SAMSUNG unveiled its new flagship smartphone this morning with a focus on augmented reality features as it seeks to keep its title as the world’s biggest smartphone maker.
The South Korean firm showcased the Galaxy S9 on the eve of the official start of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, which comes after a year of flat smartphone sales.
With no other major handset maker using the annual event, the world’s largest phone show, to launch a new flagship device this year, Samsung had the opportunity to grab the spotlight.
However, the company’s new range of devices boast virtually unchanged designs and only incremental improvements such as a better camera and new augmented reality capabilities.
The static design of the new Galaxy S9 underscores both the slowing pace of smartphone innovation and the extent to which other manufacturers, particularly Apple, have caught up with Samsung features that once stood out.
The S9 features essentially the same design as last year’s previous flagship, with the full screen and curved glass edge of the S8, which was followed by Apple’s iPhone X and others — although no “notch” at the top of the screen like the iPhone X.
The S9 includes louder sound, a faster processor and software that turns selfies into animated emojis, which will appeal to consumers who are increasingly preferring to use their phones to text rather than talk.
Samsung also included a dual lens camera on the Galaxy S line for the first time, which will improve lowlight capture and enhance slow motion video, which is popular on social media.
A service powered by artificial intelligence (AI) allows users to point its camera to instantly translate a sign in a foreign language.
It is also one of the few flagship phones left that still comes with a standard headphone jack.
Despite the modest advancements, many remain sceptical the company has done enough to have consumers clamouring to upgrade their device.
Global smartphone sales fell by 6.3 per cent in the fourth quarter due to slower than expected Christmas sales, according to research firm IDC.
Overall global smartphone sales for 2017 were virtually flat — down 0.1 per cent at 1.47 billion units — as phone makers struggled to come up with innovations that encourage customers to upgrade their devices. Demand for the iPhone X have also been disappointing.
Samsung suffered a humiliating recall of its Galaxy Note 7 device in 2016 after several devices exploded, but its Galaxy 8 smartphone was a consumer and critical success.
While it kept its lead over Apple as the world’s biggest seller of smartphones in 2017 with a 21.6 per cent market share, up from 21.1 per cent in the previous year, Samsung faces stiffer competition from Chinese rivals like Huawei and Xiaomi that offer cheaper handsets with many high-end features.
The S9 will sell for $1199 outright in Australia, a price which analysts warned could turn off many consumers. There’s also a 256GB version which will go for a slightly more expensive $1349, but still more than $200 cheaper than the iPhone X.
The S9 will be available to pre-order from today and will go on sale in Australia on March 16.
While the S9’s camera is “markedly different” in quality from older smartphones that people already own, “consumers may delay purchase because of rising flagship prices,” IHS Markit said in a research note.
“Samsung must work hard to market the benefits of these designs to counter negative pricing perception.”
Chinese rival, the somewhat controversial Huawei also unveiled a new laptop and tablet in Barcelona but will present its new flagship smartphone — the P20 — on March 27 in Paris.
South Korea’s LG unveiled the V30S — an updated version of its flagship V30 smartphone launched six months ago — which features higher memory and artificial intelligence-based technologies that focus on photos and voice recognition.