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Summary

Samsung launched its 2017 flagship device, the Galaxy S8, at an event in New York on March 28. The release is the most important launch for Samsung in recent history, as it follows the disastrous Note 7 release last September, which ended in multiple recalls. Samsung delayed the launch from its usual venue of Mobile World Congress to ensure no repeat problems, but the delay will not hurt sales significantly, because the Galaxy S8 is easily the best Android smartphone on the market.

Galaxy S8 shows off Samsung's engineering prowess

Engineering is Samsung's key strength and this shows through in the Galaxy S8. Its edge-to-edge "Infinity" display gives the handset an impressive 83.6% screen-to-body ratio, meaning it fits a 5.8 inch, 2K display into an easy-to-hold size. The Galaxy S8 also features iris-scanning technology for biometric authentication along with enhanced face recognition on the front-facing camera. Samsung is aiming to use these features to both inspire consumers to upgrade, as well as to rebuild its reputation for quality and innovation following the Note 7's battery problems.

Samsung's digital assistant Bixby is a key element of the Galaxy S8, but the ultimate success or failure of Bixby will depend on Samsung's continued investment and improvement to the platform. Bixby has a different focus than other digital assistants as it is primarily aimed at replacing touch commands with voice commands for apps and services, rather than relying on fetching information or basic commands. This approach will mean Bixby is very different compared to its biggest threat Google Assistant, as well as giving it huge potential uses outside of smartphones – particularly for VR, smart TVs, and wearables. Ovum expects Bixby's addressable base to exceed 1 billion by 2021 as it progressively gets embedded in Samsung's entire IoT device portfolio. It will be the largest assistant after Google Assistant.

The success of the Galaxy S8 is crucial for Samsung after the recall of the Note 7. The recall of the Note 7 cost Samsung approximately $5.3bn in total along with considerable damage to its reputation. The stumble gave a big opportunity to other Android brands to step in, but releases earlier in year from HTC, Sony, and Huawei were underwhelming compared to the Galaxy S8. The LG G6 is the best of the chasing pack, but Samsung's investment in Bixby, Samsung Pay, and its other software put it ahead of the G6. Samsung's VR accessories – the Gear VR and Gear 360 camera – also give the Galaxy brand an innovation image that its competitors lack.

Nonetheless, the late launch of the Galaxy S8 will negatively impact Samsung's sales and financial performance in the first quarter of the year. Ovum expects Samsung to rebound in 2Q and have a strong year of unit sales anchored by the Galaxy S8.

Appendix

Further reading

MWC 2017: New smartphone features address niches as innovation slows, TE0004-001154 (March 2017)

Mobile Handset Forecast: Sales, Installed Base, ASP, and Revenue, 2016–21, TE0004-001127 (November 2016)

Author

Daniel Gleeson, Senior Analyst, Consumer Technology

daniel.gleeson@ovum.com

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