What to watch for in the Samsung Galaxy S8 launch

Samsung's uphill battle

South Korean smartphone maker Samsung Electronics is under pressure to deliver the goods as it launches its latest model, the Galaxy S8, on March 29, in New York.

Besides excitement over new features the Galaxy S8 is expected to debut, all eyes are on whether the electronics giant's latest offering will restore trust among its customer base as Samsung's competitors attempt to ramp up their share of the market.

The company has a lot riding on the release after a previous model, the Galaxy Note 7, came under fire for exploding due to battery malfunctions. Samsung followed up with a major product recall and eventually terminated Note 7 production.

Amidst a flurry of leaks and rumors ahead of the launch, a feature the S8 is sure to debut is its new voice assistant Bixby — Samsung's answer to Apple's Siri. A blog post from Samsung's head of R&D InJong Rhee detailed how Bixby would offer a "deeper experience" compared to its competitors.

Analysts said that while Samsung has talked a big game, it remains to be seen how well Bixby will perform. "They've talked about it but we need to see it in action. We need to see how well it executes, we need to see how the software works," said Bryan Ma, vice president at IDC Asia Pacific.

"The bigger thing to watch out for is the Viv acquisition that they made," said Ma. Viv is a company specializing in artificial intelligence that was founded by the creators of Siri.

"The problem is, it hasn't been integrated yet. They just made that acquisition … Right now, we can't get too carried away with how Bixby's going to be. I'll believe it when I see it, probably later this year or in the next year," Ma added.

What to expect from the Samsung Galaxy S8

In light of the Note 7 recall, hardware and battery quality will also be "front and center" for the launch, said Ishan Dutt, research analyst at Canalys. Samsung has done well post-recall in getting the message across that it was taking quality control seriously, Dutt added.

The company developed an "8-Point Battery Safety Check" in response to battery defects in the Note 7 in a bid to redeem consumer trust.

"This phone really can't afford to have issues," Dutt said.

As for the leaks, tech insiders are predicting that the Galaxy S8 will no longer have a home button so that there's more room for a larger display screen. The phone's fingerprint sensor is also rumored to be moved to the back of the phone.

One aspect of Samsung's strategy that has confused is the company's announcement that it would sell refurbished Galaxy Note 7 phones in the same week it launches the new S8.

"Completely baffling," Ma said, "In their defense, if it's about helping the environment, … maybe they're getting a little bit of money out of it? But at the end of the day, it's a perception thing. Why remind people about it again?"

Dutt agreed, "It seems to be perhaps not the best step in terms of PR to be even … overshadowing (the S8 launch and) also reminding people about the Note 7 at a time when the focus really should be on the new device and starting afresh."

"I think ultimately, this is going to be something that will get Samsung back on its feet after the problems of last year. The challenge, however, is going to be Apple. Apple's got a phone that, if you believe the rumor mill, is going to be a tremendous blockbuster later this year," Ma said.

Apple is expected to launch a new smartphone in September this year — the 10th anniversary of the iPhone. And while the company has not confirmed the name of the new model, many in the market have already begun calling it the iPhone 8.

"In that sense, Samsung still has quite a bit of an uphill battle to go," Ma said.