It's nearly a week since Samsung launched the Galaxy S4, in the meantime we've seen Apple react with a new webpage describing what's so great about the iPhone, coupled with a promotional email. We've seen analysts question whether the S4 will be a match for the iPhone 5S (or iPhone 6, depending on the name of the next iPhone). And we've laughed at the murmourings from around the web about Samsung's 'misogynistic' and 'embarrasing' launch event. So what's the big deal about the Galaxy S4 and should Apple be worried? The general consensus appears to be no, and following the S4 announcement even Apple's share price has been on the rise.
So what's been happening?
On Thursday 14 March Samsung took over the Radio City Music Hall in New York for the launch of its Galaxy S4, Samsung's latest attempt to take on the iPhone.
The phone won’t actually be available until late April.
Those journalists who did manage to get their hands on one to try out focused more on the look and feel and less on the software, considered by many to be the reason why the phone isn’t yet ready for launch.
Regarding the design it’s been noted that it’s not all that different to the Galaxy S3. The Verge notes the similarity of design and suggests that Samsung has copied Apple by copying itself. "The Galaxy S4 design is, quite literally, the Galaxy S III’s design expanded to a 5-inch screen size," writes that site, noting that previously Apple has been criticised for not hanging the design of its phones with very iteration.
The S4 is actually marginally smaller than the S3 and slightly thicker than the iPhone 5. It sports a Super AMOLED display with a resolution of 1920 x 1080, which beats the iPhone 5's 1136 x 640 resolution. The pixel density is also higher than Apple's Retina Display, at 441 PPI compared to Apple's 326 PPI.
Samsung also has one up on Apple thanks to the S4’s 1.6 GHz Octa-Core Processor (a 1.9 GHz Quad-Core Processor is also available). The A6 processor in Apple’s iPhone has a 1.2GHz dual-core processor. The Octa uses an ARM processor called big.LITTLE. It features four "big" high-performance cores (up to 1.8GHz) and four "little" power-efficient cores (up to 1.2GHz), referred to as Cortex A15 and A7, respectively, notes cnet.
The S4 also features two cameras, and significantly, the ability to use both cameras at the same time. When you video call your caller can see your face thanks to the front camera, and the rest of the room via the back camera. We wonder at the practical implication of this, additional bandwidth aside.
Samsung distancing from Google
The operating system is the year-old Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean) however, Samsung appeared to go to great lengths to demonstrate its own software at the event, leading some to suggest that the company is trying to distance itself from Google.
This is interesting in light of news that the state run television in China appears to have a vendetta against Apple, with some suggesting that this may have been due to government concerns about the lack of control they have over iOS.
Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg tweeted: "What is interesting is Samsung clearly pushing their own exosystem over Google's although confirmed Google Play on device."
Earlier in the week Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray had somewhat prophetically stated in an interview with MacDailyNews that: “[Google] created this monster with Samsung. People talk about about the Galaxy brand… they say it’s an Android phone coming out. That’s a shift versus a year ago and so we believe that there’s probably going to be increased tension between Samsung and Google.”
Samsung's new software features
Samsung introduced the following new software features, some of which are already offered by Google:
Group Play - share music, photos, documents, and games by knocking phones together (it uses NFC rather than a cellular or Wi-Fi connection).
Share Music - lets one S4 share music with another eight S4s, again using the NFC-based knocking feature.
S Translate - Samsung's attempt at voice-based language translations and the translation of text.
Smart Pause - this will pause a video during playback if you look away from the screen, which we figure could get annoying especially if you are used to multitasking.
Voice Drive - Samsung’s solution for controlling maps and navigation when driving.
WatchON - turns your S4 into an IR remote.
S Health - a healthcare concept that monitors you.
There’s a useful table outlining the differences in specs between the S4, iPhone 5 and other smart handsets here.
Despite looking good on paper, the launch wasn’t received well, at least outside Korea.
Described as "chock-full of awkward" by Laptop Mag. The cringe-worthy launch event consisted of sketches that featured "50s-era stereotypes" of women, such as one where the phone’s gesture controls were praised because it meant the phone could be used by women when their nails were drying. In response the web lit up with claims that Samsung was demeaning women.
"I’d say they went right over the line from sexism to outright misogyny," writes Daring Fireball's John Gruber.
Even HTC president Jason MacKenzie called the Samsung event "embarrassing". In an interview with Cnet MacKenzie said: "I went from laughing to actually feeling embarrassed at some of the acting. Watching the presentation, it looks like they invested a lot in marketing instead of innovation."
You can see just how cringe-worthy the Samsung event was on YouTube.
It appears that Samsung has even more reason to be embarrassed. One report suggests that Samsung's mobile chief Shin Jong-kyun all but quoted from the Steve Jobs keynote where he referrenced the crossroads between technology and the liberal arts.
Shin said: "The Galaxy S4 isn't just a phone but the right communications tool that blurs technology and humanity."
Samsung is “hijacking Steve Jobs' philosophy” and this "exposes the very depth of their envy of Apple's continuing success." notes Patently Apple.
Analyst reaction to Samsung Galaxy S4
If one thing benefitted from the Samsung Galaxy S4 launch it was Apple's share price. As Fortune notes: "Who would have guessed a week ago that the thing that would lift Apple (AAPL) out of its winter doldrums would be the unveiling of its fiercest competitor's whizzy new flagship device?"
AAPL shares have gained more than 23 cents (5.37%) since the launch on Thursday night. Closing at $432.50 on Thursday night, and rising to close at $455.72 yesterday.
Analysts have focused more on the features of the new phone and less on the cringe-worthiness of the event. Following the event the general consensus was that Samsung’s S4 won’t be innovative enough to beat the next iPhone, whenever that launches.
