Samsung Already Did it: For Better or Worse, Samsung-led Innovation and Trendsetting helped Shape Android
Samsung is one of the world’s biggest smartphone brands, and part of what made them the tech giant they are today is their ability to convert unorthodox features into seemingly useful additions, even if it takes them multiple tries, and multiple failures.
The Korean Company couldn’t make their features and name stick if they didn’t sell well, and in certain markers; such as North America, India, China, Japan, and South Korea, Samsung reigns nearly supreme as an Android smartphone manufacturer. However, just like many phone makers, they have had their share of rough times but with their latest offerings – the Galaxy S7 (and variants), and the Galaxy Note 5 – they have managed to pull ahead. Many attribute this to the fact that the S6, Note 5 and S7 were able to reinvent the Samsung phone through their new premium-feeling body — a much needed design-shake for Samsung.
Samsung wasn’t the first OEM to make glass-backed phones, but they seemingly did so at the right time and in the right way. Most importantly, they marketed it very well too, with the curved Edge variants receiving the most attnetion. If you looked at the market a year ago, or at least up until the Galaxy S7 launch, you’d see a crowd of unibody metal phones. The market was so saturated with similar-looking metal phones that some high profile companies had to explain that their products weren’t ripping off other companies. Samsung’s approach to the glass phone seemed to resonate well with most consumers, and smaller manufacturers took notice. Below is an example of two companies’ newest offerings, with the Galaxy Note 5.
It’s easy to tell that all three phones have a very similar design. Dark Blue glass, metal trim, Company logo on silver text, and a sensor in the middle top. We’re not saying that these companies set out to directly copy Samsung, but we do find it interesting how multiple smartphone makers are opting for a design similar to that of the Galaxy, just like other trendsetters saw a wave of imitators.
One of Sammy’s more notable features is their curved displays. Curved displays have been around for a while in the form of “2.5D” curved glass on top of a flat panel, but Samsung brought some innovation here by offering a display with both curved glass and panels. Making such displays is not an easy task, but Sammy does have an advantage in this department. Samsung is able to manufacture their own displays in house, as opposed to having to rely on another company to supply the materials. They also have more R&D resources than they know what to do with, and even with their initial inefficient yield rates they still doubled down on the initiative by opening up new factories for the project. However, 2.5D Glass is still very common and is used by OEMs as a way to imitate the curved display, and larger manufactures such as LG have even made phones with curved displays at the time where Samsung was experimenting with the Galaxy Round as well — but while other OEMs experimented in different and less-extensive ways, Samsung hit the gold pot with the S6 Edge, even when the curved display had little functional justfiication.
On the subject of displays, Samsung did start the trend of pocket-destroying phone sizes. In October of 2011, Sammy released the original Galaxy Note as an experiment that initially was laughed off for being “too big” for a phone. That didn’t stop them, because they came back the next year with the Galaxy Note II with a larger screen. In 2013, they even released a 6.3” beast named the Galaxy Mega. All this push for the larger screen real estate did pay off, with almost all phone manufacturers joining in and only offering larger displays as the years went on. Google itself recognized that phablets were the future with their Nexus 6 — and even though it flopped for various reasons, we still received a 5.7″ Nexus a year later, and can expect more Nexus phablets to come. One only needs to look at the standard smartphone screen size today to understand that the pioneering worked out. We can debate, however, whether the Note’s success was merely coincidental as smartphone technology allowed for richer media consumption, which benefits from a bigger screen; either way, Samsung was key in popularizing the phablet size range that is ubiquitous today.
Pretty bodies and curved displays aren’t the only place Samsung has made a few waves. If your can remember back in the year of 2013, you’ll probably remember the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom. It was an interesting device that doubled as a phone, while having a full fledged Point and Shoot style camera on the rear. This wasn’t Samsung’s only android camera device, the Galaxy Camera being the first, but it was however the first that doubled as a full-on phone without real sacrifices. The camera-smartphone hybrid concept didn’t seem to gain much traction at first, but with companies like Asus releasing similar phones (with very similar names) the trend may finally catch on, at least to cater to those niches.
