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Samsung may retake momentum with the S8 smartphone

Samsung may retake momentum with the S8 smartphone

Details emerge before the Wednesday unveiling; it will be phablet-sized, with features including facial recognition and a voice assistant, and will offer a dock accessory

Samsung has a lot riding on its next smartphone, the Galaxy S8, which debuts on Wednesday at an event in New York City.

Reports on new features of the S8 have been unusually abundant. Many of the reports were confirmed by Computerworld with seven industry insiders who spoke on the condition they not be named.

According to these sources, both the S8 and S8 Plus:

  • will be larger than the last generation;
  • will have no physical home button;
  • will have facial recognition, in addition to a fingerprint scanner, to verify the user;
  • will have a DeX docking device, sold separately;
  • and will include a new voice assistant called Bixby.

Many of these features were already reported by a KGI Security analyst and by Forbes and other websites. There have even been photos of the new devices from a German website WinFuture.

Recovering from Note7 fiasco

After its disastrous run with the Galaxy Note7, which was recalled after some of the devices overheated and even exploded, the pressure is on Samsung to get it right. All told, more than 4 million Note7s were recalled at a cost of $6 billion.

In the rearview mirror, South Korea-based Samsung is also watching Chinese phone maker Huawei, which finished 2016 in third place globally for smartphone shipments, behind Apple in second place and Samsung in the top spot, according to IDC. Huawei says it wants to be No. 1 globally in five years.

"Samsung needs to recapture momentum after the troubles with the Note7," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, on Monday. "The S8 gives Samsung a major opportunity to change the conversation and show consumers who are generally favorably disposed to Samsung that it can still deliver leading edge products that people will want to go out and buy."

Based on early reports of the phone's features, Gold said, "it's very likely that the S8 will do exactly that."

Facial recognition and the DeX dock

Reports of facial recognition technology in the S8 first cropped up two weeks ago. The technology will be combined with fingerprint and iris detection for mobile payments with Samsung Pay, but could well be used for other authorizations.

The DeX desktop docking station, described as a small, round device, will rely on Citrix software to let users connect to Windows productivity apps, according to three people who have seen it. Citrix and Samsung would not comment, however, on any of these reports.

DeX is expected to cost about $150, in addition to a starting price for the Samsung Galaxy S8 of about $800. The dock will have full-sized ports and an active cooling fan, giving users the ability to connect an S8 to a keyboard, mouse and large display.

Many docking stations for phones have been introduced in the market, but none have sold very well, analysts said. Citrix Receiver software was installed in the Motorola Atrix about six years ago. Other similar concepts have come from Windows Mobile with Continuum, BlackBerry and HP's Elite X3 dock.

"There have been many [smartphone dock] attempts from many vendors and each time the experience improved, so I am very optimistic" for Samsung's dock, said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "The biggest challenge is whether apps that provide a good experience on a 6-in. phone display can [look good] on a 13-in. or even a 30-in. display. HP has gotten very close with X2 and virtualized apps."

Gold said the DeX, based on reports, is somewhat analogous to a laptop docking station. Various laptop docks only sell to about 10% of business users. "Phone docks have not done well in the past, and there's no reason to believe this DeX will be a huge seller either," he said. "It's a specialty device and will have some traction, but probably in the same range as laptop docking sales."

Nonetheless, Werner Goertz, a Gartner analyst, said docking stations connected to smartphones that emulate desktop user interfaces will gain traction in coming years as more mobile workers check into an office, airport lounge or hotel room to finish work using apps that require more space on both a monitor and keyboard than on a smartphone display.

The phone will also include an intelligent voice assistant called Bixby that will work by pushing a button on the side of the S8. It will work with preinstalled apps but Samsung will release a software toolkit to allow third-party developers to add Bixby capabilities to their apps and services.

Keeping alive the larger smartphone trend

Based on reports and sources who spoke to Computerworld, the S8 will be larger, with a 5.8-in. display, than the S7 and its 5.1-in. screen.

Meanwhile, the S8 Plus will come with a 6.2-in. display, bigger than the 5.5-in. Galaxy S7 Edge, which it succeeds.

The screens on both the S8 and S8 Plus fall into the so-called phablet category that IDC and others first identified in 2011 to describe smartphones that are large enough to compete with tablets. IDC says any phone from 5.5 inches to 7 inches in size fits its phablet definition.

Generally, larger phones have done well. Last year, IDC predicted that phablets would grow from about 20% of all smartphones in 2015 to 32% by 2020.

Given the larger size and other new features of the S8, Samsung seems to recognize the need to please an aging smartphone audience. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, and Apple is waiting in the wings with a big rollout of its next-generation device in the fall. Samsung has a lot to gain, or lose, with the S8. Samsung's event on Wednesday starts at 11 a.m. Eastern.

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