However, in the run up to the event there was talk about how Apple should be scared about the new Samsung phone - in fact Apple’s head of marketing Phil Schiller even gave two interviews the night before the launch event in which he blasted Google. It certainly looked like Apple was concerned.
Regarding the pre-event negativity, Brian White of Topeka Capital Markets said: "We are amazed by how analysts and the media have turned on Apple during the recent stock downdrafts with statements that Samsung is 'out-innovating' Apple. One would believe that Samsung is crushing Apple in the mobile phone market. We believe this is complete nonsense."
White went on to claim: "The stock price is hurting Apple, and people look for a reason for that. People are just frustrated [with the share price] and looking for explanations. But Samsung isn't out-innovating Apple."
White was unimpressed with the Galaxy S4. According to Apple Insider, White believes that the Galaxy S4‘s plastic casing is "no match" for the aluminum enclosure of the iPhone 5.
The S4 is "Evolutionary" but it is also “heavier, fatter and less refined than the iPhone 5,” White said.
White did have some praise for Samsung, acknowledging that the AMOLED screen was "a strong point," but noting that other smartphone makers - including Apple - will respond. White believes Apple will adopt Sharp's IGZO technology.
White also noted that adding features is "the easy stuff to do" but when it comes to the app ecosystem, Apple’s iPhone still holds the cards. This was echoed by ISI Group’s Brian Marshall, who said the new Galaxy S4 would be the "ultimate smartphone" if it ran Apple's iOS and accessed Apple's app ecosystem.
Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray also noted that the S4 was “unlikely to meaningfully impact the iPhone”. In fact, Munster sees the S4 taking “share from other Android phones” as opposed to the iPhone.
Munster said: "While the S4 is Likely to be the iPhone’s Biggest competitor this year at the high end of the market, we remain confident in our iPhone estimates for this year of 177.5 million, which includes a cheaper phone in the September quarter.”
However, this contrasted with what Munster had to say earlier in the week. He had told MacDailyNews: “What [Samsung] are doing is they’re innovating faster. I don’t know if they’re necessarily ahead of where Apple is, but just the pace that they’re coming out with [products] is so much faster, so think of it this way: iPhone comes out on an annual basis, Samsung comes outs with an impactful phone on a monthly basis and two or three really big phones a year. And so, the technology, I guess, that they’re actually working on, they’re able to get it to market a little bit faster.”
Ben Reitzes of Barclays Capital also believes that “Samsung’s momentum is a major issue for Apple.” Following the launch he said: “We need to see Apple expand its iPhone market this year in a big way – and improve its platform,” according to Fortune.
Technology Business Research analyst Ezra Gottheil didn’t consider that Samsung was outpacing Apple, however. He said: "I think what you've got here are signs that when a market matures, people come up with feature X, not make-or-break features that make consumers think, 'Oh, this is awesome, I have to have it. Instead, you have companies [like Samsung and Apple] at similar levels of sophistication, with platforms similarly evolved, that are racking their brains to make people go, "Oooooh and Ahhhhh."
Samsung’s decision to focus on its own software may not have done it any favours. Jefferies' Peter Misek noted: “A major complaint amongst Galaxy users is that they do not like Samsung's customised software, especially when it is a downgrade in performance from stock Android features," notes Fortune.
Samsung's marketing spend
In the run up to the launch event there was some talk about just how much money Samsung has been spending on its promotional campaigns in 2012 and so far in 2013.
According to research and consulting firm Kantar Media, in 2012 Samsung spent $401 million advertising its phones in the US, compared to Apple's $333 million – that's $68m more than Apple, the Wall Street Journal reports. In 2011 Apple spent three times as much as Samsung in the US.
The company also spends a lot of cash on "below the line" marketing, according to wireless carrier executives quoted by the WSJ. This pays for in-store advertising, promotions and training for carrier sales representatives that help close the sale, writes the WSJ.
The result of this vast marketing spend? Stanch Apple supporters, such as Andy Ihnatko ditched the iPhone for Samsung as the Galaxy S III became "the other phone" to the iPhone’s established leader, writes The Verge.
The extravagant launch of the S4 is just one example of Samsung's enormous marketing spend right now, although, as Fortune points out: "You have to wonder whether spending a fortune in March to promote a product that won't be available until April is the best use of anybody's resources."
HTC President Jason MacKenzie observed: "Watching the presentation, it looks like they invested a lot in marketing instead of innovation."
Samsung's investment appears to have paid off, however. Ex Apple ad guy, Ken Segall notes that Samsung’s Apple-bashing humour has drawn a crowd. "Just look at the YouTube numbers," he writes. "This anti-iPhone ad now has over 17 million views. Apple ads just don’t get those kinds of numbers these days."
"I hear all kinds of opinions about Samsung ads. Some think they’re stupid, or resent Samsung for ripping off Apple ideas. But these ads are doing what exactly what they are designed to do - they’re striking a nerve, and stoking the anti-Apple flames," he writes.
Apple attacks back
Apple's response to Samsung's ramped up campaign has actually encountered more criticism than praise (see the backlash that greeted the Genius Ads). In the run up to the Samsung Galaxy S4 launch Apple made two pre-emptive strikes and one responsive maneuver.
In America the company released two new 30-second advertisements for the iPhone. Called Brilliant and Discover they show off apps including as iBooks, iPhoto and Passbook.
As mentioned above, the company also offered up its marketing VP Phil Schiller for a couple of interviews in which he attacked Android and referred to the likelihood that the Galaxy S4 would "ship with an OS that is nearly a year old."
After the S4 launch event, Apple posed a new webpage that focused on the virtues of the iPhone. The company also sent promotional emails to its customers.
The good news is that the Samsung Galaxy S4 will encourage a competitive response from Apple.