Samsung's Next Smartphone Could Copy Apple's iPhone, but Not How You Think

Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) iPhone 5s brought two significant features that most rival phones running Google's (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) Android lack: a 64-bit processor, and a fingerprint scanner. Samsung's (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF  ) next flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S5, could replicate both features, but not in the manner some might expect.

Rather than your finger, Samsung's next phone could scan your iris. Samsung has been slowly pushing eye-tracking technology, but with mixed results. Still, the South Korean tech giant's next flagship is shaping up to be the most technologically savvy Android-powered handset yet.

Samsung focuses on its users' eyes
According to Samsung Executive Vice President Lee Young Hee, Samsung's Galaxy S5 could feature an iris scanner. As owners of Apple's iPhone 5s can use their finger to unlock their handset, buyers of Samsung's Galaxy S5 could use their eyeballs.

On the surface, Samsung's solution just sounds much cooler than Apple's. After all, fingerprint scanners have been around for years, even on smartphones, Apple wasn't the first to include one. But iris scanners are more rare, still somewhat in the realm of science fiction.

Yet I'm skeptical that Samsung's technology will lure buyers. Samsung's Galaxy S4 included a number of eye-tracking features, including "Smart Stay" (preventing the phone from dimming when you look at it) and "Smart Scroll" (scrolling up or down a webpage using the movements of your head), but they don't always work. Reviewers have found fault with both technologies, and as an owner of a Samsung-made handset, I can attest to their flakiness.

Even Apple's fingerprint scanner, despite being well received by most critics, has drawn its fair share of complaints. Business Insider's Megan Rose Dickey notes that plenty of users have run into problems with Apple's technology.

Until Samsung can demonstrate a near-perfect iris scanner, investors should take a wait-and-see approach.

Biometrics and mobile payments
Nevertheless, biometrics remains an area of intense interest for smartphone makers, both for security and, eventually, for mobile payments. Before Apple's release of the iPhone 5s, analysts were projecting that Apple would pair its new technology with a mobile payment system.

With more than 500 million credit card numbers linked to iTunes accounts, Apple's iPhones could eventually replace their users' wallets. If merchants adopt Apple's iBeacon technology, an iPhone with a fingerprint scanner could be a better, more secure alternative to a traditional credit card.

Google has been pushing aggressively into mobile payments with its own Google Wallet initiative, though the search giant still has little to show for it. Adoption has been slow to nonexistent, and many observers have already labeled it a failure. Yet Google remains undeterred, including improvements to Google Wallet in the most recent version of Android.

Apple's closed model could give it the upper hand in mobile payments
Because Apple controls the entire iPhone -- both the hardware and the software -- it's better equipped to push features that require both. To date, Google's mobile payment problems have centered on hostile carriers and a lack of NFC technology among merchants -- but if biometrics emerge as a key component of the mobile payment experience, Apple would have the advantage.

Google would need its hardware partners, notably Samsung, to perfect their own biometric alternatives. With the talk of an iris scanner, it seems Samsung is definitely on the right track, though the South Korean tech giant's prior eye-tracking features leave much to be desired.

Biometrics -- do they matter?
Including biometrics in smartphones seems to have emerged as the next big trend. To some users, these features could prove irresistible, but until they are perfected, they seem somewhat superfluous -- anyone buying Apple's fingerprint scanner-less iPhone 5c is implying that they don't find the feature to be worth an extra $100.

Still, the push toward biometrics could matter when it comes to mobile payments. For now, Apple's superior fingerprint scanner gives it an advantage -- Google investors should hope Samsung's solution is comparable.

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Read/Post Comments (9) | Recommend This Article (6)

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 13, 2014, at 12:04 AM, djtetsu wrote:

    Thank you for not bashing Apple!

  • Report this Comment On January 13, 2014, at 3:05 AM, zippero wrote:

