Samsung has just held their annual Galaxy S unveiling. This year, for the Galaxy S8. It was an important event for Samsung, coming off the Galaxy Note7 recall late last year.
Not that the company or brand were under any real threat. Gone are the days when a recall could kill a company or scandal could sink a brand or career. Nowadays we have zero attention span and extreme affinity, so we'll shrug almost anything off, rationalize almost anything away, and pretend most things simply never happened.
But Samsung took it seriously anyway and said everything they needed to reassure customers batteries and the quality assurance thereof was now highest priority. Samsung also managed to control its usual ecocentrism for much of the event. Only at the end did ostriches and glow-in-the-dark troopers obliterate their better marketing angels.
The focus, laudably, was on the product and its features. Sure, if you took a shot every time a Samsung rep said "innovation" you'd be drunk before the intro ended, but amid the constant over-hype was some really interesting tech. And since Samsung, like LG, isn't just an Apple competitor but an Apple manufacturer and supplier, it makes everything they announce incredibly relevant not just for Android or Samsung fans, but for Apple customers as well.
Like high-density displays, fingerprint sensors, wide gamut, much of what was announced will no doubt be ubiquitous by this time next year — if it isn't already. So, it's less the what and more the how that intrigues me — the story more than the words.
We're about six months away from iPhone 8 but, even so, watching Samsung's event, a few things stood out...
This is where phones are heading. As much as the rounded, rectangular, black slab defined the previous era of phones, including iPhone, edge-to-edge on those slabs will define the next. It's important not just in terms of reducing casing size to make larger screens more comfortable and usable, but for the upcoming wave of augmented reality apps.
When people talk about transparent phones, it's not materials becoming invisible that they're talking about, it's the frame around the window diminishing. That way, when the camera turns on, the phone effectively disappears.
I was one of the first people to start talking about iPhone 8 going edge-to-edge way back in January of 2015.
Huawei, LG, Samsung, and others have tested or done it by early 2017. Apple could do it as soon as late 2017. And with a new implementation of Touch ID and some other clever hardware and software features as well.
Biometrics aren't passwords, they're usernames. They're not security, they're convenience. It's much easier to get someone to touch or look at something then it is to get a password out of them. But for most people, most of the time, the convenience of biometrics is what's important.
We've seen various types of face and eye scanners before, but like with the early iterations of fingerprint scanners, they were slow or unreliable. Not any more. Now a glance is as good as a touch and looking at a device can unlock that device.
I'm still waiting for ambient security to become a thing — every partial touch, glimpse, snippet of voice, linked wearable, and motion analysis is used to constantly, passively test and enable authentication. We're not there yet, but with technology like this we're getting closer.
Making cameras smarter will also be critically important for AR, so I think we'll be seeing lots more on this from every vendor, including Apple.
Samsung bought Viv, the latest virtual assistant product from the creators of Siri. That might be why Samsung positioned Bixby as less of a personal assistant and more of a voice interface. I loved that, because it put the focus on accessibility.
Apple has been championing accessibility for years but, despite being able to tell Siri to take a selfie, I still can't tell it to rotate a picture, edit a contact, or do any of the thousands of smaller interface interactions I do each day. And I really want Siri to do that, ubiquitously, throughout iOS.
Bixby also showed ideas Apple has already implemented but not taken to their logical conclusions. For example, we got "remember this" with iOS 8, and I can use it to bookmark the precise point of a podcast, the contents of a message, or page of a website and have it recorded to Reminders. But, two years later, I still can't say "Read this", "Message this", or do anything else with it.
Making Siri not just a virtual assistant but a complete, consistent voice interface would be a huge win for everyone.
I still find it strange Samsung doesn't ship its own processor in all of its own phones. Yes, blame Qualcomm licensing and modems and all that, but if Apple can do it, I imagine Samsung could figure out a way to do it as well. It's important because right now Apple is racing ahead when it comes to ARM IP. That's especially true in the crucially important single threaded operations that still define much of our daily operations. Even the latest 2017 Samsung Exynos benchmarks only around half what Apple's 2016 A10 Fusion does for single-thread.
I'd love to see Samsung put the pedal to the literal metal here. Silicon supremacy is going to define a lot of feature potential going forward and fierce competition there will benefit us all.
Decades ago Bill Gates walked around the CES Keynote stage showing a mobile device as the heart of a contextually aware computing system. Companies, including Microsoft, have tried ever since to make that beautiful dream a reality but none have really succeeded.
Microsoft has Continuum but it seems stalled. BlackBerry talked about multiple endpoints around a single smart brain, but they're struggling just to keep the brain alive at this point. Apple has Continuity but that doesn't focus on a single device; it syncs activity state between devices.
The idea that you could have a single, pocketable or wearable "Mother Box" that holds your identity and data and can adapt itself to any input or presentation layers it finds available is compelling. That includes its own touch screen or a handset, a large glass canvas, a desktop display with mouse and keyboard, a car dashboard, a fridge panel, etc. It's beyond compelling.
Apple's been dabbling with the concept for years but nothing beyond Continuity has been made public, and the massive shifts we'd need to see to properly enable it don't seem on the horizon just yet.
That's what makes Samsung's not-right-but-right-now approach so intriguing. It's clearly limited and janky, because Samsung doesn't control the whole stack, atoms to bits, but it's available. If people try it and hate it, it's just one more failed attempt amongst many. If it even starts to take off, though, it could encourage Google and Apple to prioritize real versions of the technology.
And then, like with many things Samsung, the future gets here just a little bit faster for everyone.
I know someone will inevitably point out that + or Plus was actually first used by a Nokia device in 1812. But for all intents and purposes, [Phone] and [Phone] +/Plus have been associated with iPhone since the 2014 launch of iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.
Samsung using Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ comes off as needlessly derivative. Especially for a company that prides itself on saying "innovation" at least once every 78 seconds on stage.
Galaxy S8 and Universe S8. S8 and S8 Epic Titan. S8 and S8 Bigly. There are so many options, it'd be great to see Samsung explore something more exciting for the next go-around.
Also: Yes, the ports still aren't aligned. And I think I still saw a Qualcomm sticker somewhere. Come at me.
We've seen what LG, Samsung, BlackBerry, and a few others have to offer this spring. We'll no doubt see Google's next Pixel by fall.
Apple's rumored to be introducing not only iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus this year, but an even higher-end iPhone 8 — or whatever they call the 10th anniversary iPhone — as well. It's rumored to have some of the same features Samsung just announced, including an edge-to-edge display. It's also rumored to have some unique features, like distance charging. We won't know for sure, of course, until Tim Cook or Phil Schiller holds it up on stage.
Still, competing phones are the canvases on the rest of the gallery wall against which Apple's will be judged. It'll be similar technology but, if history has taught us anything, packaged and polished in a way that's "only Apple".
How will it compare? Check out Android Central's Samsung Galaxy S8 coverage and let me know what you think!
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Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.
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