Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S8 on Wednesday, its latest flagship smartphone boasting a new voice assistant and larger display as the technology titan looks to steal a march on Apple and regain ground after the embarrassing Note 7 saga.
The device comes in two models with different screen sizes – the 5.8-inch Galaxy S8 and 6.2-inch Galaxy S8 Plus.
Some of the key features of the device include a so-called “infinity display”, giving the device a bezel-less curved edge and a 12 megapixel back camera. For the top five features, click here. CNBC also got hands-on time with the product.
“The high-end big phone market is growing and we had a challenge of as you mentioned, people getting a bit tired of renewing their phone with the same design. So we decided to take a big step forward and change the design,” Jean-Daniel Ayme, Samsung’s corporate vice president for mobile in Europe, told CNBC in an interview.
The Galaxy S8 is potentially one of Samsung’s most important device launches of recent times as it faces stiff competition from the likes of Apple and Huawei, a maturing smartphone market, and seeks to make the Note 7 episode – in which it was forced to recall and discontinue the smartphone because they were catching fire – a distant memory.
“The S8 is a unquestionably a strong product but Samsung must now deliver a faultless launch to move on from the difficulties of 2017. If this happens it will emerge in an even stronger position,” Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight, told CNBC by email.
“With the Samsung Galaxy S8 breaking design boundaries and with high expectations for a significant upgrade to the iPhone to mark the product’s tenth anniversary, 2017 could be the year that sees smartphones emerge from an innovation slumber.”
When asked by CNBC if he is confident the Galaxy S8 won’t face any problems like the Note 7, Ayme said “absolutely”, pointing to a new quality control measures the company has put in place.
Samsung also revealed Bixby, a smart voice assistant to rival Apple’s Siri. It will be able to answer questions you ask, but Samsung highlighted how it’s different.
One use case involved taking a picture of a monument and Bixby being able to tell you information about this as well as recommendations of restaurants nearby. Another example allowed a user to ask Bixby to bring up all the photos taken in London.
While Bixby’s functions will be limited at the beginning, functionality will grow. To this end, Samsung Connect was also launched. It’s an app that allows users to control a number of internet-connected home devices such as TVs or refrigerators. Bixby will launch with the ability to understand American English and Korean. Samsung is working with partners to allow Bixby to control other apps and appliances.
“We will enrich it with partnerships with other companies like Amazon for buying things or for displaying information about monuments,” Ayme said.
Bixby could give Samsung the ability to differentiate its device versus other Android players and Apple, analysts said, which could drive sales.
“Voice is the easiest way to interact with the phone, you can just ask, and you don’t need to go through apps. Those who are able to provide the best experience will win this game,” Francisco Jeronimo, research director of mobile devices for Europe at IDC, told CNBC by phone.
“If you are engaged, and used to use something like Siri and it gives you a good experience, you will buy an iPhone. If Bixby is better than Siri there is more chance for Samsung to sell more phones.”
Jeronimo also called Bixby the “most important announcement” in Samsung’s history. The full story about Samsung’s strategy behind Bixby can be found here.
Shipments expected to beat S7
Samsung has launched the S8 several months before Apple is expected to release its hotly-anticipated iPhone. Samsung’s flagship is usually launched before Apple. Several analysts that spoke to CNBC have praised the phone’s innovative design and technological capability and are expecting strong sales.
Counterpoint Research expects Samsung to ship close to 50 million of the devices in 2017. That would be more than the 48 million S7 and S7 Edge models shipped by Samsung, according to IHS Markit.
“The GS8 is likely to start shipping later than the GS7 did (April ’17 versus March ’16), however we are expecting a higher monthly run rate from the GS8 meaning its overall first 12 months of sales will be as much as 10 percent up on the Galaxy S7,” Peter Richardson, research director at Counterpoint told CNBC by email.
IHS Markit is expecting Samsung to ship 331 million smartphones in 2017, up, 6.8 percent year-on-year.
Turn your phone into a PC
The South Korean electronics giant also unveiled a new feature called Dex. It’s a device that users can dock a Galaxy S8 on, then plug into a monitor or TV, effectively turning it into a PC. It runs a version of Google’s Android operating system optimized for a larger screen. Samsung also said several apps such as Google’s YouTube were optimized for the bigger screen.
Samsung also used its launch event to unveil a new Gear 360 camera which allows users to film 360-degree video and broadcast this to sites such as YouTube or Facebook. It’s the firm’s second generation version of the device, as it pushes further into virtual reality and keep users locked into Samsung’s ecosystem of devices.
“Beyond the S8, Samsung is building a compelling range of additional accessories such as the its Gear smartwatches, Gear 360 camera and Gear VR headset which all serve to enhance consumer perceptions of the S8 at a complete package,” Wood said.