If there's one subject Samsung didn't talk about during its press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show this week in Las Vegas, it was smartphones. The company showed off a line of TVs and tablets, but made no mention of its bread-and-butter mobile products. That changed when Lee Young Hee, executive VP of Samsung's mobile business, talked up the Galaxy S5, which will be significantly different from its current-generation designs.
Lee, who made the revelations to Bloomberg, said the new Galaxy smartphone will arrive in April, about one year after it launched the Galaxy S4. Though Lee was light on details, she did say that the device will be a departure in terms of its appearance. The change in design is being made to address consumer complaints about the similarities between the Galaxy S3 and Galaxy S4, which look practically identical.
"When we moved to S4 from S3, it’s partly true that consumers couldn’t really feel much difference between the two products from the physical perspective, so the market reaction wasn’t as big," said Lee. Sales of the GS4, though very good, have fallen well short of Samsung's expectations. "For the S5, we will go back to the basics. Mostly, it’s about the display and the feel of the cover."
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Samsung has long been lambasted for its use of cheap-feeling plastic in its smartphones. Thin and light as the Galaxy S4 may be, the plastic hardware simply doesn't stand up to the aluminum HTC One or iPhone 5s. As for the screen, the GS4 has a 5-inch 1080p HD display. Samsung may move beyond 1080p, however, and jump to a higher resolution. It is working on denser screens to stand apart from the competition, though Lee didn't say anything specific about the GS5's display.
Lee also noted that the company is researching the idea of putting an iris scanner in the GS5. The GS4 already allows users to unlock the device via facial features, but the security is rated poorly. Switching to an iris scanner could boost the appeal of the GS5 for security-minded and government users. Such a feature would also help it compete against devices such as the iPhone 5s, which has a fingerprint scanner.
Beyond the GS5, Lee had a few words to say about Samsung's smartwatch plans: "When we release our S5 device, you can also expect a Gear successor with more advanced functions, and the bulky design will also be improved." Samsung released the Galaxy Gear smartwatch in September. It was met with mixed reviews due to its limited functionality and large design. Samsung later admitted that the Gear was a concept device and was not as refined as it should have been.
Lee didn't say anything else about its next-generation smartwatch, but competition in the marketplace is heating up quickly. Wearables were the talk of the town in Las Vegas this week, with companies such as LG jumping into the fray. Pebble showed off new, more attractive hardware, and Qualcomm dropped the price of the Toq to make it more appealing.
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