Are the opportunities and challenges for BlackBerry any different in a Galaxy S4 world? We don't think so. Samsung improved upon their S3, but didn't change the user experience for the end user in the same sort of way BlackBerry 10 has.
With the Samsung Unpacked event at Radio City Music Hall in New York City all over and done with, there has been plenty of talk about the Samsung Galaxy S4 happening across all of our Mobile Nations sites.
The folks over at Android Central are understandably excited, even though they had to endure the awkward keynote (You can relive it here - If you really want to do that to yourself). And over at our sister site iMore, Rene was in NYC lending out a helping hand to help with the coverage, and has laid out his thoughts on the whole thing.
In the CrackBerry forums as well, there has been plenty of discussion about the device, with most folks offering a very mixed view of the hardware itself and the included software revisions it will bring.
Looking at the device, it's clear Samsung loaded up on specs and software versus radically changing the design of the Galaxy S4 over previous generations. As has been mentioned by many folks already, it would appear as though Samsung took a page from Apple's book (Again?) and created an "S" series device. In the end, the Samsung Galaxy S4 looks like the Samsung Galaxy S3 only a bit bigger. So, that said -- lets have a look at the official specs.
The specs are pretty impressive when you consider Samsung is packing them into last year's packaging. However, looking around and reading through some of the comments and S4 forum threads on Android Central, it seems as though many folks were expecting more, and who can blame them really?
Samsung is supposedly on the top of their game now and when people talk about Android it's near impossible to not associate it with Samsung, so one would assume that Samsung would want to push the envelope and entice customers with all new hardware vs. making them feel as though they're buying last year's device with updated specs. To be certain, Samsung did need to upgrade the S3 to ensure the specs remained current in the very spec-centric market that Android has become (Samsung doesn't want to leave room for devices like the HTC One to out distance their flagship phone as they sink $12 billion into marketing the heck out of it).
Samsung added bells and whistles to the mix that will likely make for good commercials, rather than innovating on the things that will help you when you're actually using the device and needing to get things done
As I mentioned earlier, a lot of what Samsung added to the Samsung Galaxy S4 comes to consumers by way of software. In the official specs given out by Samsung, you can see A LOT of focus was put there but at the same time a lot of it feels rather gimmicky instead of actually being useful to end users. Samsung added bells and whistles to the mix that will likely make for good commercials, rather than innovating on the things that will help you when you're actually using the device and needing to get things done. I can see Smart Pause, which pauses your video when you're not looking at the screen, to be among one of the first things folks disable.
While Samsung continues to take a feature and spec approach to upping their smartphone game, in contrast BlackBerry has taken an experience approach with BlackBerry 10. BlackBerry put the innovation into features you will use every single time you pick up and use the phone. Take BlackBerry Hub and Peek for example. These are innovations I gain benefit from every day and they help me navigate my device in ways I've never been able to before and cannot do on any other phone. I no longer need to open my email app to see if it's urgent nor do I have to open different apps to see why my notification light is blinking. It's all right there in one or two gestures. The same notion applies to the awesome keyboard on the Z10 - BlackBerry put a ton of effort into creating a touchscreen typing experience that is second to none (note, the S4's wider display immediately makes the phone less friendly to type on unless you have big hands). BlackBerry dropped the gimmicky bullshit for stuff that actually works with you and helps improve your overall experience in a nice package. Though many customers will overlook it and fall prey to spec and feature hype, in the end what matters most is the overall experience, and this in an area where Android-based phones have received their fair share of criticism. Even on the eve of the S4 announcement, Apple's Phil Schiller reiterated his point of view that Android offers a poor experience.
Sure, it's cool that I can use Air Gestures to move about in Samsung Mail but who the hell uses Samsung Mail anyway? Never mind the fact that Air Gestures aren't a system level thing and only work in certain apps instead of across the board. Sure, Samsung Smart Scroll, which allows you to scroll the browser or emails up and down without touching the screen is cool, but come on I'm already lazy enough. Have I become so lazy I can't manage to lift my finger now?
BlackBerry isn't in any worse shape now that the Samsung Galaxy S4 has been fully unveiled
I'm not saying there are no new useful features in the Galaxy S4, because there certainly is. I'd kill to have an IR Blaster on the BlackBerry Z10 (quit laughing!) but again, overall, most of the stuff included will be forgotten about after one or two uses and the stuff that remains that is interesting, is just stuff taken from others and renamed with an S in front of it or just outright renamed. Knox, anyone? It's no BlackBerry Balance.
Leading up to the announcement, many folks had questioned if what Samsung announced would impact BlackBerry and BlackBerry 10 in any major way and speaking as a person who does appreciate both Samsung and BlackBerry, with the event now over and done with I'd still say not really. BlackBerry isn't in any worse shape now that the Samsung Galaxy S4 has been fully unveiled and with the lack of redesign effort put forth by Samsung, I'd even go so far as to say maybe some folks who had been waiting may actually give the BlackBerry Z10 a shot simply because it's new, it's different and it's not just a awkwardly larger version of last years Samsung Galaxy S3.
Another .5 inches and Samsung would have created another Galaxy Note II, which we know is certainly not one hand friendly, never mind trying to one thumb it while navigating. I'm sure I'll come off sounding like a Samsung hater here but I was actually hoping Samsung would push things forward and instead I'm left feeling like they gave me yet another Android device. And heck, by many accounts it's looking like the HTC One may prove to be the better Android device, yet the S4 will no doubt become the household Android name given Samsung's marketing budget. In any case, we know Samsung will sell a ton of S4s, but again, the impact of this device has been lessened by Samsung not offering an entirely new package but instead opting to offer up the same plasticy design with some updated specs.
When Apple announced the iPhone 5, many people felt it spelled doom for the successful launch of BlackBerry 10. That if BlackBerry 10 wasn't on the market prior to the iPhone 5, it was game over. Kevin wrote this editorial about it and the words he wrote about the iPhone 5 really do apply when thinking about the S4 as well:
The bottom line is that Apple hasn't changed things much with its iPhone 5. RIM's challenges and opportunities are the same in an iPhone 5 world as they were in a iPhone 4S world. The people who want to buy Apple products will still buy Apple products. Those who prefer the BlackBerry user experience are still going to buy BB10. And I can understand why. The amazing virtual keyboard (and choice of a physical keyboard!), the "flow" experience, the TRUE one-handed UI design, the solid multitasking ... that's what I want. I want a mobile experience that's saving me seconds every time I pick it up and use it. And that's what BlackBerry 10 is about.
Ultimately, the potential success of BlackBerry 10 still lies within BlackBerry's control right now. There is competition on the market -- there are always will be, but BlackBerry's experience is unique and differentiated, and I believe appeals to more than enough people for them to carve out a big and sustainable chunk of the mobile market over time. They just need to continue to follow through and not the let the ball drop anywhere. They need to ensure *quality* big name apps get onto BB10. They need to market well. And while the Z10 and Q10 definitely deliver on the performance front, BlackBerry needs to make sure they are putting in enough bells and whistles, specs and features, to win over those who are easily swayed by such things.