* S4 unveiled at Manhattan's Radio City Music Hall
* S4 bristling with new control, gesture and navigation
* Will be available by the end of April
By Sinead Carew and Miyoung Kim
NEW YORK/SEOUL, March 15 Samsung Electronics Co
premiered its latest flagship phone, the Galaxy S4,
which sports a bigger display and unconventional features such
as gesture controls, as the South Korean titan challenges Apple
Inc on its home turf.
The phone, the first in the highly successful Galaxy
S-series to make its global standalone debut on U.S. soil, was
unwrapped at Manhattan's iconic Radio City Music Hall on
Thursday evening. Some industry watchers were clearly dazzled by
its features, setting a high bar for Apple to surpass.
The S4 can stop and start videos depending on whether
someone is looking at the screen, flip between songs and photos
at the wave of a hand, and record sound to run alongside snapped
still pictures. But other industry watchers said the phone would
not overturn an industry that lives and dies by innovation.
The plethora of new features "are good steps in this
direction, but they can be seen as gimmicks rather than game
changers. At this point, Samsung appears to be trying to kill
the competition with sheer volume of new features," said Jan
Dawson, chief telecom analyst at IT research outfit Ovum.
"For now, Samsung can likely rely on its vastly superior
marketing budget and the relatively weak efforts of its
competitors in software to keep it ahead."
The success or failure of Samsung's latest flagship phone -
the fourth in a brand launched in 2010 - will be pivotal in the
world's biggest smartphone maker's battle against Apple and
smaller, and key to that struggle will be phone differentiation.
Apple may already be feeling the heat.
Just a day before, marketing chief Phil Schiller blasted
Samsung and the Google Android software in rare
interviews given to Reuters and other select media, underscoring
the pressure that the iPhone maker is feeling from its Korean
The S4, which Samsung preceded with a marketing blitz that
drummed up industry speculation reminiscent of some of Apple's
past launches, will be available by the end of April and rolled
out to 327 carriers in 155 countries, including U.S. service
providers Verizon Wireless , AT&T Inc,
Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile USA.
"Samsung has fulfilled the promise of their marketing that
they are the tech innovators. It remains to be seen whether it's
overload for customers, whether they can really take advantage
of all these features," said Forrester analyst Charles Golvin.
The S4 will use either Samsung's own applications processor
or Qualcomm Inc's Snapdragon central processing chip,
depending on the country. But the Korean company kept mum on
exact dates and prices.
SAMSUNG HITS BROADWAY
Samsung took a slightly different tack with the S4's launch,
using actors and a full live orchestra to present the
smartphone's various features via a series of skits - as perhaps
befitted its theatrical platform.
That marked a departure of sorts from the usual slick,
high-wattage shows favored by rivals such as Apple.
Investors largely shrugged off the launch. Shares in Samsung
were 2.3 percent lower in a steady market in Seoul on Friday.
The stock has stood little changed so far this year, while
Apple's shares have tumbled 20 percent as disappointing sales of
iPhones raised fears that its dominance may be slipping.
Apple's U.S. sales outstripped Samsung's for the first time
in the quarter ending in December, even after Samsung spent a
record $400 million on phone advertisements here last year.
While the global smartphone market's growth rate is tapering
off, Samsung still derives the majority of its annual profits
from Galaxy phones.
Samsung said the Galaxy S4 will sport a bigger 5-inch
display than the S3's 4.8 inches. But because the new display
will cover more of the phone's surface area, the device itself
will be the same length and slightly narrower, thinner and
lighter than the previous generation.
The newest features involve different options for
navigation. For example, if the phone senses someone is looking
at the screen, the user can tilt it forward or backwards to
scroll up and down a Web page.
That feature falls slightly short of what some consumers may
have expected after the New York Times reported that the phone
would be able to scroll automatically by tracking readers' eyes.
But what it can do is sense when it has someone's attention.
When a video is playing, for instance, the stream will
automatically pause if the person glances away and it will
restart when the eyes refocus on the screen.
This is an update on an existing Galaxy feature, which
powers down the display if it senses no one's looking at it,
conserving battery power.
The latest phone also has a sensor that lets users move
their hands to the left or right to scroll between different
websites they have opened or through songs or photos in an album
without having to touch the phone.
The idea is to make it easier to change the song playing
without having to pick up the phone while driving or to avoid
putting sticky fingers on the touch-screen display while
scrolling through a Web page at mealtimes.
The phone will also allow users to hover a finger over an
email inbox or a photo gallery to get a glimpse of more details
of what's in the email or which photos are in an album.
Another feature includes the option to automatically put a
copy of details from a photograph of a business card into the
phone's contacts database or call a number in the business card.
Samsung is also promising an instant translation between 10
different languages for certain applications, as well as a
separate translation application on the device.
The device also has a 13-megapixel camera, compared with the
S3's 8-megapixel camera.
"They kind of cherry-picked features that other competitors
had, and then packed them up all together into one device," said
Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi.
"The story though is more about who Samsung is and where
they want to be. It is clear today that they want to play in an
ecosystem game, their own ecosystem. The word Android didn't
come up once."