Last year, the Samsung (PINK:SSNLF) Galaxy S3 emerged as the first serious rival to Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone, outselling Apple at different points during the year. The Android-powered Galaxy S III was named CNET’s tech product of the year for 2012, it sold 40 million units, and its 4.8-inch screen led to a slew of copycats following the “bigger is better” mantra when the competition’s products were unveiled at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show.
So it’s no surprise that Galaxy S4-iPhone 5S (or iPhone 6, whichever it delivers this year) is expected to be the smartphone battle of 2013. The rumor mill has been running at Apple-like levels — another indicator of Samsung’s growing importance.
On Thursday night in New York, Apple and the other smartphone makers finally learned what they’ll be up against this year.
The Galaxy S4’s rumored features
- Touchless scrolling based on a front-facing eye-tracking camera
- A bigger battery (able to last an entire day) with wireless charging
- 13 MP rear camera
- 5-inch, 1920 x 1080 (full HD display) at 440 PPI
- Android 4.2 (Jellybean)
- 1.7 GHz, quad-core Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) Snapdragon 600 CPU with LTE
- May or June U.S. availability
What Samsung unveiled (and yes, it is named the Galaxy S4)
- 5-inch, 1920 x 1080 (full HD) Super AMOLED display at 440 PPI
- Higher capacity battery (2,600 mAh)
- 1.9 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon Fusion Pro CPU (1.6 GHz 8-core
- Samsung Exynos 5 CPU in some markets)
- 13 MP rear camera, 2 MP front-facing camera
- Android 4.2.2 (Jellybean)
- Samsung Touchwiz (which includes eye tracking support for features like SmartPause for videos, plus hand gesture controls and tilt scrolling)
- Lighter and thinner than Galaxy S3, retains plastic case
- Offered in black or white
- IR blaster for controlling TVs
- Multi-view splitscreen to interact with two apps simultaneously
- S Health, aimed at replacing specialized pedometers and calorie tracking gadgets through an optional bracelet
- S Drive voice control for driving
- 2 GB of RAM with 16CG, 32GB or 64 GB of storage (expandable with microSD cards)
- NFC, Bluetooth 4.0
- Available in the U.S. in April or May
Samsung has raised the smartphone bar in pretty much every way with the Galaxy S4, but it’s definitely an iterative upgrade, not something smashingly new.
It’s bigger, faster and thinner than its predecessor, but still uses a cheaper-looking plastic casing when many premium smartphones have gone with the anodized metal look — this can make Samsung’s flagship look a little low-rent compared to the Android competition and the iPhone, and could hurt its appeal to style-conscious consumers.
The company also has added some interesting software features like SmartPause, where the phone tracks eye movement and pauses videos when the user looks away. Turning the Galaxy S4 into a TV remote (it works on most TVs, not just Samsung models) is a great idea, and S Health could take some wind out of Apple’s sails should it release a smartwatch — which is expected to feature functions like a pedometer and calorie counter.
For Apple, the news is better than might have been expected. With a new Galaxy that’s largely a spec-bumped version of the Galaxy S3, at least some of the heat will be off if it releases a spec-bumped iPhone 5S instead of skipping forward to the iPhone 6.
Other Android manufacturers like HTC and Sony (NYSE:SNE) have a window of opportunity to tout their own flagship smartphones — which are competitive with the Galaxy S4, yet offer the more premium look that many consumers prefer. These Android competitors could conceivably steal market share from Samsung in 2013.
Apple will have to contend with more grousing about the iPhone’s seemingly too-small display, and the Galaxy S4’s 440 PPI resolution leaves the iPhone 5’s vaunted Retina display (at 326 PPI) in the dust. Look for Apple to do something with the iPhone’s display this year to reduce the increasing disparity between it and the bigger, sharper Android competition.
The Galaxy S3 sold 20 million units in its first 100 days on the market and outsold the iPhone in the months leading up to the iPhone 5 release. Depending on whether Apple sticks to its fall iPhone release timetable or shakes things up this year with a summer launch, it seems a given that the Galaxy S4 will once again enjoy at least a few months of outselling Apple’s 2012 model as buyers begin the countdown to the latest iPhone release.
Whether it’s able to keep up that momentum and topple the iPhone as the overall smartphone sales leader in 2013 depends on what the new iPhone brings to the table … as well as whether Android shoppers decide to take a chance on a flashier model than the powerful, but plastic, Galaxy S4.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities