Market Insight

Samsung seeks to reestablish its reputation for innovation with “infinity display” Galaxy S8

March 29, 2017

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Samsung unveils the S8 and S8+ flagship smartphones, with the following notable features:

  • Large almost bezel-free displays, marketed as “infinity display” either 5.8” or 6.2” sizes in a 18.5:9 ratio; both AMOLED, HDR, 2960x1440 pixels & suitable for VR.
  • A “hidden” pressure sensitive front home button, a rear fingerprint sensor, and both face and iris recognition options.
  • Either Exynos 8895 or Snapdragon 835 chipsets, notably both Samsung and Qualcomm variants deliver Gigabit LTE. Claimed 10% faster CPU and 21% faster GPU for Exynos S8 over S7.
  • Samsung’s Bixby AI voice assistant and Google Assistant.
  • Small main camera update with multiframe image processing, but the same sensor as S7. Improved front facing camera: 8MP, face recognition autofocus, F1.7.
  • Will be first Gigabit LTE smartphone to ship in volume. Available April 28 in Europe.

Samsung also launched:

  • Gear 360 camera: the second generation model adds support for: live 360 video streaming to Facebook, YouTube and soon Samsung VR; extends handset compatibility to mid-tier Samsung 2017 A5 & A7 smartphones and iOS for iPhone 6 & newer models.
  • Samsung DEX: a PC-like smartphone experience which runs Android apps in a window-based interface on a large display controlled by keyboard, mouse through a USB-C dock.
  • Bixby: Samsung’s new assistant integrates with 10 built-in Samsung apps on S8, but is initially only available in US English and Korean.

Our analysis

The S8 and S8+ are visibly differentiated smartphones because of their large Samsung displays, tiny bezels, and fast chipsets which all play to Samsung group’s competitive strengths. IHS Markit expects Samsung will use the S8 and S8+ to re-establish its reputation for successful innovation following the Note 7 hardware problems in 2016.

When flagship models like the S8 and S8+ are reliable and innovative, they increase the appeal of Samsung’s brand and support overall shipment volumes. This effect is important, because the 67m flagship model smartphones Samsung shipped in 2016 represented just 22% of Samsung’s overall smartphone shipments.

Assuming the S8 has no significant hardware issues, IHS Markit forecasts Samsung will ship 331 million smartphones in 2017 slightly up, 6.8%, from 2016 as Samsung counters strong recent Apple performance and competitive pressure from Chinese handset makers.

Shipments by model for Samsung Galaxy S flagship smartphones

Samsung group’s capabilities enable the highly innovative S8

IHS Markit expects Samsung will be the first smartphone maker to ship Gigabit LTE smartphones in volume, which will help to position Samsung as an innovator again. Notably, Samsung’s Exynos chipset-based S8 models offer the same Gigabit LTE as Qualcomm Snapdragon 835-based models, despite Qualcomm’s deserved reputation as a technology leader in cellular technologies.

The S8 and S8+ demonstrate how Samsung group’s different capabilities enable Samsung to offer a highly differentiated hardware design. Samsung’s display expertise enables the combination of extremely large displays yet in a very compact volume. Samsung’s chipset capabilities – both design and 10nm manufacturing process - help it to be first with the latest LTE speeds. Gigabit LTE support increases the appeal of S8 to mobile operators launching Gigabit LTE networks and looking for smartphone models to range.

Samsung display technology delivers a new level of smartphone ergonomics

The S8 is the start of a “super cycle” for smartphone innovation in 2017. This year, there will be very significant advances in the design and performance of smartphone models after several years of incremental improvement.

The redesign of the Galaxy S8 and S8+ with an elongated aspect ratio (18.5:9) allows Samsung designers to maximize the display relative to the size of the phone.  What results is a new design 1.5mm narrower than the previous Galaxy S7, although the S7 which had a display diagonal of 5.1” compared with the 5.8” of the S8. This provides a new level of ergonomics that optimizes the screen real estate.  Compared with conventional 16:9 aspect ratio Quad HD smartphone displays, the Galaxy S8 features an additional 15% pixels, in a form that is easier to hold in the hand.

IHS Markit expects more OEMs to adopt this design, which will lead to an increase in the average screen size of smartphones in the next couple of years. Larger displays enable even better mobile viewing experiences.

A single camera design is very unusual in 2017 smartphone flagships

Although Galaxy S8 and S8+ come with new features and latest components, it has only a single rear camera design, unlike Huawei’s P10, LG’s G6, many other Chinese OEMs and Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus. Samsung is being uncharacteristically unadventurous with the S8 camera design. This may not be a severe drawback of the new S8 series, but competitors will counter the S8 by promoting their dual camera designs to demonstrate abilities Samsung cannot match with S8.