    Samsung's iris-scan will be another rushjob feature like Smart Stay and Smart Scroll that didn't actually work. It's a desperate move for relevance by a company that the Korean media itself has started to write off. The Korean media compares Samsung to Nokia and highlights the devastating effect the collapse of a company that makes up 25% of your GDP can have on a small nation like Finland or S. Korea. At least, Finland's education system nurtures individualism and creativity in contrast to the Korean education system's emphasis on rote memorization and groupthink, so Finland's economy has been able to start recovering (via Angry Birds, etc). But Korea knows nothing other than counterfeiting iconic Western luxury products like Louis Vuitton handbags, Rolex watches, and Apple iPhones (via Samsung's Galaxy line). Without a creative bone in its body, Korea is doomed (even Hyundai is failing now due to the gas mileage scandal). Korea's only growth industry is tourism by Chinese tourists, which is probably just a prelude to Chinese re-annexation of Korea in the future. As the Korean media states, Samsung's Galaxy line is getting squeezed by cheaper Chinese Android phones at the low-end (that run the same exact version of Android as Samsung's Galaxies) and Apple at the high-end. No matter how many gimmicks like iris-scan Samsung is planning to include in the S5, Samsung's best days are over. In addition, the Galaxy S5 won't even have a 64-bit Android OS because it isn't even Google's priority to come out with one anytime soon (it's still trying to expand 32-bit KitKat to more low-spec devices to reduce the Android fragmentation problem). This leaves all of 2014 and 2015 for Apple to pull ahead further with its 64-bit iPhone 5S and upcoming 64-bit iPhone 6.

  • Report this Comment On January 13, 2014, at 5:08 AM, KoreanPeninsula wrote:

    Yeah, Samsung over??, Galaxy 5 best ever???, China threat???. Bring on Cheap Made In China. As a person I will never buy " Made in China" products. Cheap or Expensive. I cannot trust Made in China or Made in Taiwan. I will always will buy Made in Samsung or Made in LG. Samsung will survive many years to come. Main reason is Samsung just gets better when competition gets harder. Samsung product quality will always rule China.

  • Report this Comment On January 13, 2014, at 6:45 AM, gsagi wrote:

    @KoreanPeninsula

    How many serial question marks can signify hurt (national) pride? I am not even sure what Made in Samsung means but plenty of them are assembled in China. The problems Samsung is facing has little to do with the quality of workmanship in assembly anyway.

  • Report this Comment On January 13, 2014, at 9:11 AM, Dvoraak wrote:

    Gotta love the fanboys. Samsung is doomed. Apple is doomed. Google is doomed. Fanboys never learn.

  • Report this Comment On January 13, 2014, at 9:50 AM, eldernorm wrote:

    " Before Apple's release of the iPhone 5s, analysts were projecting that Apple would pair its new technology with a mobile payment system."

    Actually you are seeing that now, in its infancy. Accurate finger scanner, payment to iTunes, bluetooth instore tracking.

    Apple is already testing its system now with purchasing on iTunes. Once all the bugs are worked out, its ready to go. PS, no expensive store hardware needed. Just like paying at a gas pump.

    PS, Samsung has NO customer service. I was part of a class action lawsuit where Samsung KNEW the parts were bad / underrated and kept building anyway. They finally lost in court and paid each tv buyer around $ 150.00 just because they saved 10 cents per tv on substandard parts.

    Just saying

  • Report this Comment On January 13, 2014, at 1:17 PM, jasonb37 wrote:

    samsung putting an iris reader for safty measures isnt in anyway copying apple fingerprint scanner. its like saying a company made a window fan and another made an air conditioner. they are two safety measures but totally different. and every kind of tech has issues or doesnt work perfectly. both phones will have their issues and to say to wait for one and not the other is kind of bias. and towards hyundai and the gas mileage i had the same issue with my 2012 ford focus. they got the gas mileage they said and then they had you come in and get a recall for the car rolling back too far and when i got it back i lost 8 mpg cause they had set the idle too low. and it is false advertising as well. and the sync for the phone in the car doesnt recognize or doesnt pick up what you are saying have the time and i have to repeat myself 5 times. so no company is perfect with their tech it doesnt matter where it comes from. im not a huge fan of apple and would never by an iphone or tablet from them. think there are just as good products and some better for less money. not that i am bias against them. i think it is a good product just not for me. and people that get rude or bash other products need to just grow up cause you are a grown child. everyone is allowed their preference and not everyone has to agree on what they like.

  • Report this Comment On January 13, 2014, at 3:51 PM, nicktaste wrote:

    well since samsung manufactures the most crucial components for ALL of apples i products..

    every apple sale = more money for samsung

  • Report this Comment On January 13, 2014, at 9:09 PM, ylorse wrote:

    How about Samsung figures out why my s3 keeps running out of battery because the Samsung push and media won't let me forceclose them or if they do they turn themselves back on and drain over 30% of my battery for no reason. Even if I am not using the phone. figure that out while you are making improvements.

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