If a camera-smartphone isn’t very unconventional to you, there’s more. If you look at the latest in LG and Lenovo/Motorola phones, you can tell that they are trying to stretch what we’ll allow in our pockets, and what we can consider as the definition of a phone. Last year LG came out with the LG V10, a phone with two screens that offered a ticker for any notifications or other actions. This wasn’t the first phone with two screens though, that title goes to the Samsung Continuum which came out back in 2010. On the Moto front, the new Moto Z offers an innovative and useful modular phone. One of the MotoMods that can go on the phone is a projector attachment. This left some consumers in joy, claiming about how useful this new feature was. Well, Moto wasn’t the first one to offer such a device either. I now turn your attention to the Samsung Galaxy Beam, released in 2012, which had a projector built into the phone itself. These phones proved Samsung had enough foresight to imagine what hardware features consumers would want to see later down the road.
Alongside hardware, Samsung is known for their software innovations. They have held onto a “Throw in everything and the kitchen sink” approach for quite a while, and some seemingly odd features have actually stood the test of time. Some features that came on the Galaxy S2 and S3 before finding their way into popular ROMs and other OEMs include sliding the statusbar to change brightness, flipping the phone to silence incoming calls, quick access shortcuts and triggers for the camera, double tap the top of the phone to jump to the top of a page, waking the lock screen with your voice (with the awful S-Voice, admittedly), and other features. When these came out, these were looked at as weird and useless, or at least badly-implemented, but looking at the market today some of these features are how some consumers will decided whether or not to buy a device.
Something that seems new to the smartphone world is the ability to gesture your phone and have a small ambient display come up to show you any missed notifications. With the introduction of the Galaxy Round, Samsung didn’t just bring a curved screen. Sammy also brought in a feature that would allow you to see any missed notifications just by turning the phone on its curved chassis. This feature found its way to LG and Moto phones before finally being added into Stock Android in version 5.0 Lollipop. Before that, waving your hand over phones like the S3 and S4 allowed you to view notification counts and time as well.
With the rise of larger smartphone displays, the inherent need for multi window and other forms of multitasking became more prevalent as well. Samsung took this need and made it their own, offering multi window with their Note series of phones (soon moving to their regular S series), and then offering a “mini view” to add one handed usage to their displays, and even offered a picture in picture mode in their Galaxy Note series.
Samsung’s addition of these features made them quite popular, and the multi window feature even found its way into stock android with the release of Android Nougat, while PIP and one-handed modes are also very common today
Another Android Nougat addition that was seen on earlier Samsung devices is the addition of quick settings toggles in the right in the notification tray. Quick settings have been around for a while in Stock Android, since version 4.2 Jelly Bean, but have existed as a separate panel beside the notification tray. A sliding panel in the actual notification tray has existed since the original Galaxy S, and has been featured in many other OEM skins and ROMs thereafter.
Samsung has a knack for translating these features and additions into their line of products, and in doing so has been able to make some of the features a basic need for smartphones today. All of the above examples are indicative of how Samsung was able to put out off-the-wall ideas to market before most other competitors, or was able to use its prominent brand and image to popularize them, and most of this can be attributed to their large R&D and control in their hardware manufacturing as well as their inclination towards calling dibs on promising features. And you probably noticed that these are just a few of the examples one can find buried into Samsung’s history.
There are two parts to the “Throw everything in” analogy though, and the other side is “and see what sticks.” Not all of the additions have done so well, and part of the reason to blame could be their software package as a whole, Touchwiz. It’s notorious for being sub par in fronts like performance and aesthetics, although it has improved in the recent years. First-wave feature implementation, however, has typically been clunky. There is some redemption to be had with Samsung’s throw-it-all-in approach, because they have proven that certain features can be useful or possible, or at the very least they managed to catapult them into the popular consciousness. It helped pave the way for other manufactures and OEMs to implement or improve upon them. They may have implemented some concepts poorly, but that didn’t mean that the ideas were unsalvageable.
As much as we liked to bag on Samsung for releasing 500 phones a year, or having a very far from stock approach to their software, the current smartphone market would not be the same without them. It’s their ability to integrate these innovations into their products and show that they can be done that has kept them afloat as one of the world’s top manufacturers. Android has benefited from having a big OEM willing to try new things and stand toe-to-toe with leaders of competing platforms; a world without the Galaxy S line, for example, is one hard to imagine. It could have been better, it could have been worse, but Samsung’s influence is undeniable and at least we can claim that Android is in a good position in part because of the company. Now, if only they’d let us join their quest for innovation, and allow us to experiment with their phones as freely as we once could…
What do you think about Samsung’s ability to popularize smartphone features? Drop us a comment below and let us know.