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Samsung takes fight against Apple to New York with S4 launch

Samsung is launching its new Galaxy S4 smart phone in New York, taking the fight against Apple's iPhone to the Big Apple for the first time

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 March, 2013, 7:47am

Samsung is making its biggest run yet at the iPhone's loyalists in the United States, unveiling the new Galaxy S4 a few blocks from Apple's flagship store in New York and broadcasting the event live in Times Square.

The debut of Samsung's marquee smartphone, which will be held at Radio City Music Hall tomorrow, lets Samsung bring the fight directly to Apple's strongest market.

The South Korean company is relying on an advertising blitz and cutting-edge features, potentially including a snazzier camera and eye-tracking capabilities, to generate the kind of buzz associated with Apple's products.

Samsung's challenge is proving it can innovate as effectively as its US competitor. While Apple's iPhone pioneered the market for touch-screen phones in 2007, Samsung became the smartphone leader worldwide more than a year ago, according to IDC. Apple still remains No 1 in the United States.

Chung Chang-won, an analyst at Nomura in Seoul, said: "The event in New York has big implications because it's Apple's home ground. This is the first time Samsung has launched its Galaxy S phone in the US."

The phone will sport a five-inch screen, slightly larger than the one on last year's S3, according to two people familiar with the product.

The US version will use Qualcomm's quad-core chip, giving the phone more processing power to handle multiple tasks at the same time, they said. In other markets, it will rely on Samsung's "octacore" eight-core chip.

The Galaxy S4, which runs Google's Android software, will also have a higher-density, 13-megapixel camera, up from eight megapixels in the S3, according to the people.

The upgrade would put the new Samsung phone well ahead of Apple's iPhone 5. That device has a dual-core processor, a four-inch screen and an eight-megapixel camera.

The timing of the S4's arrival could spell trouble for Apple, which will probably not have a new phone out until mid-year at the earliest, according to Park Hyun, an analyst at Tong Yang Securities in Seoul. Apple's sales growth last quarter was the slowest in more than two years, a sign the iPhone is losing its edge over other smartphones.

"Its popularity has clearly cooled off," Park said. The next Apple phone, expected to be called the iPhone 5S, will be out in the second quarter or early in the third quarter of this year, he said.

Apple suffered from mapping software glitches and supply constraints with last year's release of the iPhone 5.

Jefferies cut its price target for Apple this week, over concerns that the next phone will be delayed because of problems with the device's casing colours.

The mounting competition puts pressure on Apple to step up its pace of product releases. Since the iPhone's initial debut about six years ago, the American company has held one big phone unveiling each year, with the new product hitting the market in summer or early autumn.

Jan Dawson, chief telecommunications analyst at the New York office of the London-based consulting firm Ovum, said: "There's been a drumbeat of rumours about Apple working on more than one version of the iPhone.

"The thinking is, if Apple does several devices it would help dampen the singular effect of having only one phone a year."

Samsung, meanwhile, faces its own challenges. The company will be selling the S4 into a US$358 billion global market that is approaching saturation. Growth is projected to slow to 9.8 per cent in 2017 from 27 per cent this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

In addition to contending with the iPhone, Samsung has to fend off Chinese rivals offering handsets for US$100. The current Galaxy S3 sells for about US$200 in the US with a two-year contract.

The crowded market has prompted Samsung to add more features, rather than just improving basic specifications. With last year's S3, for instance, it added a function that lets users exchange information by bumping their phones together.

This year, speculation has centred on eye-scroll technology, which would track eye moments to let users scroll through articles based on where they are looking on the screen. The New York Times reported earlier this month that the Galaxy S4 will include such a feature, citing a Samsung employee.

Insiders disputed that idea this week, saying that eye scrolling will not be in the Galaxy S4, though it may appear in future versions of the phone. There will be more simplified uses of eye-tracking technology, such as the ability to pause videos when the user's eyes move away from the screen, they said.

While Apple relies on just the iPhone, Samsung's phone lineup includes cheaper models with basic features.

It also has the Galaxy Note, a cross between a phone and a tablet that lets people write on the screen. Even though Apple released a smaller iPad tablet last year, it does not have a direct competitor to the Note, which is sometimes called a "phablet" - a phone-tablet.

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