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At the annual Mobile World Congress (MWC) Sunday curtain raiser in Barcelona, Samsung pretty much had the stage to itself with the launch of the next generation of its flagship devices, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845-powered Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+.
As the industry continues to bemoan a lack of innovation around smartphones, Samsung said its new devices would “reimagine the way people communicate, share and experience the world”.
The company said the devices would incorporate more consumer-friendly features such as personalised augmented reality (AR) emojis, a more advanced camera, high-end Dolby speakers, and an internet of things (IoT) services wrap, among other things.
DJ Koh, president and head of IT and mobile communications at Samsung said: “The way we use our smartphones has changed as communication and self-expression has evolved.
“Not only do the Galaxy S9 and S9+ enable consumers to shoot great photos and videos anywhere, it’s a smartphone that’s designed to help them connect to others and express themselves in a way that’s unique and personal to them.”
With other manufacturers such as Huawei holding off on their keynote launches this year, Forrester’s Thomas Husson said Samsung had a sudden window of opportunity to claim leadership in the high-end smartphone sector and challenge the Apple iPhone X.
“The Samsung S9 smartphones look like promising devices and show some technology and innovation edge, especially in regards to a more advanced camera and new stereo sound feature. Given the growing importance of audio and video streaming, this is certainly a capability consumers will value,” he said.
“It is also great to see Samsung has started using Bixby combined with deep learning, AR and motion detection to automatically sense a user’s environment. However, despite these incremental innovations, Samsung will have to smartly leverage its brand and marketing machine to correctly position the new smartphones to a target audience ready to pay such a premium,” said Husson.
He predicted that Samsung’s window of opportunity would, however, be somewhat limited, particularly as Huawei gears up for its own launch in Paris in a few weeks’ time. Huawei’s next generation of phones is expected to be differentiated by more advanced artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities and more aggressive pricing, said Husson.
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Nevertheless, the S9 devices are expected to be very strong sellers, particularly in more advanced economies where consumers may not be so cost conscious – UK mobile network operators (MNOs) EE, O2 and Vodafone were quick to pile in on the S9 launch, announcing their own offers and pricing plans within hours of its unveiling.
Meanwhile, Nokia brand owner HMD Global added four new devices to its line-up at MWC, debuting a suite of Android smartphones – the Nokia 8 Sirocco, Nokia 7 Plus, Nokia 6 and Nokia 1.
HMD made a statement at MWC in 2017 when it revived the once iconic Nokia 3310 handset – a best-selling device at the turn of the century – as a budget retro feature phone. This year, it pitched the Nokia 1 at the value-for-money end of the mobile market, pricing it at around $85 (£60).
“This time last year, we started our journey with huge expectations from fans and a massive responsibility to deliver on the legacy of one of the most innovative brands in our space,” said HMD CEO Florian Seiche
“Since then we have reintroduced well-loved icons, forged partnerships with friends old and new and delivered our pure, secure and up-to-date Android experience across our smartphone portfolio,” he added.
MWC 2017 officially opened on the morning of Monday 26 February and will run until Thursday 1 March. Besides headline smartphone launches, the show will also be an opportunity for the industry to showcase more advanced use cases for mobility – particularly in areas such as AI, virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) and the ever-present IoT – and progress towards future 5G mobile networks. It is in these areas, not devices, that real excitement will be found, said Forrester’s Husson.
“Decision-makers should stop thinking of smartphones as just a device and more as the brain powering and orchestrating new experiences in an increasingly connected world,” he said.
“Because mobile is the primary interface for brands to connect with consumers, MWC is increasingly less a B2B telecom show – and more the place to be to anticipate how mobile acts as catalyst to transform offline experiences and accelerate business transformation.”