In the past, Unpacked was the code for opening the ammunition box containing the Galaxy S3 and S4 phones. In September last year, the secret weapon was the Galaxy Gear watch which, it turned out, misfired on the battlefields of price, design and compatibility.
So the so-called “#Unpacked 2014 Episode 1” event was certain to unleash the new Galaxy S5 as well as a new version of the Galaxy Gear. The former faced the challenge of maintaining Samsung’s dominance of the high-end smartphone area, while the latter would see the wounded watch warrior sent back into battle, reinforced with new specs.
Sure enough, the Galaxy S5 came out guns blazing. It shoots out the lights with a bigger battery – 2800 mAh versus 2600 before – along with a function called Ultra Power Saving Mode. When battery power drops below a set level, the mode kicks in, turning the display to black and white, and shutting down all features except essentials like phone and SMS for emergencies. When there is just 10% battery life left, the phone in this mode will still last another 24 hours on standby for desperately needed calls.
The Galaxy Gear, this time, did not fall off its horse. The Gear 2 is now compatible with a couple of dozen Samsung devices, comes in a range of swappable watchstrap colours, and includes a dialer, voice commands and heart-rate monitor. Most important, it costs about two thirds what the overpriced original Gear set back its customers who, it now appears, jumped the gun.
But neither of these devices was the big story from #Unpacked. The bombshell was Samsung’s first health band, the Gear Fit. Not that a Samsung wristband was a big surprise. The completion will be left shellshocked by just how gorgeous it is. It contains the first curved Super AMOLED touchscreen on a wearable device. Think fitness bands with sharp screens rather than Nike’s FuelBand-style LED lettering.
As important as the weapon is the strategy behind it. The most significant words uttered from the stage during the launch were the throwaway line that the Gear and Gear Fit were “the beginning of an extended ecosystem of devices”.
After the event, Craige Fleischer, Director Mobile Communications Samsung Electronics South Africa, elaborated: “The Gear range is the first step towards personalised, customised devices that leverage the significant prowess of the smartphone.”
It starts with the phone, which is in effect the general marshaling of the troops and their weapons. It will culminate in wristbands, earphones, headphones, and probably even TV sets and household appliances, given Samsung’s broader product range. As important as the hardware is, the software and apps will help drive integration of these devices into ordinary people’s lives.
“We’re enhancing the total ecosystem offering to the South African consumer and taking a leadership stance in the fitness App-cessory segment,” says Fleischer.
The Ultra Power Saving Mode and enhancements that the heart-rate monitor has made possible in the S Fitness suite of health apps show that, even when the hardware stops being a differentiator, there is always innovation to be had in the software.
On the other hand, the Gear Fit reveals just how much an established brand can continue to differentiate itself.