The Mobile World Congress, one of the most important annual events for the mobile industry, is in full swing in Barcelona.
The event, which is typically a key staging ground for new product releases, has already seen its fair share of high profile new devices that are preparing to hit the market in the year ahead. And in that same spirit, South Korean smartphone giant Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) also used the MWC to debut the latest version of its high end smartphone lineup – the Galaxy S5.
As one of the best-selling high end smartphones on the planet, the Galaxy line of phones is always a threat to smartphone dynamo Apple (AAPL -0.65%). However after seeing what the Galaxy S5 brings to the table, Apple investors can breath a sigh of relief.
Breaking down Samsung's latest smartphone
In perusing the initial reactions to the Galaxy S5, the tech community as a whole appears to be wholly underwhelmed with Samsung's efforts here.
That's not to say that the Galaxy S5 isn't a better phone than its predecessor the S4. It is in several ways. However, Samsung failed to offer more than just incremental improvements with the device and still appears to be trailing Apple by about half a year in its product development cycle.
Looking at the hardware, the Galaxy S5's 5.1 inch display is only slightly larger than the 5 inch display from last year's model and what should be an indistinguishable difference in picture quality. The Galaxy S5 is powered by a Qualcomm SnapDragon 801 chipset. Samsung upped the specs of its rear-facing camera, improving it from 13 megapixels on the S4 to an impressive 16 megapixels in the S5, although the front-facing camera offers only 2 megapixels.
One of the coolest features of the Galaxy S5 is that its apparently highly water resistant. Samsung claims the S5 can withstand 30 min in as deep as 3 feet of water, which although not a game-changer, is a certainly a nice plus. Beyond that, the S5 will come in four colors, three of which Apple already offers with its 5s (black, grey, and gold) plus a blue backing as well.
Samsung did play catch up with the S5, adding a fingerprint scanner like the one Apple introduced on the iPhone 5s last September. And in a nod to the emphasis on biometrics we've seen from many consumer tech names, the Galaxy S5 also features a heartbeat monitor integrated into the rear camera's flash as well.
Overall, it appears Samsung's Galaxy S5 is another strong offering that compares well with other high end smartphones like Apple's iPhone 5s and HTC's One. However, these annual product updates offering each player in the smartphone space a key opportunity to leapfrog its competition with either a new feature or some other kind of differentiator. And in that respect, the Galaxy S5 clearly falls flat.
The door is still wide open for HTC and Apple
As the first major high end smartphone launch in 2014, Samsung failed to raise the bar, which bodes poorly for the Korean electronics giant in the rest of the year.
According to reports, Apple is fast at work on the typical form factor redesign expected from the iPhone 6. Most reports agree that Apple will follow the general trajectory of the high end smartphone market with a screen size increase in this year's iPhone, which could in theory diminish one of the key differentiators between the iPhone and the Galaxy S5.
There's little question that the Galaxy S5 will sell well. According to analysts, Samsung shipped well over 60 million of the Galaxy S4 last year. However, with Apple shipping 51 million iPhone last quarter alone, it's looking like Samsung isn't doing much to try to steal share from the likes of Apple at the highly profitable high end part of the smartphone market. And that should certainly disappoint its investors.