Samsung’s much-awaited yearly event, “Galaxy Unpacked 2020,” has come and gone. It had all the pomp and glitter of a major event of a major consumer electronic enterprise. As expected, new flagship smartphones and other devices were announced and demonstrated. There have been numerous stories written, hands-on videos shared, and reviews published in the last few days. Now that the adrenaline rush has subsided, it is worth going beyond the headlines to explore the underlying themes that the product-focused news might have missed.
As the event unfolded, I observed three distinct themes nicely weaved into the storyline:
- Convergence of 5G, AI and IoT
- Partnerships, especially with web giants
- Ongoing experimentation with new form factors
There was ample indication that these will drive Samsung’s next decade of innovation.
Convergence of 5G, AI, and IoT
As assertively claimed by Samsung’s Mobile chief, Dr. TM Roh, the convergence of these three defining technologies of our time—5G, AI, and IoT—will become the basis for the company’s Galaxy devices. Although not overtly, this was a clear thread across the products announced during the event.
There was wall-to-wall news coverage of Galaxy S20’s extraordinary multi-camera system with108MP resolution, 100x zoom and large sensor, 8K video and more. Its pictures and videos are made more real with stunning quality using built-in AI. With these capabilities, S20 is indeed a professional content creation device, as many creators attested during the event. In such a case, super-fast connectivity and extreme network capacity become basic needs. That’s where 5G comes in, allowing users to quickly and widely share their high-quality content with everyone.
Support for 5G across the flagship Galaxy S20 portfolio makes a bold statement about Samsung’s unwavering commitment and belief in the power of 5G. In addition to smartphones, Samsung also has a large and fast-growing 5G cellular network business, going toe-to-toe with major players such as Ericsson, Nokia, and Huawei. Samsung is indeed putting its money where its mouth is.
Three key things caught my eye in the Galaxy S20 lineup. First, a flagship 5G phone by Samsung for less than $1000. That is a welcome development and a trend in the right direction. This also gives a clear indication that 5G is becoming mainstream, and that is good for the rapid growth of 5G.
Second, the standard S20 only supports the Sub-6GHz bands while the Ultra and Plus versions support both Sub-6GHz and millimeter wave (mmW) bands. That means mmW support, which allows phones to achieve the 5G’s famed multi-gigabit speeds, has now become a tiering feature. Smartphone vendors looking to cut costs might make mass-market 5G smartphones Sub-6GHz only, potentially making this a trend. That will surely hurt operators in the long run, as these phones will crowd-out the limited spectrum, and quickly destroy everybody’s 5G experience, while large swaths of bandwidth-rich mmW bands remain underutilized.
Third, following Apple’s lead, Samsung is creating a super-premium tier with S20 Ultra. This allows keeping the device prices lower (well, it’s relative, I am not saying $1,000 is cheap), without sacrificing profits from high-margin offerings.
Partnership with web giants
Samsung has been consistently expanding its partnership with web giants. That was apparent during the event when Netflix was announced as Samsung’s Mobile Entertainment Partner. This collaboration should provide better integration of Netflix in Samsung devices, more tailored and exclusive content, etc. Additionally, Google Duo will be natively integrated into S20, which might help Samsung and Google’s fight against Apple’s Facetime app. I am not so sure about the prospect, but we will see how this transpires. In a previous unpacked event in 2018, Samsung had roped in Microsoft chief Satya Nadella for an on-stage walk-on, who announced deeper collaboration between the two companies.
Experimenting with new form factors (e.g., folding devices)
Samsung was among the first to experiment with folding phones. Ever since then, the question on my mind was, “it this fad or a market trend?” The first folding devices received a mixed reception and were relegated to the “niche” status mainly because of their high prices.
A few weeks ago, Motorola came out with Razr phone with a lot of fanfare. My view was that the interest in it was mostly nostalgic and the idea itself might be short-lived. The muted specs of the phone were another letdown. Then comes Samsung’s stylish Z-flip, with impressive specs. Any doubts that I had about it being a fad went away when it was an instant hit with my wife. She said that this was a perfect fit for her purse, unlike today’s awkwardly shaped smartphones. She also instantly rattled out a few use cases—using it as a purse mirror, handsfree selfie taker, etc. So for her, it was more a fashion accessory that also worked as a phone. Samsung is projecting it exactly as such by collaborating with Fashion icon Thom Browne. Although a new Z-Flip phone will dent our family budget by $1400, as they say, “Happy Wife, Happy Life.” Oh! Btw, now I believe that if Samsung’s fashion accessory ploy clicks, this form factor is here to stay.
The Unpacked2020 event indeed was an exciting event to kick off a decade of innovation for Samsung as well as for the larger industry. Samsung laid out the themes that will underpin their development in the next decade, and those were intelligently woven into the event storyline. It would be amiss not to mention that many of the exciting features Samsung introduced were made possible by the SoC that powers them—Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865. Galaxy S20s are the first premium phones introduced with this chip.