Samsung Electronics Co. debuted its most extensive new lineup of smartphones, taking on Apple Inc. amid a slowing market with new low-end and premium models, 3-D cameras, an in-screen fingerprint scanner and faster 5G connectivity.
At simultaneous launch events in San Francisco and London on Wednesday, the South Korean technology giant introduced four new phones -- the Galaxy S10, S10+, S10e, and S10 5G. The S10 and S10+ are direct successors to last year’s S9 and S9+, while the S10e and S10 5G are two new models for the company: a low-end phone aimed at Apple’s iPhone XR, and a high-end version priced above US$1,000.
Samsung’s success with its latest gadgets will be a barometer for the global smartphone industry struggling to revive momentum after a decade of robust growth ground to a halt. Global smartphone shipments fell last year to 1.43 billion, marking the first time the figure had slid on a full-year basis, according to StrategyAnalytics.
Consumers are holding on to their phones longer and spending less on upgrades, putting pressure on manufacturers to bolster innovation and justify the price tags on their products. With premium mobile phones that can cost well over US$1,000 a piece, consumers have also been turning to lesser-known companies, which has given rise to Chinese companies such as Huawei Technologies, Xiaomi Corp. and Oppo.
In China, Samsung has been almost driven out of the phone market, and globally it faces losing the title of the world’s biggest handset maker to Huawei. Samsung sold 291 million smartphones last year while Huawei sold 206 million, according to StrategyAnalytics.
Samsung will probably sell more than 40 million Galaxy S10 units in the first year of release, Counterpoint Research Inc. said in an email. That would be more than the Galaxy S9 for the same period, but fewer than the Galaxy S7, Samsung’s best-selling S-series smartphone up to date, it said.
The S10 and S10+ include 6.1-inch and 6.4-inch screens respectively, up from 5.8 inches and 6.2 inches on last year’s models. The front-facing cameras sit inside holes cut into in the display itself as an alternative to including them in a "notch," as the iPhone does. The displays also now have in-screen fingerprint scanners, a new approach that diverts from the 3-D facial recognition scanner employed by Apple in its latest devices. They also add a third back camera as a wide-angle lens. Those models start at US$900 and US$1,000 respectively.
At its San Francisco event, Samsung also announced a pair of key partnerships for the new devices. Adam Mosseri, head of Facebook Inc.’s Instagram photo-sharing app, announced that an Instagram mode would be integrated into the new camera application. It lets people upload photos and videos directly to the Instagram Stories feature and use the app’s filters. Samsung also said it is working with Adobe Inc. on an optimized version of its Premiere Rush CC video editing app.
The company also introduced a foldable-screen phone, called the Galaxy Fold, which turns into a tablet at a cost of US$1,980.
Even with Apple’s strong market share in regions like the U.S., the new Samsung line could pose a serious challenge to the iPhone maker. Samsung is beating Apple to the punch by about half a year with features like triple-camera photography, and by at least a year a half with features like 5G and a rear-facing 3-D camera.
Samsung is also launching the low-end US$750 model, which has a 5.8-inch screen, lacks the in-screen fingerprint reader (it’s on the side of the phone instead), and has only two rear cameras. Its bezels, like the iPhone XR versus the high-end iPhone XS line, are also slightly thicker.
Samsung also previewed a 5G model, which in addition to the faster web download speeds, includes front and back 3-D depth cameras for more professional-looking photos and augmented reality, a larger battery, and a 6.7-inch screen. Its overall footprint, however, is similar to the S10+ model.
The S10, S10+, and S10e go on sale March 8, while the 5G variant will launch later in the first half of this year, Samsung said. In the U.S., it will debut as an exclusive to Verizon Wireless Inc., and it will later expand to other carriers. The 5G model will come to Europe after the U.S. and South Korea, with network partners expected to announce further details at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week.
All of the phones will work with a new feature called Wireless PowerShare, which lets users charge a phone or wireless headphones by tapping it to the back of one of the new Samsung models. It also debuted new Galaxy Buds headphones, competitors to Apple’s popular AirPods.
Samsung on Wednesday also debuted upgraded Galaxy Active and Fit smartwatches that pair with the new phones.