There is much that we can read from Samsungs latest presentation in Barselona. All the comments seems to be about the S6 and S6 Edge, but there is more to it which I would like to write down, for me, and all you rare duds who find yourself on this page.
So Samsung’s reaction to the weakneses that it started showing last year are fast, bold, and well measured. They addressed many small issues they had in the past including the way of presenting their flagship phone. We had girls on the stage, people who worked on the project, not actors and comedy. If JK Shin had a shorter text it would be impressive. I mean, the change for the better would be impressive in scale. It is important that CEO can come out and say a few words, but this guy doesn’t have inborn skills to do it. They were also short for data. Show us something on those big screens while you walk left and right repeating how proud and trilled you are. The girl after him was not much better, but that is a matter of political correctness that a giant like Samsung has to obey. They have to show you that they have techy girls on the stage in order not to get criticised. On the other hand, the second girl that was there, the real engineer girl, was like a fish in the water, she was the best presenter. By organizing this presentation Samsung actually says: “I am listening to the good willed critics and here I am improving, give me the next assignment.”
The product. No specs. Who cares. “You know me, I know you”. Samsung is gonna give you something better then the previous time, there is a trust, finally, well earned and Samsung wears it like a boss, like finally aware of it. No S things bragging about, but even more “we listened carefully” talk. “We scraped this and that, and we know no one’s gonna cry for it”, but without sentiments and much bragging how nice they are. They swallowed the big green frog right in front of you without blinking or making faces. And that is a virtue, too.
They changed their strategy boldly without making a drama. They kind of entrenched on their present positions, realizing they are not in the best shape to continue the rally like before. And yet, nobody is speaking about that, but about the product. When I say entrenched, I mean that they hauled the simultaneous offensive on Google and Apple. Samsung made partial truce with both of them, while they see what to do in China and the rest of the Asia. Cause this is where Samsung failed to grow, not in the US (they are winning the US battle pretty confidently, growing continuously and at almost the constant pace). So, consumers wanted premium built phones, they got them. Choices that were hard to make before are now made without much regret. Cause if someone wants SD card or replacable battery there will be Samsung again, you will find it right next to this flagship phone. Advertizing only the best, but giving choice to the people, and doing so from one market to the other, having localy tuned ears, and globaly tuned ears, is Samsung specialty.
They accepted some Apple’s design solutions (this is not the same as copying!) swallowed the vanity and just went for it. Cause it is better, and there is nothing bad at choosing to do the same as your opponent if it is better. Like the direction of oppening the doors of the car. Through the history there were many ways, but the one is much better than the others so there is no point in inventing hot water. Therefore, the 3.5mm jack is going to the bottom side, speakers too, and the fingerprint scanner is not swipe type anymore. The metal is chamfered here and there. Same did the Apple when moved the power button where Samsung had it the whole time, or when making a screen sizes that Samsung introduced, or when protruding the camera to get a slimmer device. By not chasing the megapixels, the picture taking experience seems to be much improved. Like they were reading my mind. What I want to see is if they fixed the shutter speed, so that there are not so many blured pics because the exposure is too long. That’s the software trick I need them to do, not another S feature. Polishing and purifying of UX. Nothing of that can be easily advertized, cause it’s the way it should be, that’s why this is entrenching, not the heroic expansion.
They gave up quietly the self-forced race with Google, too. Only essential S apps remained, but smoothed up. Touch wizz is still there, the Samsung DNA is there to stay, not alienating the user nor trying to impress on the other hand. Tizen needs time, it cannot ride on the sole market share, that market share is Samsung’s as much as Google’s. But Samsung will never scrap the attempts to move up and become relevant in software technology. They can’t, the whole country’s development depends on that, and because they are much more vulnerable without it.
