Samsung’s new year won’t really start until March 1.
That’s when the company will unveil its new flagship phone, likely called the Galaxy S6, at an event in Barcelona. And things already feel different this time around.
Samsung is in a pickle. Its profits are falling like a rock, while its biggest rival Apple continues to print money and post record smartphone sales. Meanwhile, startups like Xiaomi have figured out the magic formula to create phones that are arguably nicer than Samsung phones, but cost half as much.
The challenge for the Galaxy S6 launch will be to prove the new phone is unique and good enough to justify spending hundreds more over another Android phone or even the iPhone. That means Samsung will have to improve its phones in two key areas: hardware design and software features.
Samsung phones haven’t been much to look at. The screens are big and beautiful (the best in the industry), but they’re surrounded by cheap-feeling plastic that come in tacky colors. The gold version of the Galaxy S5 looks like a Band-Aid with its dimpled back. The Galaxy S5 unit I’ve been using since last April hasn’t held up well either. It’s gotten creaky and the seams are a bit loose.
But things are going to be different this year. According to sources familiar with the company’s plans, Samsung is focusing more on design and build quality this time around. The Galaxy S6 will be made at least partially of metal, although it’s unclear if it’ll have a unibody design like the iPhone. There will also be another version of the phone with a curved screen, similar to the Galaxy Note Edge from last fall.
Hardware is the easy part though. The bigger challenge for Samsung will be coming up with some unique software and services that make the Galaxy S6 stand out. That’s part of the reason why the iPhone continues to do so well, even though it’s much more expensive than the competition.
Today, there aren’t many differences between what all the various Android phones can do, so people tend to gravitate towards the device with the best specs and lowest price, which explains Xiaomi’s massive rise over the last few years.
Samsung is known for bogging its phones down with a bunch of unnecessary software and features like a lame Siri competitor or touchless controls. According to some vague rumors, Samsung may remove a lot of that junk and keep the software much simpler in the Galaxy S6.
That’s a good start, but likely not enough to convince users to choose Samsung’s pricey phone over cheaper devices that are just as capable. Samsung will need some sort of ace up its sleeve, otherwise the Galaxy S6 will have a tough time selling, just like the Galaxy S5 did last year.
This is going to be Samsung’s most important phone launch ever. It was on top for two years while Apple waited too long to release a big-screen phone. Now it has to prove it can really innovate.