Samsung is trying to keep its pulse on the needs of the smartphone users by getting a lot closer to their hearts.
At the launch of its Galaxy S5 device at the Mobile World Congress, which was streamed from Barcelona, executives admitted the company didn’t want to overwhelm its users with new features. Instead, the biggest changes include the addition of a fingerprint reader to compete with the security of Apple’s iPhone 5s, a 16-megapixel camera and, most critically, a built-in heart rate sensor that will integrate with its wearable Gear smart watches.
“Our consumers want durable design and performance. Our consumers want faster and seamless connectivity. Our consumers want a phone that can help them stay fit,” said J.K. Shin, head of Samsung’s mobile business.
Do they? That last one seems like a stretch. Many people associate smartphones with sitting around tapping, but Samsung’s hopes for continued growth seems largely predicated on the idea that the Galaxy S5 and Gear 2 would pack enough of a one-two punch to change the way we perceive mobile technology.
More specifically, staying fit was one of the five key areas Samsung vice-president of European telco operations Jean Daniel Ayme said were integral to the Galaxy S5’s design. The others were the “glam look” (it’s a little bit bigger and comes in more colours), the “great camera,” the protection provided by the fingerprint scanner and faster network connectivity via Wi-Fi MIMO, which doubles Wi-Fi speeds and a “download booster” that will combine Wi-Fi with LTE.
The heart sensor is located right underneath the camera’s aperture, and will work in conjunction with the Gear 2, which has been given its own home button, a revamped look and feel and which can provide health data back into the Galaxy S5 for analysis and exercise recommendations.
While you could argue that Samsung has avoided all the gimmicks of the Galaxy S4 by focusing on one giant gimmick, there were some signs in Barcelona that its strategy could work. The biggest applause I heard through the broadcast was not for the phone or the features on it, but the fact that it was designed to be water and dust resistant.
“Sing in the rain, sing aloud [to] your playlist in the shower,” Ayme said, though he was quick to try and manage expectations. “Water-resistent is not waterproof. Don’t keep it under water.”
Water resistance matters when a smartphone becomes not only a tool for productivity at work but a device you check in between workouts (I could imagine people checking their heart rate and overall progress while lathering off at the gym, for example). Making such devices more rugged and reliable -- an ultra power-saving mode will shut down non-essential features and ensure it lasts a full day on 10 per cent power -- could prove more important than a slew of other apps. It’s not just about offering a phone with health-related features.
Samsung is definitely taking a gamble that we’ll use the Galaxy S5 and Gear 2 to shape up, but if nothing else, its hardware looks more ready than ever before to ship out.