Samsung matches Qualcomm’s CAT-16 Gigabit LTE

The Galaxy S8 and S8+ feature a 10nm System on a Chip (SoC) and CAT-16 LTE modem and radio. There will be two versions featuring different chipsets. We expect the CDMA version of the S8 used by Verizon, Sprint and other carriers in the US to feature the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset because of Qualcomm’s modems technology leadership, while the rest of world models will feature Samsung’s home-grown Exynos 8895 chipset which also features a CAT-16 LTE modem and radio.

Samsung is often quiet on chipset share at smartphone product launches. But the precise share of S8 models which use Qualcomm will be closely watched because with all three leading smartphone makers – Apple, Huawei and Samsung – having in-house chipset capabilities it diminishes the addressable market for external chipset designers such as Qualcomm or MediaTek.

Samsung Electronics fabricates both Snapdragon and Exynos chipsets on the same 10nm process. Samsung has rare vertical integration on the core electronics of the new Galaxy S8 and S8+ which delivers competitive advantages.

Gigabit LTE is very much the marquee specifications for 2017 flagship smartphones.  While other OEMs have already committed to launching Gigabit LTE smartphones this year, Samsung will use its chipset and its market share to ensure it is first to ship in volume. Sony was the first to commercially announce a model with the Xperia XZ Premium, based on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, but shipping later in Spring.

The CAT-16 LTE radio allows the new Galaxy to aggregate three carriers of up to 20MHz each.  Combined with 4x4 MIMO antennas and higher order modulation (256 QAM), the LTE modem is capable of reaching a peak theoretical speed of 1 Gigabit per second.  However, while the physical hardware is capable of reaching this new speed threshold, seldom does a mobile network operator have a total of 60MHz of LTE spectral assets to aggregate. As a result, on many mobile carriers, Gigabit LTE will be purely a marketing term.

Hello Bixby; Samsung takes a stake in AI (Artificial Intelligence)

The Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ will be the first devices to come with Bixby, Samsung’s new AI voice assistant.  Samsung aims to make anything a user can do with touch on a phone to be also possible by interacting with Bixby via voice. Bixby is based on Samsung’s October 2016 acquisition of Viv, a new assistant built many of the team behind Apple’s Siri (itself acquired by Apple in 2011).

Samsung’s initial Bixby AI implementation falls short of its goal of being a comprehensive AI assistant because of weak app integration and limited voice compatibility. Samsung has had little time to develop Viv since the acquisition. For now, Bixby integrates with only a handful of Samsung’s own apps and officially is only compatible with US English and Korean voices. 

More problematic for Samsung long term is Bixby’s lack of differentiation from Google Assistant, which also runs on the S8. Google Assistant is a more mature product which also offers search, shopping, and a conversational UX. Unlike Bixby, Google Assistant already supports five languages and ties into a wide range of popular Android apps.

The Galaxy S8 and S8+ come with a dedicated Bixby physical button where users can summon the voice assistant.  Samsung plans for Bixby to have more extensible skill sets, such as controlling 3rd party applications and connecting to the galaxy of Samsung smart products (e.g. TVs, home routers, appliances and Smart Things (IoT)).

Samsung needs to accelerate its Bixby roadmap to be competitive with Google, Amazon and even Apple. The strongest area for Samsung to differentiate with Bixby is with its smart home integration. It is clear that Bixby is a stepping-stone to the creation of an entirely Samsung ecosystem of products that will rival the ecosystems of Apple and Google respectively.

Enterprise Ready with KNOX and innovative DeX PC-style interface

DeX is enabled by a small USB-C desktop dock which allows the S8 and S8+ to be connected to an HDMI display, mouse and keyboard to recreate a desktop computing experience. Samsung has built on top of the multi-windowing capabilities within Android Nougat to create an innovative desktop user interface and experience for Android apps. Unlike Microsoft’s Windows 10 Mobile, this works with almost any app in a multi-tasking mode. 

DeX re-enforces the number of areas where Samsung is seeking to innovate with S8. Naturally, the combination of DeX with the Galaxy S8 and S8+ along with Samsung existing KNOX virtualization technology will imbue the new Galaxy S8’s with many enterprise friendly applications.  This extension of the Galaxy smartphones into the productivity space highlights Samsung’s overall mobile enterprise ambitions. There is a significant opportunity here in light of the market failures of both BlackBerry and Microsoft’s Windows Phone.

S8 has strong prospects

Provided Samsung can manufacture sufficient volumes of S8 and S8 + smartphones, and has no new reliability issues, the S8 will be a success for Samsung. The strong industrial design will support the Samsung brand and provide a foundation for Samsung’s ecosystem ambitions with VR, Bixby AI, and enterprise offerings.


South Korea USA
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