Mere days before last week’s New York launch of the new Samsung S8 smartphone, the rumour mill had “confirmed” the specs of the next Apple iPhone, due out in September. It is ironic, then, that Samsung unveiled a device that featured almost every innovation that Apple is expected to introduce six months from now.
The result is that the Galaxy S8 not only occupies the high ground of smartphone innovation, but places huge pressure on Apple to come up with surprises in the iPhone 8. In recent years, however, the capacity to surprise has tended to elude Apple.
The key elements of the S8 already set it apart from all other handsets on the market. Both the standard S8 and the larger S8+ carry the curve on the edge that made the S6 and S7 Edge phones a huge success. However, they have refined the curves slightly to provide a more comfortable grip.
The standout aspect of the displays now is that they run from one side to the other, with no bezel or edge frame as is found on most other phones. From top to bottom, they also occupy a greater proportion of the front of the phone than almost any other phone on the market. Samsung has achieved this through an old iPhone technique – not having a logo on the front – and a seemingly revolutionary new idea: having the home button hidden invisibly under the surface of the display.
Because the screen is pressure sensitive, when the finger rests on the area where the home button would usually be placed, it activates the functions of that button without taking away from display space.
It is precisely this neat little trick that Apple is expected to announce when it unveils the iPhone 8 in September. In the past, Apple evangelists would have accused rivals of copying Apple. The best they can claim now – unconvincingly – is that Samsung has anticipated Apple’s virtual home button.
Since a flagship smartphone is usually a few years in the making, and the next model is already on the drawing board when the previous one is released, it is clear that the leading manufacturers all have access to similar technology, and twist it in the direction where they believe they can achieve both the best user experience and the best differentiation.
So, for example, Apple is expected to announce later this year that the iPhone 8 will abandon the Lightning connector that caused massive consternation when it replaced the dock connector five years ago. Instead, it will switch to the new standard USB-C connector that is already in use in the new Apple MacBook – and on numerous rival smartphones. It will be near unthinkable for Apple to adopt an industry-standard connector, but it will also mollify users who have to carry a bag full of adapters to make up for the absence of a headphone jack on the last version.
Not at all surprisingly, the new Samsung S8 has introduced the USB-C connector to the Galaxy range for the first time.
The real challenge for Apple will be competing with screen size. It is still a source of wounded pride that Samsung led the market into large-screen formats with the introduction of the Note series six years ago. Apple scoffed at the size of these devices for some years before it succumbed to market pressure and went beyond the 4.5-inch format that Steve Jobs had felt represented the perfect handset display size.
With 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch options for the S7 and S7 Plus, it made up lost ground. However, the S8 and S8+ take the fight to a new level. Due to the ultra-efficient use of the front of the phone, the S8 is now a 5.8-inch phone, despite being slightly narrower than the S7. The S8+ is a 6.2-inch behemoth, and yet remains comfortable in the hand.
It’s unlikely Apple marketing will carry jokes about size this time round. Instead, it is expected to release several size options, ranging from 4.7-inches to 5.8-inches. The new devices are also expected, for the first time, to introduce wireless charging, long a feature of the Samsung flagship phones. Samsung has taken this feature a step further, with charging pods that enable the phone to stand upright and remain viewable and usable while being charged.
The Apple rumour mill also includes a waterproof and dustproof phone, iris and facial recognition, a minimum of 64GB storage, and even a curved display. It ‘s almost as if the Apple clairvoyants were channelling the S8, a few weeks before its launch.
- Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee
Available in SA on 5 May
The Samsung S8 and S8+ will be released on South Africa on 5 May 2017, and can be pre-ordered now. For pre-orders, Vodacom is offering a wireless charger and screen protector, while MTN will provide a battery pack and screen protector. Samsung is considering direct deliveries to these customers before the official launch, if it receives stock in time. The Galaxy S8 has a recommended retail price of R15 499, and the Galaxy S8+ a RRP of R17499, similar to current models.