With the 2016 edition of the Consumer Electronics Show in the rearview mirror, the next big event on the calendar is Mobile World Congress in February. MWC 2016 will be big, because that’s when Samsung Electronic (SSNLF) is expected to take the wraps off its new Galaxy smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy S7.
Last year at its Unpacked event at Mobile World Congress, Samsung showed off radically changed new Galaxy smartphones, ditching plastic and adopting a premium glass-and-metal design to take on Apple Inc.’s (AAPL) new, bigger iPhone lineup. While the move won Samsung praise, it didn’t translate into a hoped for resurgence. Instead, Samsung continued to lose global smartphone marketshare, with the Galaxy S6 demand softer than expected.
With Apple reportedly cutting iPhone 6s orders in face of slowing demand, the stage is set for a Battle Royale in 2016. Samsung will be pulling out all the stops to win back consumers with the Galaxy S7, while Apple will be fighting to prove its smartphone business still has room to grow with the new iPhone 7.
With only a month or so to go before the first salvo in the battle is expected, here’s what we think we know about the new iPhone and new Galaxy.
Smartphone Battle Royale: Galaxy S7
Samsung won over a lot of reviewers and consumers with the dramatically redesigned Galaxy S6 line of smartphones. The low-rent plastic look of previous Galaxy devices was ditched, but in doing so, Samsung managed to annoy many of its long-time fans.
By going with metal and glass instead of a removable plastic back, the Galaxy S6 lost several features — namely the ability to expand storage on the cheap with an SD memory card and the ability to swap batteries.
It also lost its waterproof rating.
We don’t expect the new Galaxy lineup to look fundamentally different from last year’s models. The Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge should be just as sleek, but expect Samsung to be working hard at tweaking the design.
Galaxy S7 benchmark specs leaked a few days ago and here they are (courtesy of 9to5Google):
- 5.1-inch display at 1440 x 2560 pixels
- Qualcomm, Inc. (QCOM) Snapdragon 820 CPU with 4GB of RAM
- 12MP camera
- Running Android 6.0
If accurate, there are several unexpected changes under the hood of the new Galaxy.
First, there’s the return to a Snapdragon processor from Samsung’s own Exynos CPU. The Galaxy S6 had come under fire for poor graphics performance, so switching back to the Snapdragon may reflect an effort to correct that issue.
The other odd number in there is the 12MP camera. Last year’s model had a 16MP shooter, so why would Samsung downgrade?
The answer likely lies in BRITECELL, Samung’s new image sensor. Taking a page from Apple’s playbook, it uses larger pixels (rather than more pixels) for better-quality low-light photos. This image sensor also supports faster auto-focus and would let Samsung shrink the protruding camera lens so the Galaxy S7 has less of a “hump” than the model it replaces.
Other rumors for the Galaxy S7 include the possibility of a return to being waterproof and a slightly larger battery. Not quite a return to past functionality, but a step in the right direction.
It also seems likely that the New Galaxy smartphones will counter Apple’s 3D Touch technology with a ClearForce, pressure-sensitive display.
Smartphone Battle Royale: iPhone 7
It seems as though Apple isn’t moving as many iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus smartphones as it expected. That may be due to a maturing smartphone market, or it could be chalked up to the fact that the “s” models are considered an in-between release by some consumers, who are holding off for the iPhone 7 instead.
Apple’s new iPhone is still likely eight months off, but the rumor mill is already going strong. Here is the leading speculation on what Apple designers are up to with its new iPhone.
- Thinner design
- Bezeless display with higher resolution
- Headphone jack eliminated, Lightning port used for audio
- Potential wireless charging
We know the iPhone 7 will have a new A10 CPU — every new iPhone comes with the next generation of Apple’s mobile processor. Beyond that, it’s educated guesswork based largely on leaked images of components and insider tips.
The big news has been the rumor that Apple may be ditching the headphone jack in favor of audio delivered through the new iPhone’s Lightning port or using Bluetooth. That would mean a special adapter is required to use any headphones or earbuds you already own, but you can see the appeal to Apple. Doing so would mean one less open port to deal with if the company wants to pursue making the iPhone 7 waterproof, losing the jack lets the Apple make the iPhone 7 a little thinner and the digital output of Lightning would let Apple promote superior audio quality — which could be a major selling point.
Apple is reportedly looking at OLED displays for new iPhone models starting in 2018. Offering the iPhone 7 with a bezeless display and higher resolution would provide a stepping stone to the new technology in the meantime, putting the Retina-display iPhones on a more even footing with Android competitors that offer QHD or even 4K resolution displays on their flagship smartphones.
2016 is shaping up to be a crucial year for both Apple and Samsung. They face concerns that demand for flagship smartphones — a category that’s a major profit driver for both — is beginning to level out.
Besides competing fiercely with each other, they also face increased threat from cheaper Chinese competition, as third-place smartphone vendor Huawei eyes the U.S. market.
But so far as flagship smartphones go, the big battle of 2016 is going to be between the Galaxy S7 and the iPhone 7, and there’s a lot riding on the outcome.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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