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Samsung’s Galaxy S8 launch heralds ‘new beginning’

Samsung launched its new Galaxy S8 smartphone with a bombastic event in New York, promising a “new beginning” for mobile handset design as well as for the Korean company amid a series of corporate crises.

The Galaxy S8’s signature feature is a new “infinity display” which wraps around the edges of the device to give a larger screen in a smaller body. Claiming the biggest design breakthrough since Apple’s iPhone set the template for touchscreen smartphones a decade ago, Samsung said the S8 and larger S8 Plus would mean less scrolling down a Facebook news feed and allow new kinds of multitasking, such as chatting with friends while watching a video.

At the same time as touting its latest innovations, Samsung acknowledged the multibillion-dollar recall of the Note 7 last year, after its last big smartphone launch was stopped in its tracks by a spate of exploding batteries. The S8 goes through Samsung’s “toughest safety checking ever”, the company said, with an eight-point battery test.

DJ Koh, president of Samsung’s mobile communications business, said the company had to be “humble enough to learn from our mistakes”.

He began the event by saying: “As you all know, it has been a challenging year for Samsung — a year filled with valuable lessons, hard decisions and important new beginnings.”

But without mentioning the Note 7 by name or the arrest last month of Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong on corruption charges, Mr Koh quickly moved on, explaining how the S8 would mark “not just the launch of a great device but the beginning of a new way to experience the world”.

As well as the new screen, the S8 features Samsung’s new virtual assistant, Bixby, which it hopes will be a challenger to Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. The device also offers an improved front-facing camera for sharper selfies and a new face-recognition system to unlock the phone.

“In a market where consumers are becoming increasingly numb to indistinguishable smartphone launches, Samsung is redefining expectations with the Galaxy S8 and S8+,” said Geoff Blaber, analyst at CCS Insight.

“The Galaxy S8 is arguably the most important launch of the last 10 years for Samsung and every aspect will be under the microscope following the Note 7 recall. The S8 is unquestionably a strong product but Samsung must now deliver a faultless launch to move on from the difficulties of 2017. If this happens it will emerge in an even stronger position.”

The S8 goes on sale on April 21. At the same time as unveiling the new phone, Samsung unveiled a new dock called Dex which turns the S8 into a hub for PC-style computing, with a separate keyboard, mouse and keyboard. It also updated its Gear 360 camera, to allow immersive videos that can be livestreamed to Facebook and YouTube or viewed through its Gear VR headset.

While the S8 builds on the curved screens featured in its S6 and S7 Edge smartphones released in the last two years, Samsung’s advantage in ultra-wide displays could be shortlived. Xiaomi, the Chinese smartphone maker, released its Mi Mix using a similarly oversized screen late last year, while Apple is also expected to employ an edge-to-edge OLED display in at least one new iPhone model later this year.

Andy Rubin, creator of Google’s mobile operating system Android, is also working on a new smartphone at his secretive start-up, Essential. “I’m really excited about how this is shaping up,” he said on Twitter this week, posting a teaser photo of the forthcoming device.

“2017 could be the year that sees smartphones emerge from an innovation slumber,” said Mr Blaber.

Via FT