Samsung is expected to unveil its new lineup of flagship smartphones on Feb. 20 at a Galaxy Unpacked event in San Francisco, and the rumor mill has been operating on overtime.
It’s believed three new Galaxy S10 models will be announced at the event, as well as a folding phone. Banners promoting Unpacked are using the phrase “Unfolding the Future” as a tagline.
The Samsung models will include the Galaxy S10 with a 6.1-inch, curved OLED display and 128 GB or 512GB of internal storage; a Galaxy S10 Plus with a 6.4-inch, curved OLED display and 128 GB, 512 GB or 1 TB of storage; and a new entry-level edition, the Galaxy S10 Lite, with 5.8-inch, flat display and 128 GB of storage, based on the latest rumors from XDA’s Max Weinbach and others.
“That’s a winning strategy,” said Jack E. Gold, principal analyst at J.Gold Associates, an IT advisory company in Northborough, Mass.
“It allows people to upgrade their phone without going to the (US)$1,000 level,” he told TechNewsWorld. “It’s not going to be the same feature set, but it gives people choice. In many markets, that choice is important.”
It’s also believed the S10 and S10 Plus will have their fingerprint readers embedded under the display, while the Lite model will have the reader on its back, as do S9s.
The S10 and Lite will have two cameras on their backs, while the Plus will have three cameras, according to Weinbach, XDA TV host and contributor to the XDA-Developers Portal, whose Twitter feed is a fountain of S10 rumors.
All the phones will have a 12-megapixel, f1.5/2.4 camera with auto focus and optical image stabilization and a 16-MP, f1.9 ultra wide camera without autofocus or OIS.
However, the Plus model also will have a 13-MP camera with an f2.4 telephoto lens and support for auto focus and OIS. It will support Bright Night and portrait lighting as well.
The 5G version of the Plus will be distributed exclusively by Verizon for several months after its launch, Weinbach noted.
While the final specs for the new lineup of S10s won’t be known until Feb. 20, rumors tend to be very accurate this close to a launch.
“Many of the rumors are credible,” Gold said. “It’s pretty hard, in this day and age, for any company to keep secrets about what they’re coming out with in the next three to six months, because the supply chain leaks like a sieve.”
Even if all the rumors about the S10s should prove true, there doesn’t seem to be anything that hasn’t been seen before, observed Ramon T. Llamas, senior research analyst for mobile devices technology and trends at IDC, a market research company in Framingham, Massachusetts.
“The net on most of this is it’s variations on a theme that we’ve seen before,” he told TechNewsWorld.
That could be bad news for a market segment struggling to maintain sales growth.
“From the rumors, I don’t think the various S10 models will move the needle on high-end smartphone sales,” said Kevin Krewell, a San Jose, California-based principal analyst for Tirias Research, a high-tech research and advisory firm.
Have Smartphones Peaked?
“The three models will have improved cameras, but that is par for any new model,” Krewell told TechNewsWorld.
“The physical design is slick, but edge-to-edge displays are becoming common,” he continued. “I really think we’re reached the peak in smartphones — until something major changes the market.”
The biggest issue right now is getting consumers to understand the improved experience they will have with a new phone, maintained Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, a technology analyst and advisory firm in Austin, Texas.
“The improvements are coming at a slower pace than before,” he told TechNewsWorld.
A slower pace of improvements could be a good thing for consumers.
“The phones most of us have so are good, most consumers can barely make use of all they offer,” said Tuong Nguyen, a senior principal analyst at Gartner, a research and advisory company based in Stamford, Connecticut.
“Consumers are not taxing the devices to the limit, except for maybe in terms of battery life, yet vendors are offering even more features beyond what consumers can reasonably utilize,” he told TechNewsWorld.
Solving Upgrade Puzzle
People need a “step change” in the same way they went from feature phones to smartphones before they upgrade, Nguyen maintained.
“The new functions introduced — email, Internet, music, video, games, photos — were revolutionary, or at least significantly better than before,” he pointed out.
“The interface was improved by touch, and most importantly, the value and utility was significantly higher,” Nguyen continued. “All these need to be overcome or addressed to convince users to replace their current device.”
What will drive smartphone sales in the future, though, may have nothing to do with cameras, displays and slick industrial design.
“I think the next big wave will be increased local intelligence on the phone,” Krewell predicted. “The new S10 will have more neural net processing, but it needs more software support, which will come in time.”
5G to the Rescue?
There’s another major change in the wings that could induce consumers to upgrade their phones. The carriers have begun building out their 5G networks. To reap the benefits of those networks, consumers will need 5G phones. As a remedy for sagging sales, though, 5G appears to be a longer-term solution.
The first 5G phones aren’t likely to appear before the end of this year, which means there won’t be much volume this year, Gartner’s Nguyen noted.
“Even after that, I expect adoption to be gradual,” he said. “First-generation devices tend to be bulky, expensive, slightly unattractive, and tend to be less desirable than the more developed and mature models of previous generations, so it’ll be the tech junkies and early adopters that will likely buy into the new devices.”
Then there’s the network problem. It will be a while before coverage is widespread.
“If you only have 5G covering part of town, or part of the country, it’s not as compelling, because it deprives the user of a consistent experience,” Nguyen explained. “It’s like saying, ‘Hey, I can give you mind blowing WiFi coverage in your home, but only when you’re standing in the bathroom, in this corner.'”