Samsung's product introductions are a speedball of specs and benefits delivered through a syringe of dramatic sound and lighting. The latter has lately come in the form of a barren half-cube stage consisting of two walls and a floor of LCD matrices that eerily cast no shadows. In addition to taking on the iPhone directly at times, the larger marketing message versus Apple has been that its product decisions are driven by you, holding up such simple and well-worn features as microSD card support as an example of customer-centric flexibility.
Even before the Galaxy Note 7's battery issues, though, Samsung has talked about the Note line with an Air Command of sentimentality. The Note, you see, was the phablet that defied Steve Jobs' prediction that such phones would sell like Hummers as well as his rebuke of styli at the launch of the iPhone. And while there are now any number of large-screen phones in the market, there's nothing available in most markets like the S Pen-equipped Note. Beyond the Note even having a stylus, the S Pen stands out in that it never has to be charged or synced. Had the Galaxy S7 experienced the battery issues of the Galaxy Note 7, Samsung would have likely taken a far greater hit to its revenue. But the Note seems to occupy a special place in its heart.
The Galaxy Note 8's launch blended together these two notions of customer focus and differentiation to create a masterful (from a marketing perspective) close to the Galaxy Note 7's story arc that has featured contrition and reassurance. After showing off clips of users talking about their experience with earlier Notes, it showed a few clips of Galaxy Note 7 users -- fingers intact -- lamenting that they had to return their phones like as if it were an unrequited love interspersed with phrases like "forgive and forget."
So, now that Samsung has opened a new chapter, where does it take the Note? While the Note has always been about size and stylus, the former has become far less of a differentiator over the years. Yes, the Galaxy Note 8 offers more screen real estate than the S8 and the new aspect ratio and bezel-minimized Infinity Display will be a revelation for Note upgraders. But neither the size nor the tighter edge glass curvature will likely make much of a difference in daily use versus the Galaxy S8.
Samsung continues to play up the signature S Pen, of course, even highlighting a sketching community beyond the talent of most people and new coloring book templates below the interest level of many others. The expansion of one feature -- screen off memos -- paradoxically plays well with the company's always-on display, and Samsung's animated scribblings seem to be a crowd-pleaser, at least as a demo.
However, perhaps because the S Pen is maxing out its addressable market, it was the third feature Samsung detailed in the Note 8's introduction as it took a backseat to the dual optically stabilized cameras. Samsung also played up the device's 6GB of RAM, which the company noted was as much as many PCs, particularly as an asset when used with its DeX dock that's aimed at business but which also has consumer applications such as games.
In sum, the Note's original features have in some ways run their course. Size has turned out to have broad appeal, but it's available from the company's main competitors. The stylus is a bona fide differentiator, but it has limited appeal -- particularly when the Galaxy Note 8 must contend with its strongest competitor, the Galaxy S8, which offers a slightly bigger battery. But the tradeoffs between the S series and the Note are far less pronounced than they once were. They have in some ways become more subtle than the difference between the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. The Note has simply become Samsung's best smartphone.
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The launch event kicks off at at 11am ET in New York and will be live streamed on Samsung's website.