Samsung must have made a New Year’s resolution to stay more focused.
The company has often been criticized for being gimmicky and loading as many features on its devices as it can — and for sparing no pennies in marketing them.
But its new flagship smartphone and smartwatch, both announced on Monday at a relatively subdued media event here at the Mobile World Congress, focus on being good at just a few things.
Samsung highlighted improved battery life and camera on its new smartphone, the Galaxy S5. For its new watch, the Gear Fit, Samsung focused on health-monitoring features.
“Our consumers do not want eye-popping technology or the most complex technology,” J. K. Shin, Samsung’s chief executive of mobile communications, said at the event. “What they want is durable design and performance. They want a simple yet powerful camera. They want faster yet seamless connectivity.”
To that end, Samsung said it had spent a lot of time making the Galaxy S5’s camera software smarter. It streamlined the photo-editing tools to make it easier to alter a photo after it has been taken. It also made some improvements to hardware and software to capture richer and more vivid colors.
And to expand battery life for the Galaxy S5, Samsung developed a power-saving mode, in which the screen display is in black and white and can run only a few apps that the user chooses, like email and Internet browsing. Samsung says this mode cuts power consumption in half.
An annual event that showcases the latest devices, accessories and trends in the mobile industry.
The company has not yet announced prices for either product. But past Galaxy S phones have sold for at least $200 with a contract. Both are to be released around April.
Samsung’s last flagship phone, the Galaxy S4, did not sell as well as the company had expected, as its rival Apple regained ground at the high end of the smartphone market in recent months. It was unclear whether the disappointing performance of Samsung’s Galaxy S4 resulted from a highly saturated high-end smartphone market, a fading Galaxy S brand, or both.
While the Galaxy S phones are crucial for Samsung, the company firmly maintains its lead as the largest handset maker in the world. That is because it sells many different types of phones at different prices for various markets, from the low end to the high end.
By contrast, Apple’s iPhones are positioned as midtier and high-end phones. That is why even though Apple sells significantly fewer phones than Samsung, it makes the most profit. In the last quarter, Apple took more than three-quarters of all of the mobile industry’s profit, while Samsung took the rest, according to analysts.
The S4 was jam-packed with all kinds of new software features, like the ability to answer the phone by waving a hand above it, or the ability for the user to scroll down a screen by tilting his or her head. Critics panned many of the features, calling them technology for technology’s sake.
Jan Dawson, an independent telecom analyst for Jackdaw Research, said that Samsung’s strategy shift was “a recognition of the increasing maturity of the smartphone industry in particular, where we no longer see big leaps forward in core features.”
He added, “But it’s also disappointing to see Samsung so humbled by the relatively poor performance of the Galaxy S4 that it appears to have given up on inventing its own new ideas.”
The smartwatch Samsung announced on Monday, the Gear Fit, also has fewer features than its predecessor. It has a small, 1.84-inch curved touch screen. Like the exercise bands made by Nike and Fitbit, it can count a person’s steps. It also has a heart-rate sensor — an infrared light flashes on the user’s wrist to show when his or her blood vessels contract as the heart beats.
The Gear Fit lacks a camera, and does not run Google’s Android software system. Instead, it runs a bare-bones operating system that Samsung does not yet have a name for. Because the software is so lightweight, the watch is able to have a battery life of at least three days, according to Samsung, about triple the battery life of the Galaxy Gear.
The watch can also synchronize with some Samsung phones to receive text message and email notifications on the screen.
The new phone can do some other tricks, too.
It supports a new cellular data technology called carrier aggregation. The technology essentially allows the phone to download data from multiple radio channels simultaneously, instead of from just one channel, which can increase the speed of data transfer significantly.
Samsung said it also designed the new phone to be waterproof in up to a meter, or slightly more than a yard, of water, protecting the device from a waterlogged fate that has prematurely ruined cellphones of all stripes. Rubber seals embedded inside the case help protect the vital parts of the phone, like the battery and SIM card.
Although the company will almost certainly market the new phone aggressively, it has told analysts it would tighten the belt on its huge marketing budget for its mobile products this year. Samsung’s low-key introduction of these products on Monday, and two other smartwatches that it announced in a news release, is a reflection of that lower spending.
Still, a smaller budget does not necessarily mean small.
Samsung introduced the devices in front of a huge audience at the Mobile World Congress. Though the event was not as lavish as past presentations, the company hired a string orchestra to play a 10-minute prelude before the event started.