This week, the world's largest conference for the mobile industry took place in Barcelona, Spain: Mobile World Congress. Last year, the event drew more than 85,000 attendees from 200 countries, up from 55,000 in 2008. MWC 2015 appears to be even bigger, boasting of 1,900 exhibitors, up 5.5% from 1,800 in 2014. This year's tag line, The Edge of Information, promises not to disappoint.
For insiders, the conference is invaluable but for the pedestrian observer MWC 2015 was about one huge announcement: the unveiling of Samsung's (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) newest iteration of the Galaxy line -- the Galaxy S6. And now that the phones have been unveiled, it appears that Samsung has a hit on its hands. The Galaxy S6 borrows from Apple's iPhone design-wise while the Galaxy S6 Edge follows its Galaxy Note Edge by adding a scroll display on its curved corners.
While the phone is certainly impressive looking with its sleek new glass and metal body, there are trade-offs from prior models. One change, however, essentially mitigates Samsung's best-differentiating feature from Apple: battery swapping.
The cup holder phenomenon
Battery life and power may sound unimportant, but are becoming increasingly so in our hyper-connected world, especially among Millennials. Last year, an Experian study found Millennials spend 14.5 hours weekly on their smartphones while a study from web-analytics company SDL found Millennials check their phones 43 times a day. And much like cup holders are surprisingly important to car buyers, so is battery life to potential buyers. And when it comes to battery life, Samsung's newest phone is a step back for users.
First, the phone's battery is smaller than the previous generation -- the Galaxy S5 -- in order to fit into a slimmer form factor. The Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge boast of batteries of 2,550 mAh and 2,600 mAh, respectively, while the Galaxy S5 had a 2,800 mAH battery. It should be noted that doesn't mean the phone will have shorter battery life, more efficient chips and software can mitigate the effects of smaller batteries.
But perhaps the big drawback for heavy Samsung users is the loss of battery swapping. In choosing design over function, Samsung joins Apple and loses this advantage. The company does have quick charging and wireless charging, but these still require access to power whereas battery replacement is an on-the-go solution. The about face is interesting considering Samsung's Wall Huggers commercial chided Apple for its poor battery life.
If you can't beat em' join em'
To give credit to Samsung, this was a very wise move to take design cues from Apple. After the Galaxy S4 blowout, the company fell behind with the Galaxy S5 and saw operating profit fall substantially on a year-over-year basis the last two quarters. Samsung can be encouraged by Apple and Xiaomi's results -- the larger form factor iPhones, that many credit Samsung with popularizing, have been selling extremely well and Xiaomi has produced triple-digit growth by essentially copying Apple's handsets.
Ironically, Samsung moved the headphone jack to the bottom of the phone -- something it bashed Apple for in another commercial. By dropping multiple differentiators -- the aforementioned battery swapping and design differences -- along with Samsung losing the waterproofing feature, points toward a company seeking to compete mostly on operating system. So while heavy Galaxy users will lose the ability to battery swap, Samsung investors will probably be treated to revenue performance more akin to the Galaxy S4 than the Galaxy S5.