One huge thing that happened is Exinos, the in-house processor. The first benchmarks show abnormal improvement. That means that one strategic technology that was outsorced to Qualcomm is now back in da house. Knowing the problems that Qualcomm has in China it can be interpreted as a chance for Samsung to escape to some extent regulatory hand of China which unleashed its long time incubated tech companies and is doing a lot to protect them in their expansion plans, and got recently Qualcomm on target. The other thing about the Exinos is its energy performance if the data Samsung showed is true. Smaller battery, better resolution, but same or little better battery life. In the house processor, battery, screen, and lightly skinned Android 5 make a huge potential for the great battery life optimization and this is what is happening. Up to last year the battery life was improved with enlarging the battery, now it is the optimization. The UX smoothness ceiling is hit*1, and the standard of charging every night is there to stay, so these improvements leads to even better competitiveness. With peaking battery efficiency in this form factor, fast charging push makes a sensible and meaningfull difference, (and I can bet that Apple will have it in the fall as their batteries grew much bigger, iPhone 6+ charging time is 3 hours). As for the wireless charging option, it is great that you are not limited to Samsung’s propriatery solutions, cause they accepted the global standards. This will make small impact, though, because of the previously mentioned fast charging. Wirelles is wirelles, but twice the fast is twice the fast. Anyway, if not to expensive I would be glad to see it next to my bed, or in the lab (for my Note 5, off course).
Now, let’s talk beauty. There are some seducive lines of SGS 6 Edge (long name). The reflecting surface on the back is sexy, too, but for a phone that is unlocked by fingerprint it will collect one too many fingerprints on it. I still think that the most beautifull iPhone was 4s, partially because of the glass on the back, and that the antena reception is probably better this way – with the glass, not aluminium on the back. But this is not a Miss Universe, not S6 Edge, and especially not S6. In fact, no phablet can be, cause of the clanky proportions. M9 is close to being one, Experia Z is close to being one, but something is missing, something in proportions that 4S and Nokia 3310 had. IMO. So it will come down to how it feels in the hand, is it cold enough to the touch, is the mass balanced well, and how does it fall. If I have to say how it compares to the iPhone, which is the crowned king of attention, I would say that Samsung did a decent job and closed the gap, but is not quite there. Given that Apple made suprisingly many design compromises and inconsistencies going for the bigger, thinner slab, I would say that the iPhone’s “wow effect” will vanish in the next itteration which will probably be slightly facelifted (and if Jony Eve doesn’t make radical changes (like going for the translucent, waterproof, unibody, no connector, saphire glass slab 🙂 )).
One thing that I think Samsung didn’t get enough love for is the Samsung Pay. It is so elegant solution that can make the switch from mag stripes to NFC painless for both small merchants and buyers. It can make your wallet significantly slimmer if not obsolete as of tomorrow. As a merchant, you don’t have to praise the god that your customer is having eligible iPhone, and that all of them will have. You can keep your universal unit until another universal unit replaces it. It is not hard to imagine that big players, banks, will be happy to back this solution, to save their cut.
To sum it up, Samsung did a good job. It’s a good response to the chalenges that emerged last year. One more time it showed zero vanity and inertia which sent Nokia, Blackberry, Sony back to the cradle. Will this proactive attitude be enough to increase the profitability again in a world where Apple iPhone is not just a smartphone, and where Chinese smartphone makers that aim really high have a backwind from the most liquid government, well, we’ll see pretty soon. But let me give these guys from Samsung some credits for their efforts!
*1 Since Note 2 there is no easily noticable improvement of speed of common operations. In a way that improvements are in the same order of magnitude, similar to the fact that our eye cannot see nothing faster than 4ms, or not more than 300 pixels per inch from 25cm distance. We still need some time to register the change that happened in front of our eyes as a concequence of previous actions, and to decide on the next one. Also, because the phones are not used to do heavy tasks and calculations like work stations, or for 8 hours productivity work, and because the games are made to run on almost any phone so any flagship will naturally have the best possible experience. The real multytasking of Android still waits to be better expoloited (additional screen, anyone?).