Many products were unveiled by companies in the run-up to the Mobile World Congress (MWC) currently being held in Barcelona, Spain, including Samsung's (SSNLF) new Gear smartwatches and Huawei's TalkBand smart device. But as the event kicked off, these devices were largely put on the backburner, and all eyes turned to Samsung’s hyped Galaxy S5 smartphone, the latest iteration of its top-of-the-line range of handheld communication devices.
Having already unveiled the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatches, Samsung remained in the limelight as it was to debut the Galaxy S5 smartphone during the MWC. But once the device was revealed, it became clear that Samsung seems to have taken a leaf out of Apple’s (AAPL) innovations handbook: it unveiled a product that seems to be merely an upgrade of its predeccesor. The S5 comes with only a few added features – including a heart rate monitor and a fingerprint sensor (Samsung seems to be taking Apple’s innovations handbook very seriously).
The Samsung Galaxy S5 has a large 5.1-inch screen and a powerful 16-megapixel camera capable of recording videos in 4K Ultra HD, an upgrade from the 13-megapixel camera in its predecessor device. However, the S5’s bigger display has added weight to the set, and it is slightly heavier than the S4. But it is also water-resistant and dust-proof.
The device is equipped with a 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Krait processor, and packs a serious punch with 2GB of RAM. It will ship with KitKat, the latest iteration of the Android OS, installed.
Most smartphones today have annoyingly small batteries, which means devices generally die out if you do not plug them in for an extended recharge at least once a day. Samsung has tried to address that by updating the S5 battery, which it says will allow 10 hours of web browsing or 12 hours of video playback. The device also has an Ultra Power Saving Mode, which turns the screen black and white and turns off all apps not essential to its functioning. The phone can reportedly last 24 hours in standby mode with 10% battery and the Ultra Power Saving Mode turned on.
Much to fans’ dismay, who were expecting an iris scanner in the new Samsung device, the device comes with a more humble fingerprint sensor. The scanner will allow users to more securely lock and unlock the phone, and be used to authorize mobile payments, an area which rival Apple too is exploring.
The company has also integrated a heart rate sensor in its latest device, located at the back of the device under the camera flash. The sensor complements Samsung's S-Health app.
But we feel that with the current upgrades to the S5, Samsung just seems to have reiterated its role as a follower in the smartphone market. It seems that equipping phones with everything and anything that can fit in its chassis is becoming a fad for smartphone manufacturers, but the utility such additions offer is dubious, at best. For example, it is not clear why Samsung thinks users will want to obsessively monitor their heart rate when they can do so much more with their phones.
The price of the device has not yet been revealed, but Samsung's Executive Vice President of Mobile, Lee Young Hee, has said the price will be very competitive and that the company aims to introduce devices whose pricing point is reflective of the features offered. Bidness Etc believes the S5 should be priced reasonably, given that the market is getting very competitive with the low-priced devices offered by Lenovo and Huawei, and buyers are not likely to be blown away by the “originality” of the features Samsung has added to the devices.
Amid all the hype surrounding the bigger names in the industry, Sony Corporation (SNE) was not shy of unveiling its own smartphone devices. The Japanese company, once at the forefront of consumer electronics, lost its footing in the market when smart devices took over. The company is exiting the personal computer market, as its Vaio business unit has continued to be a financial disappointment.
Sony's new phones, the Xperia Z2, Xperia Z2 tablet, and Xperia M2, do not really fall short of the other devices showcased at MWC. Its Xperia Z2 touts a 5.2-inch screen and a slimmer body than the S5. The device is equipped with a 20.7 megapixel rear camera, and a 2.2 megapixel front camera. It can also record videos in 4K Ultra HD. It is not really different than the other phones out there though, which have similar photo and video-recording capabilities, and whether consumers really care about such specifications will become clear through this year.
Apparently, the IP-67 rating is gradually becoming an important benchmark for smartphones. The rating certifies that a device is water-resistant and dust-proof. The Sony Z2 has this rating. Sony has also tried to integrate its music, camcorder, and display technologies into the smartphone. The device comes with built in noise-cancellation technology, but it will work only with Sony headsets sold separately.
The Z2 has a 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor and 3GB of RAM. The device ships with Android's latest OS, KitKat, and with its specifications, promises to be a high-performance smartphone.
The Bottom Line
Smartphone shipments crossed the billion unit mark in 2013, and are estimated to reach 1.8 billion by 2017. But the industry seems to be approaching maturity, with smartphone makers introducing new products that are mere improvements to predecessors, and far from anything revolutionary. It seems as though the room to innovate may have been exhausted, but smartphone companies’ failure to wow may also be symptomatic of major companies’ race to dominate the market.
Smartphone makers may continue to shove new features of questionable utility into their phones, but that will only be justified if their pricing points reflect what the vendors are offering. It seems the smartphone market is well on its way to commodification.