At the Mobile World Congress, Samsung unveiled its latest flagship smartphone (Galaxy S5) on the world. The reaction was a staggering ‘meh’. There should be no reason for such a response. The specs of the phone are fairly impressive:
- Dimensions: 142 x 72.5 x 8.1mm
- Weight: 145 g
- Processor: 2.5 GHz quad-core application processor
- Operating system: Android 4.4.2 (KitKat)
- Display: 5.1-inch FHD Super AMOLED (1920 x 1080)
- Memory: 16/32 GB microSD slot up to 128 GB
- Camera: 16 MP (rear), 2 MP (front)
- Battery: Removable 2800 mAh
- Standby time: 390 hrs; Talk time: 21 hrs
- Wi-Fi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac HT80, MIMO (2x2)
- Sensors: Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer, Hall, RGB ambient light, Gesture(IR), Finger Scanner, Heart-rate sensor
- Other features: NFC, IP67, Dust and water Resistant, Bluetooth 4.0
The device has a powerful processor, plenty of space, a beautiful display, and even introduces waterproofing (for those prone to spillage and droppage). But why was there so little ballyhoo for the next iteration of Samsung’s flagship mobile?
I can answer that question in a single phrase: Same old, same old (Figure A).
The Galaxy S5 with its Band-Aid back.
That’s right, the S5 simply picks up where the S4 left off. This is quite surprising, considering how disappointing the sales were for the S4. But there's a lesson to be learned from the S4/5 devices, one that Samsung must heed before they drive the Galaxy line into the ground. Although many may disagree, this design has become an essential (if not crucial) element in the mobile world. And the design of the Galaxy S phone has developed into as boring an aesthetic as you will find. Add to the boring factor the ever-growing size of the devices, and you have a recipe for disastrous sales.
Here’s the thing... smartphones have become accessories of peoples' lives -- in business, in social settings, and in general. Beyond platform, one of the first things consumers see on a smartphone is its design. The next thing is how the device feels. Beyond that, it’s all about the interface. Samsung has nailed that last piece, but fewer consumers are going to reach the interface portion of their decision, thanks to the mediocre design of the phone.
The HTC One bested both Apple and Samsung to win the Best Smartphone of 2013 at the Mobile World Congress 2014. The winner in 2012 was the Samsung Galaxy S3 -- and to this day, it's the best selling phone in the Galaxy line up.
That should serve as a hint to Samsung, better their phones are selling less and less with each iteration. You have to take into consideration that the Galaxy S3 was a tremendous release. Honestly, it changed the shape of the mobile industry and helped sway the public opinion of Android. It was unique, it was powerful, the size was near-perfect, and it introduced an outstanding user interface. But while other manufacturers were making serious design changes to continue evolving their devices (to match the ever-growing change in aesthetics), Samsung simply grew the Galaxy smartphone and added little in the way to inspire awe.
Unfortunately, the greedy public demands that you “awe” their dollars from them, and the Galaxy S5 packs little of that in its punch. Even with the the addition of a fingerprint scanner (which allows for secure payments via Google Wallet, PayPal, and other wallet systems), the Galaxy S5 is in for a long, uphill climb. This will only be made worse as HTC releases the next iteration of their award-winning One device (dubbed New HTC One) and Sony unleashes the Xperia Z2 (which, with 3 GB of RAM, could be the fastest smartphone on the planet).
I've used both the Galaxy S3 and S4 extensively. Both smartphones beautifully display the power and flexibility of the Android platform. I was disappointed by how poorly the S4 sold, but after watching how the mobile world has evolved, I'm not surprised. Nor will I be surprised if Samsung reports a continued decline in sales for their flagship line.
The sad truth is that this all could be avoided by upgrading the design of the device to better fit the modern standard. Nearly every mockup seen floating around the Internet had a far superior design than what Samsung eventually unveiled. No matter how hard you try, it's impossible to get around aesthetic appeal and desire. People want shiny and new on the outside and on the inside. But consumers will never bother to look under the hood if they don’t like what they see on the surface.
Apple knows this. HTC knows this. Sony and LG know this. Why doesn’t Samsung? Share your thoughts about this in the discussion thread below.