Samsung launched the Galaxy S7 and curved screen S7 Edge, it's latest flagship smartphones on Sunday, and made another big push into the virtual reality (VR) space as it looks to new areas of growth amid a slowing smartphone market.
The Galaxy S7 series will be available to buy from March 11. Customers in select countries will get a free GearVR headset when they order their phone.
The South Korean electronics giant has made some key improvements on several aspects of the S7 device including:
- A 12 megapixel camera which it claims lets more light in allowing for a picture that is 95 percent brighter than the Galaxy S6 as well a faster autofocus
- An "always-on display" where a part of the screen remains constantly on but at a low power level, draining less battery power
- A bigger battery compared with the Galaxy S6 which allows for 13 to 15 hours of high-definition video playback
- 5.5 inch screen on the S7 Edge and 5.1 inch display on the S7
- A faster processor and better graphics card specifically to enhance mobile gaming
- Expandable memory
- Dust and water resistant
On the Galaxy S7 Edge, Samsung has improved the use of the edge capability. It has a feature that lets you put specific contacts and apps to be accessed quickly. But it has also introduced a new features called "Task Edge" which allows you to put specific tasks to be carried out quickly, such as immediately accessing the selfie camera or going straight to the message thread of a specific contact.
Unveiling the device at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Samsung also touted the improved processing speeds allowing for better gameplay. The company unveiled specific gaming features such as the ability to lower the performance of a game - such as Candy Crush - which doesn't require high graphics in order to save battery. It also has introduced tools to allow you to take pictures and video of your game while in-play and upload those to social sites.
"If you work in a shop selling phones, they have given you a reason for you to sell the S7 over the iPhone. The Galaxy S7 has expandable memory, better battery, it's got a good camera, they are ticking all the boxes if you are selling it side by side with the iPhone," Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight, told CNBC by phone.
Samsung has stabilized its mobile division which was under pressure in 2014, being attacked by low-cost Chinese players and Apple at the high-end. Its recent spate of handsets have sold well and its remains the number one smartphone player in the world. However, the overall smartphone market is slowing and Samsung warned of a tougher 2016.
With smartphones becoming increasingly commoditized and margins continuing to remain tough, manufacturers are looking to new areas to drive growth. As such, Samsung also took the wraps off a new camera which can film in 360 degrees.
Aptly named the Gear 360, the little ball shaped device has two lenses allowing people to take either 180 degree or full 360 pictures and video. An app on Samsung's Gear S7 and S7 Edge smartphones allows a user to stitch the pictures together into a full virtual reality image. Previously, this was a complex process, but Samsung has managed to wedge this into their latest handset.
Users can immediately upload this to platforms like YouTube and Facebook which can now support 360 degreevideo. And of course, Samsung has its own Gear VR headset at $99. The hope for the electronics titan is that it gets people creating user-generated content to stoke the adoption of VR. And handily, with the millions of users on Facebook and YouTube, there is a big distribution for VR content which will help Samsung's cause.
Wood said Samsung has in recent years been guilty of copying competitors but is now "market-making and innovating".
Virtual reality has been touted as the next major area for growth with VR headset shipments forecast to grow 15 times to 96 million units by 2020, at a value of $14.5 billion, according to CCS Insight.
As well as a product in its own right for Samsung, the Gear 360 could also push people to upgrade to its latest flagship handsets.
"The Gear 360 is excellent timing for Samsung because there is a lot of interest in all types of VR at the moment and the Gear 360 is a good halo device to position Samsung as a leader in the space and drive consumers to upgrade phones so they can enjoy the Gear VR experience as it requires a new phone," Ian Fogg, head of mobile at IHS, told CNBC.
"It helps Samsung persuade consumers that now is the time to upgrade their existing device."
Like Apple has done with services such as Apple Music or Apple Pay as well as other devices like Macbooks, Samsung is trying to get consumers to stick in its ecosystem. This is the aim by offering a VR camera which only works with Samsung devices. The company has also been attempting to push other areas including connected devices in the home and in the auto space.
"We've invested in other systems in smart homes and cars and we keep investing. We do believe that this is to be looked at as a new galaxy, a new era of how we interface with our smartphone and all the other devices that gravitate around it, be it in the home, be it on the road, there are still many more things we can do," Jean-Daniel Ayme, vice-president of mobile at Samsung Electronics Europe, told CNBC.
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