The Galaxy S8 is shaping up to be perhaps the most important smartphone Samsung has ever developed, and rumours about the details of its specs continue to emerge.
According to The Wall Street Journal the home button may be removed from the front of the smartphone and moved to the back, freeing up space for the screen -- something that Samsung's Chinese rival Huawei did on its P9 smartphone last year.
The paper reports that the device, which is expected to be launched later this month, will come with a curved screen as standard, a feature Samsung debuted on its Galaxy S6 Edge and which has proved popular with customers.
The S8 will also feature a Samsung-developed voice-powered digital assistant which will apparently be called Bixby, in an attempt to rival Apple's Siri and Google Now. Unlike Apple's iPhone 7, the S8 will feature a standard microphone jack, according to reports.
Other rumour suggests the new smartphones will come with 3,000mAh and 3,500mAh batteries for its regular and plus-size models respectively -- that means the S8 Plus (if that's what it's called) will have the same battery capacity as the ill-fated Note 7.
Samsung will be desperate to put the saga of the Galaxy Note 7 behind it. The Note 7 got rave reviews, but problems with batteries saw a number of handsets catching fire, leading to a worldwide recall and huge costs for the South Korean consumer electronics giant. Samsung will have to show that it has learned the lessons of that experience and will be hoping that the S8's new features will be enough to lure customers back.
Samsung will also be keen to get ahead of Apple. The most recent iPhone was well received by consumers, but didn't stray far from the standard design that Apple has been using for several generations of the device, and the tenth anniversary of this iconic device is this year. Samsung may be hoping that, with a curved screen and no home button, it can grab customers looking for a sleeker design.
But Apple and Samsung aren't the only contenders. Rivals such as a Huawei and Oppo are also applying pressure particularly in China and growing as a result, as the chart below shows.
According to data from IDC, Samsung dropped to second in the worldwide smartphone market in the fourth quarter of 2016, with shipments declining 5.2 percent compared to last year. It shipped 77.5 million smartphones in the quarter, down from the 81.7 million units shipped last holiday quarter.
Across 2016, Samsung shipped 311.4 million smartphones worldwide, which was down three per cent from the 320.9 million shipments in 2015.
"Despite the Note 7 debacle and growing pressure from Chinese vendors, Samsung still managed to find success with its S7 and popular J-series of devices in numerous markets. The challenging holiday quarter, however, did bring its worldwide market share below 20 percent for the first time in over four years, leaving no better time for the pending arrival of its next flagship product, the Galaxy S8," the researchers said.
The broader challenge for the smartphone makers - particularly Apple and Samsung who dominate the high end - is how to deal with a market where most people already have a smartphone that does most of the things they want it to do. A combination of market saturation and new vendors offering cheaper but still highly specced devices is likely to be an increasing challenge to both.
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