concave, graphics and brand of course - but we've reached a point where skateboard shapes are so evolved, that gimmicks have all been evolved away.

    I think we're experiencing the same thing with smartphones. It used to be that Dictator Jobs had "his way or the highway", and the counter-reaction to that was Android with it's overly-open nature and rough edges - and now we're evolving from that. People don't necessarily want Apple's tyranny, but they like the ease of use. Android is evolving to address both, and as a result they've become dominant. Smartphones are settling in at the 5 inch mark for screen size. They are becoming similar because they are evolving simply to becoming "the thing that people want".

    We may not reach a point where there's a single, "perfect" shape like with my skateboard analogy, and just like skateboards there's still differences that make each board (and device) unique, but the similarities indicate to me that we've simply reached a highly evolved, more mature state.

    In a way, that's the opposite of stagnation.
  • Time to Retire the Galaxy

    It is kind of ridiculous that there's another Galaxy phone now, I mean come on, the Galaxy 4 was not all that big of improvement. I work with all kinds of phones and devices and we were all excited about the mobile world congress to see what we would be adding to our work collection, but I can pretty much say that the Galaxy S5 will not be at the top of the list.
    I would love to see some of our apps, AB Mobile Apps, on some more underdog platforms, it is just normally not worth the cost.
  • comical Canonical?

    HA, that's funny!
  • Larry, just what are you imagining will be revolutionary?

    Why don't you take your ideas to the phone manufacturers yourself?
    I for one can't imagine what more an in-your-pocket-computer could do.
  • I don't understand

    All the while analysts keep saying, even with billions MS can't dent apple and google duopoly. its jsut too much wrok to be number 3 and even after 4 years its stil tiny. How in this world any of these new comers can do what MS couldn't do??

    I'll bet on MS, as compare to all these new [except XIAOMI i guess], as all their investment/work in last few years now seem to come together!!

    my 2 cents.