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Samsung’s S4 smart software is the real star

Samsung’s new S4 is the most technologically advanced handset on the planet but the real star is the new functionality it has added to its Android roots.

Firstly an apology to Samsung – over the past few months I said that its strength was as a lower cost manufacturer, not a designer. I was wrong - it has well and truly graduated top of the class as a ‘master designer’.

The new S4 is amazing. It ticks all the boxes for almost everything you could want in a smartphone or ‘life companion’ as it has been called. More on the companion bit later.

So what do I think is going to happen in the smart phone space?

The S4 is the best smartphone on the planet right now (who knows what will come next). It has lifted the bar way above the present iPhone. But perhaps more important for Samsung, and more disastrous for Apple, the S4 now wears the crown as the ‘must have, aspirational smartphone’. Every S4 sold will be at the expense of an iPhone.

In order for Apple to pick up the ball again the iPhone 6 and iOS 7 will have to have to be bigger, better, faster, sexier, more functional and possibly cheaper (S4 starts from $899 outright purchase). It won’t be a case of simply meeting Samsung’s specifications and features – it will have to significantly exceed them so look out for more patent wars (where is Steve Jobs dogged inspiration and street fighter tactics when Apple needs it).

Inspiration and aspiration has been what Apple was about – will it be the iWatch or the iHealth or a rollable, foldable screen? Whatever I look forward to writing about it with the same enthusiasm that the S4 is garnering.

Just a final note on smartphones. iPhone is not dead, it is just no longer the aspirational purchase. It will continue to satisfy the many, many millions of Apple aficionados and those who don’t buy a smartphone based on features. Nokia with its Lumia Windows Phones is not going away any time soon. It occupies a strong niche in bringing the Windows environment to mobile devices. Nor is BlackBerry out of the race and it will continue to develop in the secure corporate messaging space (but in what form I am not sure).

Life Companion

When smart phones were first developed they were called personal digital assistants (PDA). Apple was one of the first with its Newton and then Palm, Compaq and Microsoft all got into this space.

The idea was one device that would do potentially everything you need to get through life. Camera, contacts, email, music, research, recommend – your digital information source. PDA has simply taken on a trendier name – smartphone.

Voice control: Apple led the way with Siri (voice recognition and two way interaction) and Samsung has S Voice. I have not tested it but then voice command is not new – interaction is. It will probably be clunky for a while but being able to speak to your phone and get an answer is a great start. When you add this technology to something like the free Garmin Navigon (2 years free map updates) Drive functions it should give you a better turn by turn and driving experience.

Speech translation: S Translator allows you to say or type phrases and be translated initially in 10 languages. Again not perfect but a good start and machine translation is better than none.

WatchON: With TV consumption moving in part to mobile devices WatchON is a remote control as well as a way to find and view TV content. Coming soon will be live TV, Foxtel GO and Video on Demand (I gather this is more about Telco carrier charges than technology to deliver it).

Smart Pause/Smart Scroll: It is simply eye tracking – it knows when you are looking at it and behaves accordingly. Clever.

Air View/Air Gesture: Motion tracking using the camera allows you to avoid touching the screen – reminiscent of the ‘Minority report” movie.

Camera functions: It has a 13MP rear and a 2MP front camera. Nice features include the ability to use both at the same time (record what is happening and insert your face into the scene) but the software has interesting things like ‘Sound and Shot’ (adds 9 seconds of sound to a still photo), Drama shot (a kind of stop motion that combines a series of shots into one), Story Album (a nice way to organise photos and overlay themes etc) plus the usual geo tagging and other features expected of a smartphone camera.

Hub functions: Music and Apps are all bought together and become Samsung’s on-line store (for its added revenue pleasure). I have predicted that Samsung will move more and more to its own store format at the expense of Google Play.

Now to the new stuff

S Health: This is the beginning of a whole new use for smart phones. It can monitor fitness, calorie intake, exercise, walk, sleep, weight, blood glucose, blood pressure and even comfort levels.

The first device is a heart rate monitor wrist strap (is that an S Strap?) - this will be the beginning of many more devices. 






I like the new Flip cover (two models) including the S View cover that has a smaller see through window to show time and basic icon driven data. There is also a range of ‘bumper” protective covers.

There is a wireless (cordless) charging pad/cover that makes it easier to keep charged.

The Micro USB slot is used for charging and PC data transfer as well as adaptors like HDMI.

I would not be surprised to see a S Watch soon and S Glass later.


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!