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BW Businessworld

What Did Jeremy See?

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What is it that made Jeremy take one look, gasp in amazement and go “Unreal! It’s totally amazing!” exclaiming that whatever was in the box was also his favourite colour? What… black or white?  Come on kid, take off that tie and live a little. He couldn’t have been bowled over by the S4’s looks for it isn’t so very different from its older brother the S3. But perhaps Jeremy is too young to have been interested before this.
 
Just like the iPhone 5 the Galaxy S4 is an iteration over its flagship top grosser, S3 smartphone. Will it get as much criticism for not being a total revolution as the iPhone 5 did? Possibly, but that’s not about to bother Samsung. At least not for the moment. As they say: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If Samsung’s star is in the ascendance, why would it want to change anything, including the design of its main line, Galaxy. If and when the tide turns, the Korean giant is probably smart enough to respond, I think.
 
Until then, the essential “design language” of the S4, is much as the same as for its older brother, the S3, which by the way, remains an excellent buy as it quite possibly begins to dip in price. If you don’t have anything particularly special planned with an eight-core processor and a 13 megapixel camera and an additional 0.2 inches, go for it. What’s more, sooner or later, you may get some of the fancy new features that grace the S4 on other top end Galaxy devices, just like the S3 finally got the software goodies that the Note 2 has.
 
Samsung Galaxy S4
Instead of it being all about the hardware, the Galaxy S4 is all about being stuffed with features and additional possibilities via interesting accessories. If we rewind to a year ago, so was the S3, actually. Some of those features worked out well, some are iffy, and some are just lain fun gimmicks. But just as I felt last year, so I do today, that there’s no harm experimenting with features – as long as you, the user, sacrifice nothing for their presence. Like paying much more for things you’re not sure you’ll use. Like a battery that drains out like a cola going up a straw. Like usage being so complex you lose your hair figuring it out. If not, what’s wrong with a smartphone being a feature creature?
 
We’ve become revolution-spoilt. Each new flagship device can’t possibly keep up with expectations if what we’re looking for is knock-out must-have jaw-dropping innovations. If Samsung is experimenting with software features, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Someone’s got to do it. Of course, it’s particularly a good thing for Samsung as it will give the company a head-start with something to differentiate their devices. How many ways can there be to make a rectangle? How much more crisp and clear can you make a display without it going beyond what the average user can spot? There are still camera innovations to be discovered, but even there, many software features are enhancing the way casual photos can be shot and shared. We may well have reached a peak with phone design – for now – and need to move on to usability and features.
 
With the S4, Samsung has features coming out of its ears. It’s not only got features that others tried out, such as the hover that was introduced by Sony on its Sola phone, but has put in new ones that are yet to e proven to work out in the wild. One that is causing much chatter is the eye tracking capability that will play or pause a video with a look. Users may not want to pause a video just because they look away for a moment for example. Or, tilting the phone to scroll on the page. That too may end up in too much or too little scroll. As a user of the S Pen on the Note 2 and its Air View feature, I can say that while I do often use the pen lifted away from the screen to scroll, I sometimes find it runs away too quickly and abruptly, for example. Another capability that you could call a feature or a gimmick depending on your usage, is voice commands for the camera. When I want to stay very still and take a photo I use the voice command to click the shutter whereupon it’s a great feature. When the phone however shoots a picture because my car horn went off, it turns into a quirky gimmick. So much depends on the execution and the fine tuning to how people use devices and that’s quite difficult to know precisely beforehand because there’s so much variation in the way people interact with their devices. I do believe however that you never know until you try and for that reason, find it difficult to judge the addition of features that seem to be gimmicks today.  They may work out in the future or they may be eminently forgettable, but if someone’s dreamt them up, it’s time to try them out.