You know what's coming tomorrow, you've known and waited for it for months now. Samsung's 2017 flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S8, will be officially announced, and one of the most critical periods in the company's history will begin. The phone Samsung launches on Wednesday will carry greater expectations and have to prove a lot more than usual. Even as the world's biggest smartphone maker, Samsung's mobile credibility was deeply shaken by the Galaxy Note 7 snafu, so it now needs to reassert its reliability while also rebooting its technological advantage. Here's a rundown of the biggest challenges facing Samsung as it prepares to take the wraps off the Galaxy S8.
Of course. The bad jokes about "explosive Samsung news" haven't subsided even now, half a year after the Note 7 was recalled. The first thing everyone wants to see from Samsung is a phone they can trust won't spontaneously combust in their pocket or hands. That may seem like a low threshold for Samsung to pass, but the company will have to do it with zero tolerance for failure. Practically every smartphone in history has had examples of overheating batteries, but most are treated as isolated events and freak accidents — except in Samsung's case, even one malfunctioning Galaxy S8 battery would result in a deluge of negative press. The optimistic way to look at things? If Samsung does the right thing, the new Galaxy S8 devices will have the most robust and durable batteries we've ever seen in a smartphone.
There is, however, another aspect of the battery that will be a cause of intrigue with the S8. Per the latest leak over at WinFuture, the smaller S8 is set to have a 5.8-inch display paired with a 3,000mAh battery. That's 0.7 inches more screen than the 2016 Galaxy S7 model, but the same battery capacity. Samsung got itself in trouble by trying to force the biggest possible battery inside the Note 7, but will it fall behind in the endurance stakes with the more conservative combination it has in its latest phones?
The home button's demise and the screen's elongation
Every leaked image of the Galaxy S8 shows it dumping Samsung's signature home button in favor of an entirely software-based interface and the smallest screen bezels in Samsung's history. What's lost with that physical home button is not only a familiar and tactile method for returning to the starting screen; it also housed Samsung's fingerprint sensor, which is being relegated to an off-center position on the rear of the phone. Will we all successfully adapt to that change? Probably. But it's another question mark around Samsung's new release — using this phone will not be an instantly comfortable experience for longtime Galaxy users.
The other aspect of Samsung's big change up front is the extension of the display itself. It's shaping up to have teeny-tiny bezels at the top and bottom and an aspect ratio of 18.5:9. Even more elongated than the LG G6's simpler 2:1, this display will have to show itself at least as useful as the more traditional 16:9 ones. We don't yet have a good idea of how the Android interface will scale to such a peculiar shape, and we don't know how well Samsung has optimized its software to make use of the extra space. Will the new display be beautiful and futuristic to behold? Absolutely. But will it work well in daily practice? That will be one of the things Samsung's Galaxy S8 will have to prove.
If you want to know the catalyst of Samsung's ascent to being considered on the same plane as Apple's iPhone, it was a combination of improved design and having the best camera. Over the course of multiple generations, Samsung separated itself from the rest of the Android competitive field, outdoing rivals like HTC, LG, and Sony with the best optics and image processing available outside the iOS stable. Both the Galaxy S6 and S7 could make legitimate claims to being even better than the corresponding iPhone of their time. But times have changed now, and today's best mobile camera can be found on Google's own-brand Pixel smartphone. Samsung will want to reclaim its imaging crown.
With the derailment of Samsung's plans caused by the Galaxy Note 7 battery issues last fall, much of the company's reputation now sits in disrepair. If the Note 7 had been the success it initially seemed like it would be, Samsung could take it easy today, reissue much of the same hardware, and be content that it's keeping momentum going. But momentum is exactly what Samsung lacks, and the quickest way to build it back up is by having the most impressive cameraphone on the market again.
Beyond the three crucial hardware components of the battery, display, and camera, Samsung will also try to establish unique selling points for the Galaxy S8 with its new Bixby voice assistant and anticipated DeX desktop functionality. Software is traditionally Samsung's weak point, so these new ventures will have to overcome years of mediocre S Voice and TouchWiz history to wow new users. But Samsung is a company with deep resources and renewed determination, and its past misfires aren't a reason to write off its latest initiatives.
Samsung's plans for Bixby and DeX extend beyond just the phone, which highlights another important consideration with the Galaxy S8: its halo effect. Flagship phones are known as such because of their outsize influence on the sales of other devices from the same company. Many people who might aspire to own the top-tier Galaxy S8 will likely end up with a midrange Samsung A series handset that's more suited to their budget. But that aspiration and the concordant expectation of high quality both need to be built up in consumers' minds first. More than anything else, it is that trust for reliable quality that Samsung lost when it suffered its Galaxy Note 7 calamity.
The Galaxy S8 represents Samsung's biggest test to date, but as with every challenge, that also gives the company its biggest opportunity. Conscious of the need to have an unequivocal success with which to erase the bad memory of the Note 7, Samsung will push its engineering teams to their absolute limits (but not beyond, because, well, that's how we got the Note 7 in the first place). What it means for us, as consumers of technology, is that we'll get a company with zero complacency and an overwhelming imperative to present a cutting-edge product with totally assured reliability. If that doesn't sound like an enticing proposition, I don't know what is.