Samsung Debuts 'Life Companion' S4, Apple Compelled to 'Go Big' by Galaxy's Success

Last night in New York Samsung formally announced its much anticipated Galaxy S4 follow-up to its hugely successful S3. The hardware update was relatively modest: a somewhat larger high-resolution AMOLED screen, more CPU power and thinner body. It will be challenging to tell the S4 from the S3 without a close look. 

Much of the evening was about software though decidedly not about "Android" or "Google." Android got a single mention and Google was never mentioned.

Here are the S4's major "specs":

  • Screen: 5 inch HD Super AMOLED (1920 x 1080) display, 441 ppi
  • Processors: 1.9 GHz Quad-Core Processor / 1.6 GHz Octa-Core Processor
  • OS: Android 4.2.2
  • Camera: 13MP (rear), 2MP (front) 

With its splashy, Broadway inspired show last night Samsung entered Apple's "big launch" turf. It also perhaps unwittingly emulated Apple's "incremental" handset update cycle. Indeed, we might call the S4 the "S3s" because of its "evolutionary" changes over the S3. 

There were tons of software updates and new additions to the handset; many of them related to the camera and many of them were impressive seeming. However today several outlets are reporting that the Samsung software didn't always work as promised. In fact the S4, which will undoubtedly be popular, has received some quite mixed reviews -- especially from Gizmodo last night, which called it a "missed opportunity." 

Samsung has taken a bit of an "A/B testing" or shotgun approach, if you prefer, to developing mobile devices. Over the past three years it has released a wide range of tablets and handsets vs. Apple's much more deliberate and controlled pipeline. Yet through its experimentation with larger screens and a range of devices (as a differentiation strategy) it has helped cultivate in consumers an appetite for larger smartphone screens. 

But for that shift in the public's appetite, Apple wouldn't have made the "taller" iPhone 5. Yet there's considerable pressure to make still larger iPhones. 

A larger screen has become one of the key hardware features and differences between the first-tier Android handsets (especially from Samsung and HTC) and the iPhone. Thus Apple will be rolling out an even bigger iPhone (probably at 6). Apple would do well to bring that larger phone this summer and not wait another full year to do so.

Apple is not used to compensating and being on the defensive. It normally leads the market with design. But it has been playing catch-up recently.

The unexpected success of smaller tablets forced it to create the iPad Mini. And the unanticipated development of giant-screened smartphones (Note II, S4) forces Apple to offer a larger iPhone, thereby betraying Steve Jobs' "single hand" operation philosophy. In addition the need to sell more iPhones in developing markets (vs. less expensive Androids) has given rise to rumors of a cheaper, "more plastic" iPhone. 

Samsung clearly emulated, imitated or copied (take your pick) the iPhone's look and feel at the outset. But the Korean company has now gone beyond it in several ways -- including in the hyperbolic claim that the S4 is a "life companion." And, ironically, Apple is now being compelled by the Galaxy line's success and by public demand to make the iPhone much more like Samsung handsets.