Characteristically forthright analyst group Ovum has rushed out comment on the Samsung Galaxy S4 handset, intimating that the intelligence of modern devices appears to be rapidly superseding that of their users.
Jan Dawson, chief telecom analyst at Ovum, blah-blahs about the expected stuff: “As anticipated, the device features a slightly larger screen, an improved camera, and beefed up processor power and memory. The company also augmented various features previously available, including its eye-tracking capabilities.”
Well and good; Dawson describes the gadget as ‘a worthy successor to earlier members of this line’, noting that it ‘will doubtless sell well’.
Excellence has its price, though. Getting on top of a pedestal typically means there’s only one way down, and Dawson believes Samsung might just be in that position with the Galaxy S4.
“[the handset] highlights a couple of the key challenges Samsung faces. Firstly, having innovated rapidly over the last several years to vaunt itself into top spot in the world smartphone rankings, Samsung now faces essentially the same challenge as Apple: how to continue to improve its devices year on year when existing phones are already top of their class, and there aren't obvious shortcomings?
“And secondly, how to set Samsung's devices apart from other devices that share the Android operating system that provides so much of the functionality?”
Hardware makers have long sought to differentiate themselves as their stuff becomes commoditised. That’s as true for handsets as it was is for notebooks, servers, routers, you name it. And how do hardware makers differentiate? In the tech industry, they throw bloatware at it introduce software and services.
“As rivals such as HTC and Sony up the specs of their devices and provide ever better hardware, it becomes more and more important for Samsung to differentiate on software and services,” confirms Dawson.
That’s what you’re seeing with eye tracking, S Translator and the ‘hover’ feature - but they can be seen as gimmicks (whatever happened to Siri, anyway?) rather than game changers.
“At this point, Samsung appears to be trying to kill the competition with sheer volume of new features – [and as such] there should be something here for everyone, even if most of these new features won't be used by most users,” snipes Dawson.
For now, he reckons Samsung can pretty much rely on massive marketing budget and the somewhat limp-wristed efforts of its competitors in software to keep it ahead.
But at the end of the day, the eager users who will no doubt rush to own a new S4 should beware of being outsmarted by their phone. “Overall, there are lots of features, but based on past experience most people will never even find them on the device,” Dawson concludes.