With the imminent release of Galaxy S6, we take a look at the rumors, predictions, and challenges facing Samsung with its newest flagship smartphone.
Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!
No, we're not headed to a monster truck rally (unfortunately). But that is when we'll probably see the latest flagship smartphone released from Samsung — the Galaxy S6.
As with any new device, the rumor mill is operating at full strength and it seems like everyone who is interested has shared their opinions on the yet-to-be-released phone. In response to the rumors, Samsung created thissatire page with absurd concept images.
While I'm not going to endorse any of these rumors, it's important to take a look at what Samsung could release on Sunday and what it could mean for the company.
For starters, departure in design is a frequent topic of conversation surrounding the S6. According to both Annette Zimmermann, a research director at Gartner, and Boris Metodiev, an analyst at 451 Research, there are three main rumors regarding the looks of the phone: multiple versions, premium materials, and a curved glass screen.
Just like any other smartphone generation, the Galaxy S6 will likely be a departure in design from its predecessor. However, it could come in multiple versions, including standard and premium. Apple saw success with this model with the introduction of the iPhone 5C.
Since this is all just hearsay at this point, we're not sure how it will play out. But, we might see a unibody design similar to other high-end phones and the use of more premium materials like metal and glass.
"I think it was really time for Samsung to go away from the plastic casing, I have been telling Samsung that it makes the device look cheap against the iPhone," Zimmermann said. "I think users will appreciate it. It could help to attract users from other Android-OEMs and help the upgrades from the S5."
According to Metodiev, users have accused Samsung of being cheap, and plastic makes the phones feel cheap compared to other flagship devices like the HTC One or the iPhone.
However, plastic tends to be more durable and is a much better material to use in making a phone with a removable battery. While the materials used to construct the phone are important, the biggest hype builder for the Galaxy S6 is the possibility of a curved glass screen.
Samsung and LG have both been experimenting with curved displays, Samsung with the Note Edge and LG with the Flex. With the Galaxy S6, Samsung could establish the curved screen as a signature in its phone design, but the question remains whether the whole phone will be curved, or whether we will simply see one or more curved edges.
Despite the hype, Metodiev isn't sold on the curved glass concept just yet.
"At least for now, it seems like it is just a proof of concept. It doesn't really have so many practical applications, it doesn't really benefit the user," Metodiev said.
The Galaxy S6 is a pivotal release because it could be the catalyst the company needs to get out of its slump. Samsung's global market share has plummeted over the last few quarters.
Additionally, Metodiev said, its profit margins have started to drop. When market share and margins drop in tandem, it's a recipe for disaster. This is what we saw with Nokia and Motorola, and people are beginning to draw similarities between those manufacturers and Samsung.
One of the chief problems, Metodiev said, is that the phones were good, but they weren't very special. They were not properly differentiated from previous devices.
"All of the vendors, especially on the Android side, are struggling because of lack of differentiation," Metodiev said. "All of the devices look the same, they feel the same. And, the fact that they also run on the same operating system means that they are competing mainly on price and specs."
A curved or flexible screen could serve as somewhat of a differentiating factor, but it still needs to be fully developed. Samsung need to invest more resources in R&D if it wants to return to powerhouse status.
Samsung's broad product portfolio is another issue that is hampering the company's growth. Zimmermann said that the company has too many phones, some with only nuanced differences between them. This makes it difficult to clearly display the value add differences in higher-end phones.
"This consolidation should help, though I would not cut the the entire lower-end line of products," Zimmermann said. "I would keep a model also in the $130 price range as entry-level users in emerging markets are still an important target group - they may upgrade at some point to a mid-range Samsung phone."
Perhaps one of the most striking rumors is that Samsung will forgo the use of Qualcomm chips in the Galaxy S6 in favor of its own chipset. Going with in-house, Samsung made chips would lower production costs and increase the profit margins on the phone, allowing Samsung to compensate for loss of market share, Metodiev said.
If it works, it would be great for Samsung. In addition to the improved margin, Metodiev said it could act as a proof of concept for the Samsung chips and give handset manufacturers another choice in premium chips outside of Qualcomm.
If it fails, it could lead to the Samsung's device business and its chipset business sinking.
"There is no middle ground for something like that," Metodiev said. "It's either going to be very beneficial for them, or it's going to be a complete disaster, that's what I believe."