While other tech companies fret over screen time, Samsung insists you’ll live in its new phone
If you’ve come to expect a certain level of healthy abashment from tech companies at their keynote events — Apple talking up “Screen Time” features to help you use the phones they’re selling to you less, or Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg joking about his company’s privacy blunders — Samsung’s Galaxy Note10 announcement in Brooklyn may have come as quite the surprise Wednesday. The company took an in-your-face approach at the Barclays Center, complete with strobe lights, and pitched its new smartphone line to consumers who’d rather not worry about how much they’re using their devices. Life’s short: get that big-ass screen, take those selfies, and never put it down.
It felt like an unburdening of sorts. While a company like Apple attempts to walk a tightrope between selling you a new iPhone every year and helping you use the thing less, Samsung made no concessions. The Galaxy Note10 is here to fill every second of your life.
“The line between work and play has pretty much disappeared,” Drew Blackard, the head of U.S. product management for Samsung’s mobile division, said during the keynote. “That means we need technology that can seamlessly flow between the two.”
The Galaxy Note10 is here to fill every second of your life.
And unlike Apple, which has recently attempted to erect a wall between itself and Facebook, Samsung immediately marked its Note10 line as the über-vehicle for Instagram. The familiar photo-sharing app made a central appearance in Samsung’s promotional material, and new camera features — bokeh blurring in video, at last! — were heavily touted. The word “HYPEBEAST” appeared onscreen at one point. Again: no shame, just selfies.
It’s as good a way as any to sell a hyper-expensive smartphone at a time when the market for the devices seems to have plateaued. The Note10 line, which includes a 6.3-inch Note10 and a 6.8-inch Note10+, will start at $949 when it launches August 23. That’s on a par with high-end competitors like the iPhone XS, but outlandishly pricey by any other measure.
As before with this product line, you’re paying for state-of-the-art mobile cameras, a large, high-quality screen that spills over the edges of the device, and an “S Pen” stylus that comes with a suite of unique features, like new gesture controls. Hold down the S Pen’s button and wave it in a circle to zoom the camera in or out, for example. It was all trickier to execute in my hands-on than I expected, but it’s also the sort of thing I couldn’t imagine many people using, even in the best of circumstances. It’s a distinguishing gimmick, not a selling point.
No one buys a phone to doodle, but they will drop a lot of money on a device that fills their time more completely. Nicer cameras mean better posts to Instagram, while a nicer screen makes for better YouTubing. But “nicer” will be relative. As I held the phone in the plush media room, listening to a Samsung rep explain why they moved the power button from the right to left side — I can’t remember — it occurred to me that this device didn’t feel so different than all the Galaxies that came before. I don’t know that there’s a nicer smartphone screen on the market right now, and it certainly feels expensive, but I can’t imagine what, apart from sheer consumerist inertia, would compel an average person to upgrade to this from any recent model.
Still, the industry has come to expect a certain pulse of life in the smartphone market, even as sales are in decline. Seemingly against reason at this point, Samsung and its competitors release new phones at least once a year, and constant upgrades make sense to many consumers, perhaps because we spend so much of our lives staring into these things. A television lasts and lasts: the computer fused to your palm becomes bloated with old software and seems to demand revision.
For its part, Samsung leaned into the notion that the divide between your smartphone and your life is nonexistent; Google, with a recent emphasis on “ambient computing,” is making the same gambit with its upcoming Pixel 4 phone. Of course, this is all branding, and it’s been clear for some time that the real money in tech is made in pervading all of a user’s mental space. (See: Apple’s most recent earnings, which showed growth in revenue from services like Apple Music and wearables like AirPods and the Apple Watch.) In this regard, Samsung is still playing catch-up.
Consider Apple’s all-or-nothing grip on a user’s life. Though it talks a big game about responsible tech, the iPhone maker has relentlessly introduced products that are meant to infiltrate the unfilled moments in your life: iMessage flows through your iPhone to your Apple Watch and MacBook, while AirPods pop in and out like earworms themselves.
To that end, Samsung announced a new partnership with Microsoft that will send information from your Galaxy to your Windows computer, allowing you to respond to text messages, check notifications, or mirror your phone’s screen on your PC. Some of these features will be enabled by Samsung DeX, which uses a USB cord to hook your phone into a computer, while others are part of a “Link to Windows” feature, which seems like an extension of Microsoft’s existing “Your Phone” service on Android. It’s a less clean arrangement than Apple offers with its cohesive universe, but the features will be welcome for Galaxy users who have felt a disconnect between their devices.
“We believe in a future that will be multi-device and multi-sense,” said Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, during a surprise appearance at the event. “Our ambition is to help people be productive on any device anywhere.”
So long for now to hand-wringing and Time Well Spent: These things are everywhere indeed, in every corner of your life and mental space. Right where they’ve been directed.
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