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The Galaxy S III: Samsung's next flagship phone?

Samsung's best chance at making the Galaxy S III a success would be introducing a groundbreaking new technology.
Samsung's best chance at making the Galaxy S III a success would be introducing a groundbreaking new technology.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Galaxy Nexus is currently Samsung's best Android phone
  • When the Galaxy S III is unveiled, that phone will be worthy of flagship status
  • Conventional wisdom says the Galaxy S III will have a 4.7-inch screen and a 8+MP camera

(Wired) -- Samsung emailed, tweeted and blogged Monday about a May 3 event in which reporters are being invited to "come and meet the next Galaxy." At this shindig in London, we expect Samsung to unveil the Samsung Galaxy S III -- though where this smartphone sits in Samsung's larger handset ecosystem isn't entirely clear.

The Galaxy S III would be the successor to the Galaxy S II, which was never a single phone, but rather a lineup of devices with varying internal specs and exterior designs for different countries and carriers. Shoot, even the S II's display sizes varied, with both 4.3-inch and 4.5-inch screens.

And while the Galaxy S II has been the flagship Samsung Android device for AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, the nation's largest carrier, Verizon, has avoided the S II altogether. Instead, Verizon has gone all-in with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, the first handset to boast the Android 4.0 operating system.

By all accounts, the Galaxy Nexus is currently Samsung's best Android phone, its single-carrier limitation notwithstanding. But what will happen when the Galaxy S III is released?

This question, too, is complicated by the 5.3-inch Galaxy Note, which has been a surprise hit for Samsung. More than 5 million Galaxy Note units have shipped worldwide -- and this is a phone that runs on the horribly antiquated Android 2.3 (Gingerbread).

With Samsung making so many phones for different markets, carriers and countries, it's difficult to figure out just where the Galaxy S III will reside in Samsung's line-up, says Ross Rubin, executive director of the NPD Group market research firm.

"Samsung is producing a number of of high-end smartphones with leading-edge specs and, yes, that does make it tough to figure out which one their flagship phone is," Rubin told Wired. "But Samsung is one of the few companies out there that can make a lot of different phones with different functionality, geared toward different markets, that can all be considered flagship phones somewhere."

Regardless, when the Galaxy S III is unveiled, the smartphone will be worthy of flagship status for at least a few carriers, Rubin said.

"The idea behind the Galaxy Nexus is to provide a pure Google Android experience," he said. "The Galaxy Note, which has the largest screen size of any handset in a major U.S. carrier portfolio, is clearly about maximum screen real estate and the S-Pen for notes, annotation and drawing. Each device has its trade offs and Samsung is trying to have something out there for most anyone."

Rubin says the Galaxy S and S II have been about reaching as many consumers as possible, and the S III will likely be that type of phone as well, Rubin said.

"The reason there are so many versions of the Galaxy S II, and the Galaxy S before it, is because the Galaxy S line is about establishing a high-end baseline and having broad carrier reach," he said. "The whole point is to sell as many of those phones as possible, so what they're going for is top-of-the-line specs, but also mainstream consumer needs."

Carolina Milanesi, a Gartner analyst, says Samsung should be less worried about where the S III lives in its broader line-up than how it stacks up against the S II, which hit U.S. shores last fall.

Conventional wisdom says the Galaxy S III will have a 4.7-inch screen, quad-core processor, an 8+MP camera, 4G connectivity and (of course) a custom, Samsung-skinned version of Android 4.0. The Galaxy S II had almost-as-large screens, a dual-core processor, an 8-megapixel rear camera, and 4G data support.

"If the Galaxy S III is just like the Galaxy S II, but with slightly better specifications, then I think Samsung will have a tough time selling it as differentiated product," Milanesi said. "If that's what Samsung releases, the question will be, Can Samsung do what Apple does so well, with a refresh of an existing phone?"

She makes a compelling point: When you compare the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 4S, Apple's hardware specs are remarkably similar. In effect, Apple's most successful phone launch ever was built on the back of an extra CPU core, an improved camera, and a clever voice-recognition system with natural language comprehension (Siri).

"Samsung's brand is not Apple-strong yet," Milanesi said. "I don't know if Samsung will ever reach that emotional level for the brand from the consumer standpoint. And that's what makes this question of 'Will the Galaxy S III be a big flagship phone?' so tricky. The Galaxy S II already has what most consumers are looking for from an Android phone."

Samsung's best chance at making the Galaxy S III a success would be introducing a ground-breaking new technology, she said.

"I don't think phones can get that much thinner, and I don't think they need to get much bigger," Milanesi said. "If Samsung can release a phone with a flexible display, something they've been experimenting with for awhile now, then they'd be far ahead of the curve. If they don't do something like that, they might have a hard time getting enough people to see the Galaxy S III as a truly differentiated product."

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