Instead of launching their new flagship device at a separate event like last year, Samsung decided to leverage Mobile World Congress to cast a shadow on some other devices’ announcements. Expectations have been high in the past two weeks about what Samsung could announce. And while the atmosphere was not as crazy and irrational as for an Apple announcement, you could still feel today in Barcelona that expectations have been raised for the new smartphone sales leader.
As I pointed out in my post two weeks ago on what to expect at MWC, the Barcelona trade show is strongly biased on hardware specs. No exception to the rule here. The Samsung Galaxy S5 looks very promising on that front: faster, thinner, better battery and camera, etc. What’s more differentiating here is the positioning of the S5 as a fitness phone. It comes with a growing range of smart wearables, such as the Gear Fit – a fitness wristband with a curved screen – with a nice design. This is a way for Samsung to better engage users, especially when used in conjunction with new services like the enhanced S Health 3.0. It offers more tools to help people stay fit and well – providing a comprehensive personal fitness tracker to help users monitor and manage their behavior, along with additional tools including a pedometer, diet and exercise records, and a new, built-in heart rate monitor. Galaxy S5 users can further customize their experience with an enriched third-party app ecosystem and the ability to pair with next-generation Gear products for real-time fitness coaching.
Another interesting addition is a fingerprint reader, positioned directly under the home button, to unlock the screen and make payments. Samsung has partnered with PayPal to allow buyers to authenticate PayPal payments using the fingerprint sensor. We expect more partnerships to be announced here.
In short, the Galaxy S5 has great features and will probably sell well due to massive marketing support. But is the total product experience it offers differentiated enough to continue the sales success story (with more than 200 million Galaxy S devices sold so far)? Is it enough to bet on fitness and fingerprint sensors to beat Apple – rooting the experience in people’s daily lives?
I don’t think so. While I would be interested in a more hands-on experience to evaluate the new device, I expected Samsung to demonstrate its ability to lead innovation by adding more on the software, content, and services front. I believe Apple is in a much better position to deliver these types of integrated experiences through its tight integration with iOS and iCloud services and its software DNA. Samsung is not yet able to truly differentiate on that front and needs to improve in software and benefit from a tighter partnership with Android. I believe Tizen is coming too late in the smartphone game. However, it makes sense to focus Tizen on new connected products like the new Gear watches, wearables, cameras, and other CE products facing less competition than smartphones.
My colleague Bryan Wang shared Forrester’s perspective on the Nokia X family here. I believe it's a smart move to compete in the low-end smartphone market by creating a direct relationship with customers through Nokia and Microsoft services and apps, but I was really disappointed that no new Lumia devices were announced. While Microsoft reaches 10%+ market share in net new smartphone acquisitions in some countries, this is simply not enough to quickly create the global critical mass developers are looking for. I have shared some thoughts here on Facebook’s CEO keynote speech.
Many other announcements at Mobile World Congress were made yesterday and today, and many more will be made in the coming days. Next Tuesday, March 4, at 2pm BST / 3pm CET / 9am EST, I will host a free Webinar on key mobile trends to expect in 2014, where I will wrap-up key announcements made at Mobile World Congress. Feel free to register here.