A few days from now, on Aug. 20, Samsung will launch two of the latest smartphones that it plans to use in its relentless Android competition with Apple.
At first, the Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge+ will be released in Korea, then in the U.S. late in September. These two phablets will support Samsung’s phone-based payment system, Samsung Pay.
Samsung is making a big deal of its new payment technology, announced earlier this year, which is said to work with a much broader choice of credit card terminals than either Apple Pay or Google Pay, both of which use Near Field Communication (NFC).
The phones that support Samsung Pay will be able to use NFC, but also something called Magnetic Secure Transmission, which simulates the magnetic field produced by the stripe on the back of a credit card.
At some point, Samsung Pay will become available to Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge phones in the U.S. through a software upgrade. These phones already have the ability to read fingerprints and that will be used for identity verification with Samsung Pay. Like Apple Pay and Google’s Android Pay, Samsung’s payment system will tokenize the credit card information to keep actual card numbers from being transmitted in the open.
Apple, meanwhile, will be announcing the next version of the iPhone, which may be known as the iPhone 6s or perhaps the iPhone 7, in early September, assuming all of the many media reports on the subject are right. Apple’s next big thing will probably be something called “Force Touch,” which means that you can make different things happen depending on how hard you press on the screen.
The new iPhone will certainly have a new processor that will make things run faster, and presumably so will the new Samsung Galaxy. Both phones will have cool features that relatively few users will actually use. At this point, there don’t appear to be any real ground-breaking changes on the horizon.
There are reasons for the lack of breath-taking changes. Apple, despite its reputation for being on the cutting edge and being astonishingly cool, tends to be fairly conservative in its release of new features.
This is why it took so long for an iPhone with a bigger screen to make an appearance. To its credit, Apple seems to want to make sure that any new features actually work before releasing them on to an unsuspecting public.
Samsung has its own set of problems that stem from the company’s attempts to be all things to all people, which forces it to support a vast array of products, some of which don’t make much money.
Samsung’s Latest Galaxy Handsets Are Variations on a Tired Theme
Adding to Samsung’s problems is the fact that its competitors at the low end of the market are all racing toward the bottom at a breakneck pace.
This race is so intense that one of Samsung’s major competitors, HTC, has essentially lost all of its value, according to a report in Bloomberg Business. Now, Samsung will have to contend with a competitor in HTC that is suffering from rapidly shrinking sales, rapidly rising inventories and shrinking markets. The most likely outcome for HTC will be to dump millions of products on the market at fire-sale prices just to get out from under all of that unsold inventory.
What this means to Samsung is that the company is going to be facing a major competitor that is virtually giving its devices away almost for free. This, in turn, will have a major negative impact on Samsung’s sales and revenue while limiting the amount of money it can spend to make its high-end products even better than they are now.
Of course, Samsung will still have some features that no one else has or has thought to bring to a phone (like the creepy ability to watch your eyes to see where you’re looking), but it’s hard to see how the company will be able to afford major breakthroughs in the immediate future.
What this likely means is that what we will see from Samsung during this year’s Christmas spending season are just variations on an existing theme that’s getting tired. Maybe more wrap-around screens, certainly more devices with Samsung Pay, but will there be anything else of note?
Apple, meanwhile, will be bringing that Force Touch, and, very likely, a case that’s sturdy enough that it won’t bend when you sit on it. But will there be anything that will cause a sales bonanza like the one that happened in the last quarter of 2014? Probably not.
Of course, what made Apple’s sales go through the roof last year was the introduction of larger screens, which met a huge pent-up demand. Even if Apple changes the screen size again (which is unlikely) it probably won’t cause sales to explode in the same way.
That kind of explosive sales season will need something to trigger it. Something really new that hasn’t been seen in smartphones before. What will it be? Will Siri become telepathic? Will Samsung Pay lend you five bucks until payday? Will Google Pay know exactly what your heart’s desire is and order it for you? Probably not—Yawn.