Samsung introduced the first chapter of the Galaxy S4 last night at a highly publicized gala held at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The Galaxy S4 exceeded expectations. It is a full-featured phone with a 1080x1920 HD AMOLED display and 32 or 64GB of storage and up to 64GB of additional storage using a microSD. To appreciate this hardware and software platform, take a look at the IDG News Service or the Verge’s recaps.
A few impressive features that will need more time to take shape are Knox security, automotive navigation and safety app "S Voice Drive," and language translation app "S Translate." These apps and features are very complex and are beyond the resources of Samsung to deliver alone in a narrow time-to-market window. Poor execution could cause a consumer uproar on par with the Apple Maps fiasco.
Samsung introduced Knox, a secure version of Android that should be very attractive to the enterprise audience, in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress two weeks ago. The important point about Knox in the context of the Galaxy S4 announcement is Samsung’s ability to strike partnerships with important companies. In this case, General Dynamics, a large U.S. government and military contractor, has allied with Samsung to certify the Knox version of Android for government data that is classified secret and below. In addition to security, the General Dynamics alliance brings credibility to Samsung’s offer to government and enterprise customers.
S Voice Drive is an enhancement to S Voice released on the Galaxy SIII that is targeted at voice-activated automotive navigation and safety applications. The challenge of smart mobile device apps for automotive use should not be underestimated because of the complexity of the applications and the driver distraction risks. Samsung has a unique perspective on mobile automotive apps because with Intel it is a contributor to the Linux Foundation’s Tizen project, a Linux-derivative OS targeted to provide a consistent interface across consumer devices. Tizen has been adopted by the automotive industries’ infotainment association GENIVI to serve as the automotive OS for all functions except real-time control. Android could easily be exchanged with Tizen and Tizen apps could easily be ported to Android.
The automotive industry is moving slowly towards in-car apps, but the developer ecosystem has been slow to emerge. S Voice Drive could be an important accelerator for the use of mobile apps that enhance the driving experience with information and entertainment without distracting the driver. It will be interesting to understand who Samsung’s partners are in delivering voice-based navigation. If Google is Samsung’s automotive partner, it will move Android and Google maps much closer to taking over the automotive cabin.
Samsung also introduced real-time translation of written and spoken words for 10 languages: English, French, Latin American Spanish, German, Italian, Chinese, Japanese and Brazilian Portuguese. Samsung claimed that translation would work without an internet connection, which likely means Google Translate is not the engine because Google’s language engine requires an internet connection. One of the best translation engines is the one created by the partnership of IBM and Lionbridge, which is fast and accurate enough for real-time customer service applications. It would be interesting to know who Samsung’s partner(s) is for language translation technology.
All three of these apps could change the course of Android. Samsung’s scale increases the number of companies willing to strike licensing arrangements. Its disposition towards open innovation and to designing in-technology solutions without having to own the technology provides more alternatives from which it can find the best approach and more flexibility in making mid-course corrections as markets evolve. Hopefully, Samsung announces its S Voice Drive and S Translate partners soon.