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Samsung Galaxy S 4: A slim stripper with palms hovering over its body
South Koreans tout THESE killer features you can't live without, probably
Modern smartphones are little more than promotional vehicles for manufacturer services, and the Galaxy S4 is a perfect example, arriving heavily laden with all the things Samsung thinks we should be doing with them.
Like a respectable lapdancer, the Galaxy S4 responds to a roving eye and fingertips hovering over its slim body. But there is more to the new functionality than meets the eye. The eye-tracking and finger sensing will mean extending the Android platform in directions that other manufacturers will struggle to follow.
Meanwhile, Samsung's cloud service, also part and parcel of the Galaxy S4 experience, seduces users into its movie and app stores by carving itself a space on the coffee table, while answering every question with another product launch.
Once such product is Samsung's WatchON TV service, which uses the S4's built-in infrared transmitter to control one's entertainment kit. Samsung trialled this with the Note, bundling the pisspoor Peel Smart Remote app which reminds one of early IR apps on the Palm Pilot, before they had resizable buttons or programmable functions. But WatchON isn't really about integrating your smartphone with your home AV kit, it's about making that kit subservient to the phone.
One of the joys of cloudy ecosystems such as Google's Play or Apple's iTunes is that your purchases are carried between your devices: change devices and the content comes too. Samsung would like to invite you into its cloud with a similar promise, but needs a way to seduce you.
WatchON is just that: it will be the app you run before watching TV, and will instantly offer more video content at a tap of a button (provided by Samsung's cloud obviously). That video content can then be thrown up onto the TV, using Miracast or DLNA, and will be available just as long as you stay with the Samsung cloud.
That's not to say the S4 user won't be able to buy content of all kinds from Google Play, but WatchON will be there whenever the TV is on, displaying the local EPG while linking to "much better" programming available from Samsung.
ChatON has similar aspirations, but this time it's aimed squarely at BlackBerry's sole remaining differentiator: BBM. Only a few months ago BlackBerry execs were dismissive of ChatON, more interested in the threat posed by Samsung KNOX (the secure container for enterprise users, also premiered on the S4), but BBM is still the killer feature for many BlackBerry users. By adding VoIP, video and group calling to the ChatON feature, Samsung is creating a real competitor to BBM - though it will still have a hard time gaining market share.
Group Play, the ad-hoc networking-over-Wi-Fi-Direct is another interesting play from Samsung, and one the company is so nervous about that it has already launched an SDK to see if anyone can find an application for it - beyond using multiple S4 handsets as some sort of hugely overpriced but surprisingly tinny surround-sound system. It could be useful for group gaming, and compete with Qualcomm's AllJoyn, but it is hard to see developers leaping to exploit something limited to a single manufacturer.
Air View and Air Gesture
The same thing applies to the new model's air-touch interfacing, which detects the presence of a finger to create a two-level interface paradigm. Air View lets you hover over content so you can preview it without opening it, while Air Gesture lets you scroll through and click with a wave. The concept's actually much closer to the venerable mouse than fondle-based interfaces so popular on today's mobile phones.
Windows tablet PCs had the same ability, detecting the presence of a (Wacom) pen above the screen to allow mouse-over events as well as clicks. The former has all but disappeared in the rush to make everything touch-friendly, but Samsung can't use such paradigms beyond its own media-browsing apps without fragmenting Android beyond repair, something it is certainly prepared to do eventually, but not until the time is right.
See what sticks
Developers will of course embrace innovations from a single manufacturer, as Apple has demonstrated again and again. Samsung's plan is to chuck a plethora of technologies at developers and users to see which ones stick, and if they all fail then they'll just create a load more, and keep slinging them until something works.
That's in stark contrast to Apple's way of working, which involves picking one product and pushing as the perfect solution. That's much cheaper, and suits Apple's diminutive Research & Development budget, but with everything bet on one technology, a failure reflects badly on the whole company.
"If you build it they will come," seems to be the mantra upon which Samsung is relying (ignoring the crapness of Field of Dreams, the film from which the line comes).
Samsung can afford to throw technical innovations into the field for a very long time. It's arguably likely that one of them will eventually become the killer application which destroys the competition, including Apple. The difficult bit is working out which one... and when. ®