Last night Samsung announced a new Galaxy smartphone; although that news was almost buried because of the bizarre way they decided to present it. What began with a host, a full orchestra and dancing children ended with sexist stereotypes of women pulled right from the set of Mad Men. The Broadway style theatrics were uncomfortable to watch at times, occasionally funny but overall came off as tone-deaf as Molly Wood of CNET described as well as many others on social media.
Just caught the last 20mins of Samsung event. Wow that was sexist and terrible and wow and brutal mostly offensive.— philipalanoneal (@philipalanoneal) March 15, 2013
Beyond the awkward press conference the actual Galaxy S4 is a really nice phone. Yes they made it bigger. Yes they made it faster. Yes it looks like a Galaxy S3. The phone has a beautifully large 4.99 inch screen with 441 ppi (pixels per inch), a 13 MP rear facing camera and 2MP on the front. It comes with the standard 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB options as well as up to 32GB of expanded storage and removable battery. Unfortunately the overall design remains uninspired with Samsung choosing to continue using the plastic casings they're becoming known for.
If you didn't like Samsung phones before there is nothing here to make you change your mind. There is no word on battery life but expect it to get results somewhere between the Galaxy S3 and the Note 2. There were a couple of software features announced yesterday that look somewhat interesting like Smart Scroll or Drama shot, a camera feature that takes multiple frames at a time and allows the user to easily choose the best picture. Most of the features like Air Gestures and Share Music were gimmicky at best, but will look good to consumers on the box and when demoed.
If you were playing tech bingo last night you might have missed the one use of the word Android in the announcement. This was not by accident. Samsung has continued to push Google and the Android brand to the back while maximizing the Samsung brand and features. In fact last night they went as far as repackaging software that’s already native to Android (Google Translate) and renaming it S Translator. Some have even speculated that Samsung will eventually fork Android into their own version like Amazon has. I’m not sure if the benefit of creating their own version of Android outweighs the benefits of letting Google do the heavy lifting on the OS; not to mention access to the Google Play Store and the rest of Google’s services. One thing is for sure; the Galaxy brand has as much awareness as Android does, if not more among the average consumer. Google has for the most part lost control of the Android brand, not that I think they mind. I’m sure they realized a while ago being open would allow for these types of issues to occur. We’ll know how serious Google is about defining Android when/if they release the rumored Google X Phone with big fanfare. It’s starting to look like there will always be multiple branches of Android on the market either from fragmentation or OS forks.
Samsung Vs. Apple
Watching the Samsung event last night I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast it was to a typical Apple event. The Apple/Steve Jobs style of presentation has been what other technology companies have tried to emulate in various degrees of success for years. While it was a bit refreshing to see Samsung try to do something totally unique while announcing yet another rectangle smartphone, the over-produced, train wreck of a presentation would be something I bet they now wish they would’ve reconsidered. A boring, small stage with a slideshow probably would’ve been a lot more focused, a lot less expensive, and the chatter today would be more about the actual phone. The Galaxy S4 is definitely an iterative step from the S3 much like Apple’s (iPhone 3GS/iPhone 4S) S models are. It will be funny to see how many people who criticized Apple, find reasons to excuse this very sane practice of keeping a consistent brand identity and not changing the body style yearly just for change sake.
"Innovation differs from improvement in that innovation refers to the notion of doing something different rather than doing the same thing better." - Wikipedia
Can we PLEASE stop abusing the word innovation? An expected, evolutionary improvement in technology is not an innovation. Neither is making things bigger necessarily. Making something smaller could be considered an innovation if there was a technique never done before to achieve the size. Change for change sake is not innovation. Adding faster processors, memory or the latest doo-dad is not innovation. The Samsung CEO used the term innovation or innovate 3 times last night in a 5 minute speech but actually showed very little of it.
Watch the entire announcement below: