With the introduction of the Galaxy S4, Samsung is making Apple's iPhone look like yesterday's hot smartphone. But will that be enough to make Apple respond when it releases its next iPhone?
With a massive marketing campaign, a 5-inch screen, 13-megapixel camera, and a host of new software features on top of Google Android Jelly Bean 4.2.2, the S4 could attract a following at the iPhone's expense, even at a high price (Samsung has not yet revealed pricing). The S4 will also be more widely distributed than the iPhone, with 327 carriers in 55 countries carrying the device starting in April.
On the software front, the S4 includes a number of built-in apps that are lacking or less robust on the iPhone, such as Drama Shot, which turns a string of photos into a time lapse; Dual View, which lets S4 owners use both the front and rear cameras at the same time, which can also be used during video calls; and S Voice Drive, which takes voice commands while driving, turns up the size of text, and works over Bluetooth with Bluetooth-enabled cars. In addition, motion-detection technology lets users control features, such as pausing a video, with face movements.
The question now is how and when will Apple respond. Or even whether Apple will respond. On the eve of the S4 announcement, Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller said, "At Apple we know that it's not just enough to have products pumped out in large numbers. You have to love and use them. There is a lot of data showing a big disparity there."
The new Galaxy S4 was clearly an evolutionary leap in terms of hardware. But hardware innovation is what Samsung fans have already come to expect from the company. Even the early Galaxy devices offered more in terms of hardware features than a comparable iPhone. And Samsung has continued that legacy with the Galaxy S4, offering consumers a bigger screen, a thinner and lighter device, a better camera, and a faster processor.
But now Samsung is trying to add more software features and capabilities to its devices to show consumers why they need all those hardware bells and whistles.
"We've always been known as a hardware innovator," said Drew Blackard, director of product planning for Samsung Mobile in the U.S. "And now we have become a software innovator. And I think that's surprised people."
While it may be true that Samsung has once again raised the bar in terms of hardware and has packed in a ton of new software features, where Apple has outshone its competitors has been in making its devices simple to use with an elegant design. And there's no sign that the company will move away from that strategy.
Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart said Apple doesn't need to play catch up to Samsung. And he doesn't think the S4 will spur Apple to respond in any significant way when it announces its next iPhone.
"I don't think that Apple ever sold devices based on simply being cool," he said. "Apple is a strong brand because it makes technology that is usable, with an elegant design."
Greenart added that Samsung's software-feature deluge may be too much for the average consumer.
"Samsung showed off so many features that I think the average user will be overwhelmed," he said. "Many of these are what I call gee whiz features. They might show their friends once when they first get the phone, but they may never use them again."
CNET's video hands-on with the S4: