Samsung’s new beast could struggle in Australia
The world's biggest smartphone maker will bet its fortunes on never-before-seen camera technology and handsets that fold in two after unveiling new phones in San Francisco overnight.
The bold smartphone upgrades will make Samsung the first to launch a 108-megapixel phone camera with 100X zoom, and the second to bring back the flip phone by adding a flexible screen.
But smartphone analysts say big technological upgrades are necessary to get penny-pinching Australians to upgrade their smartphones, and as Apple is expected to unleash a major iPhone overhaul later this year.
Samsung revealed the major camera upgrades inside three Galaxy S20 handsets overnight, all of which featured major resolution boosts, larger sensors and hybrid zoom additions.
The top model Galaxy S20 Ultra will come with a 108-megapixel camera sensor and a 100x digital zoom that Samsung Electronics Australia mobile vice-president Garry McGregor said would set the company's new range apart in a crowded market.
"We've put an immense amount of work into engineering what is the best smartphone camera in the marketplace bar none," he said.
"We're getting to that crossover point with DSLR cameras and mobile phones and questioning, 'do you really need both?'"
Mr McGregor said Samsung had homed in on camera technology in the new smartphones as it had become "the number one reason to buy a new phone".
As such, all three models in the S20 range will feature the company's new "super resolution zoom," with the two base models offering 30x zoom, and telephoto cameras with 64-megapixel resolution.
The new smartphones will also feature 5G connections in Australia, with Samsung president Dr TM Roh predicting the technology would "completely change" how people used their devices.
Samsung also showed off its second folding smartphone at the event, the Z Flip; a 6.7-inch, 4G device that folds in the middle to slip into the smallest of pockets.
The re-imagined flip phone, which is expected to command more than $2000, does not yet have an Australian release date.
Prices for the Galaxy S20 phones, due in Australia on March 6, will range from $1349 to $2249, undercutting Apple's top iPhone by $250.
But Telsyte managing director Foad Fadaghi said it could take more than a new camera system or flexible screen to get Australian consumers spending money again, as many had been turned off but the rising cost of smartphones.
"There's obviously great technology that Samsung is pioneering, whether it's foldable screens or improved photography, but the challenge is getting consumers to value that and pay for that," Mr Fadaghi said.
"When we're talking prices greater than $2000, the affordability question emerges and people start doing comparisons with what they used to have and what they want, and often they upgrade to a mid-range handset rather than a premium handset."
Smartphone sales in Australia fell five per cent in the last half of 2019 to 4.3 million, according to Telsyte research, though Mr Fadaghi said the launch of more 5G handsets, lower prices, and fresh rivalry between Apple and Samsung could inspire upgrades.
Gartner research vice-president Annette Zimmermann also predicted a "rebound" in smartphone purchases this year after "a challenging year for smartphone vendors" as people held on to their phones for much longer and waited for more 5G options.
Apple is expected to launch its first 5G iPhone in a new form later this year, with rumours tipping a stainless steel frame and four models to appeal to different buyers.
Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson travelled to San Francisco as a guest of Samsung.