The last time Samsung launched a smartphone, the company produced its own version of a high-end Broadway musical staged in New York's Rockefeller Center. Last week, however, the Galaxy S5 was introduced at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain, following a performance by the Barcelona Opera House Chamber Orchestra, which was the first clue Samsung is beginning to play a different tune.
Instead of nearly overwhelming its user base by offering an array of design changes and customized apps, Samsung execs said the company is scaling back to basics. Yes, a fingerprint reader has been added to compete with Apple's iPhone 5s, and the 16-megapixel camera looks impressive. But perhaps to reinforce the version number of this particular device, Samsung said it boiled down its design priorities to a mere handful. As Samsung marketing exec David Park and others walked through these priorities, it struck me that they could provide an equally compelling roadmap for the developers who will be making apps for the Galaxy S5, or even competing devices like the iPhone 5s, for example.
"Glam" look: Smartphones are now status symbols, which means manufacturers like Samsung and Apple have had to go to great lengths to make sure the hardware is compelling enough that consumers will switch or upgrade to the latest models. Although developers obviously take care in the way they design the look and feel of their apps, the launch of iOS 7 seemed to send many kicking and screaming into recreating a more sleek user experience. Why not consider an app's UI the way Samsung and Apple think about hardware, and go for the "glam" themselves?
Great camera: It's been a long time since making calls on a smartphone was considered its most important feature. Samsung, Apple and even Microsoft-bound Nokia have been trying to one-up each other with higher megapixel capture, better resolution and other add-ons. As smartphones become more of a replacement for digital cameras than ever before, how could developers do more to integrate picture-taking into their app experience? It's not about trying to become the next Instagram. Instead, it might be about letting users of a mobile gaming app take a selfie they can instantly share on Instagram, along with their score. That's one example, but there are surely many more.
Fast network: Samsung talked a lot about Wi-Fi MIMO and the strong LTE coverage that Galaxy S5 users will enjoy. The rise of casual gaming, however, has seen many developers continuing to target the low end of the market with simple apps and games that don't necessarily benefit from next-generation networks. Maybe now is a good time to start dreaming up apps that will seem tailor-made for LTE, appealing to a more high-end consumer who also may be more willing to spend money on in-app purchases.
Protection: The Knox technology in the Galaxy S5, along with its fingerprint reader, are intended to help corporate IT departments sleep better at night, but that kind of thoughtfulness shouldn't end with the smartphone manufacturers. Developers, particularly those offering "time-wasters" like games and fun tools, should be particularly vigilant about testing and providing updates that will help customers avoid falling victim to the latest Android malware (or iOS security flaws, for that matter). Only the safest apps will survive in the long term.
Staying fit: OK, so not everyone will be ready to develop an app for the Gear 2, and the health app market may soon be saturated, but what Samsung is really doing is tapping into the deep interest around tracking and measuring, otherwise known as the quantified self. It's about better ways of keeping score, something that can always be improved across mobile games, productivity apps and nearly everything else.
There probably are a lot of other factors that make for a successful mobile app, let alone a smartphone, but as Samsung has realized, you have to start somewhere. Why not here?--Shane