BARCELONA - The longtime rivalry between technology giants Apple and Samsung Electronics climbed another notch last week as the South Korean firm headed to Barcelona, Spain for the launch of the two latest models in its popular Galaxy S smartphones series.
Moving away from plastic to a full-metal body for a sleek, luxurious look, along with a fast plug-in charger, built-in wireless charging capability, upgraded camera and fast tracking sensor, the new smartphones are well-matched to the needs of today's demanding consumers.
Speaking at the Samsung Galaxy Unpacked 2015 event ahead of the annual Mobile World Congress, Samsung's mobile chief JK Shin described the S6 and S6 Edge smartphones as "flagships" and said they were based on relentless innovation. Apple, which is scheduled to introduce its new watch next month, chose once again to stay away from the Barcelona show.
"We listen to our customers, we learn from our successes and our mistakes and we push forward with new technologies, new ideas. The new Galaxy was built from the ground up. Our goal was simple: to come up with the most beautiful smartphone in Samsung's history and the most advanced smartphone in the world," Shin told reporters.
Samsung was under pressure to do more than tweak its flagship phone. Sales of the previous Galaxy S5 lagged well behind the S4 and Apple surpassed Samsung as the world's top smartphone maker in the fourth quarter of 2014, with record sales of the big-screen iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
Both the Galaxy S6 Edge and the Galaxy S6 feature a lightweight body made from the metal used in aircraft, signifying a move away from Samsung's often-criticised plastic design, plus Corning Inc's Gorilla Glass 4 on both front and back. They also boast 16MP rear-facing cameras and 5MP front-facing lenses, and come with fast plug-in charging that can boost the battery to 40 per cent in 10 minutes. The S6 and the S6 Edge also have curved screens but the expandable memory has been dropped and is now fixed at 32, 64 or 128 GB like Apple's.
The S6 Edge features curved screens on both sides of the phone, meaning the display can wrap around the entire edge of the handset. The user can assign different colours to five acquaintances and the edges of the phone will light up in that colour whenever the person calls. This is helpful when a phone is sitting face down on a table because you can easily see who's calling without having to pick it up.
"We want to promote phone etiquette. It's bad manners to be holding a phone if you are in a meeting. It's more polite to put the phone face down on the table and set it in silent mode. The flash of colour will identify the caller even if the device is face down.
"For example, if you've assigned the colour red to your boss and the red flashes on the edge, you can ask permission to call him or her back. This might seem a tiny thing, but it's important to help the users balance their lives," says Wichai Pornpratang, Thai Samsung Electronics' corporate vice president for information technology and mobile communications.
The company has also launched a software development kit that enables programmers to develop applications for a specific platform on the edge of the phone. The display is intended to create an immersive viewing experience and to provide a quick way to alert owners to important information such as the news feed, the weather report and the stock exchange.
"People today love capturing pictures in almost every situation and they need their smartphones to act like a professional camera. With the F1.9 lens and high-resolution sensors on both front and rear cameras, they can take better pictures in low-light conditions. It also has object tracking auto focus to capture action without blurring," he says.
This year is expected to see significant growth in wireless charging deployment with wireless charging stations appearing in an increasing number of public places. Three standardised wireless charging technologies exist: the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) and its Qi standard, the Power Matters Alliance (PMA) and the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP). Wireless charging pads powered by the Qi standards can already be seen at some McDonald's in London, while many Starbucks in the US now sport PMA's powered charging stations.
Thailand might not have seen many of these but it's only a matter of time before integrated restaurants, airports, public spaces, vehicles and living spaces of all descriptions will finally free consumers from the burden of having to remember to carry their power cords. With fully embedded WPC and PMA wireless charging technology, the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge can work with any wireless pad available in the market that supports WPC and PMA standards.
"Our world is becoming seamlessly connected with a variety of devices and various networks. The growth of mobility, however, evolves with mobile security, particularly for enterprises. That's why Samsung has developed Knox, a security feature that helps you to securely separate your personal and professional data in one smartphone," Wichai says.
The two new Galaxy models are built on the upgraded Samsung Knox offering defence-grade features for real-time protection from potential malicious attacks. It creates a new layer on your Samsung phone or a second version of your phone that requires a password to be accessed. It restricts the way in which the handset is used and enhances protection by isolating applications of personal and professional data.
Samsung is also aiming to do something about the low acceptance of the smart wallet through its mobile payment platform Samsung Pay. This is set to launch on both the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge in the US and South Korea this summer.
The system, which is partnered with major payment networks including US banks, MasterCard and Visa, allows consumers to utilise their mobile devices to pay at existing point-of-sale terminals. It's aimed at outsmarting the rival Apple Pay system, launched in the US in October and expected to reach the UK later this year. Wichai however is quick to acknowledge that acceptance in Thailand will take considerably longer.
The two new models will be available in 20 countries on April 10 in white, black, gold, blue topaz (S6 only) and green emerald (S6 edge only). As the launch date coincides with the long Songkran holiday here, we can expect a later delivery of the phones.
Virtual reality is part of a booming wearable technology industry that has taken steps toward a big breakout since last year. Samsung also unveiled a new version of its Gear VR virtual reality headset, which is designed for use with the new Galaxy models, and allows users to immerse themselves in watching high-resolution films, TV shows and scrolling through photos.
Elsewhere at the Mobile World Congress 2015, HTC featured its first virtual reality headset, the HTC Vive, with complete head-tracking technology designed to act as a gateway to immersive gaming experiences.
LG and Huawei launched the luxury Android Wear-powered smartwatches - the LG Watch Urbane and the Huawei Watch - which can display incoming calls, message alerts, and monitor the heart rate with a motion sensor.
The writer travelled to Barcelona courtesy of Thai Samsung Electronics.