Many are attempting to guess what will happen at Samsung’s big Galaxy S4 announcement this Thursday in New York. So far, none of the guesses appear to have the substance of really big news. Samsung has more in common with Apple in its ability to keep a secret. Like Apple, Samsung really only competes with itself. In guessing what will be unpacked at Thursday’s big announcement, one should first look to Samsung's past.
The "see, listen, and respond" capabilities announced with the Galaxy SIII will likely be replaced in the Galaxy S4 with an eye-tracking scrolling capability, as leaked by the New York Times. But this won’t be the biggest news.
In looking at the Samsung Galaxy S III, one immediately notices a 720x1280 display. To the owner, the display is crisp and bright, but compared to the flagship Android smartphones announced at the Mobile World Congress two weeks ago, such as the HTC One, Samsung’s current flagship phone comes up short in pixel density. Samsung should be expected to match the HTC One with a 1080x1920 LCD on the Galaxy S4. It has been rumored that the LCD will be 5 inches, but this is less important because the S III has an almost equivalent 4.8-inch LCD.
An eight-core processor is an interesting speculation because it was announced by Samsung CEO Stephen Woo at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year. The advantage of an eight-core processor is the user can run a number of functions simultaneously or a developer can improve the performance of an application by breaking it up to run on multiple cores. Google's project butter improved the performance of certain functions, such as scrolling, and graphics were enhanced by distributing them among foreground, background, and triple buffering. Multiple processors could conceivably improve performance, especially in the area of video and gaming, but will require some low-level software engineering.
More power efficiency can be expected, contributed in part from a multicore mobile processor that allows idle cores to be shut down when not in use. Also, a more efficient LTE 4G modem is a possibility if it is a four-core processor, such as the Snapdragon Pro, but will be unlikely if it is an eight-core processor.
The very high-speed data transmission of LTE 4G is a challenge for engineers to mainain high power efficiency. Since the Galaxy SIII was released, LTE 4G modem chip manufacturers such as Qualcomm have iterated their modem chips to improve power management and increase the number of frequencies supported, so it is almost a given that the Galaxy S4 will include a faster, more power-efficient LTE 4G modem chip.
The Galaxy SIII is powered by a 2,100mAh battery, which is 35% larger than the battery in the Galaxy SII. It would not be surprising if the Galaxy S4 had a battery in the range of 3,000mAh, plus or minus 200mAh, to power its larger LCD and more complex parallel functions.
The Galaxy S4 is probably a beneficiary of the Android 4.2.2 release and includes the Wi-Fi Alliance’s Miracast standard for direct Wi-Fi connection to consumer devices. This is by far the most speculative prognostication that can be made, and would explain the 1080x1920 LCD. This 9:16 ratio screen is the standard for HDTV created by the Advanced Television Systems Committee. With an equivalent screen resolution of a 42- or 60-inch television, the Galaxy S4 could stream and display the same video that is displayed on a TV at the same resolution without transcoding. The use case for this capability might be as simple as watching a streamed Netflix program on a Galaxy S4. But mobile carriers want to be more than a "fat pipe" and want to get into the consumer’s living room to sell content. With LTE and Miracast, the mobile carrier could sell video content to the consumer on his or her Galaxy S4, which in turn would stream to the TV over a direct Wi-Fi connection with Miracast. This is a good bet because Samsung is in both the television and smart mobile device businesses, and needs to pad its lead in both areas or risk losing to Apple’s rumored smart TV entry.
Until Thursday, no one will know for sure what Samsung will announce. Though some have written how high the hurdles are for the Galaxy S4 and how it must meet a unique set of consumer criteria, it won’t be that challenging for Samsung to at least impress consumers. It’s a given that Samsung has built a beautifully designed phone that will feel good in the hand, look good to the eye, perform powerfully, transmit data very fast, be more power efficient and will have uniquely engineered features. The risk that Samsung will disappoint is small and the probability that it will delight huge.