It was a wet and windy day in Sydney when Samsung corralled UnderCurrent and the more dignified members of the Australian technology media to Quay, Australia’s #2 restaurant according to Gault & Millau, to officially launch the Galaxy S6 and the S6 Edge smartphones.
The two new flagship smartphones will go on sale in Australia on 10 April 2015, with online preordering opening at 5pm today (Monday 30 March 2015) and in-store preordering tomorrow (Tuesday 31 March 2015).
Both smartphones will be available in Pearl White and Black Sapphire, with non-expandable storage options of 32GB, 64GB and 128GB. The Galaxy S6 will retail outright for RRP $999 (32GB), RRP $1,149 (64GB) and RRP $1,299 (128GB). The Galaxy S6 Edge will retail outright for RRP $1,149 (32GB), RRP $1,299 (64GB) and RRP $1,449 (128GB).
During entrées of masterstock chicken and cabbage rolls, blue swimmer crabcakes, steamed scallops, Peking quail, zucchini fritters and beetroot and crème fraiche tarts, assembled hacks played furtively with the handsets, which are clearly being positioned as a merger of fashion and electronics: what Dick Smith would call fashtronics:
The press conference was hosted by Prasad Gokhale, Samsung Electronics Australia’s VP of Mobile and IT. He spoke of Samsung’s commitment to lead the industry in technology innovations and to constantly interact with Samsung’s customers to learn how to improve the device and the user’s interaction with them. This is driven, he said, by two principles:
“We at Samsung have two key mantras: one, we need to deliver tomorrow’s experiences today, and they have to be relevant. We launched the first Note in Australia some years ago, giving us big screen leadership; then we launched wearables in Australia and we launched Tap and Go with Westpac. We continue to innovate and make differences to customers’ lives. I’m not saying we’re the best but we are trying our best.
“The second mantra we have is, how do we get feedback from our customers and incorporate that into our products and services. That’s what we do everyday in Australia and all parts of the world. We have listened to the feedback of our customers and I am proud to inform you that from today you will be able to see Samsung in a different light, where we will again be leading the world in design, craftsmanship and performance.”
Gokhale said it was important the energies Samsung puts into innovation is meaningful. Although he didn’t say it directly, he hinted that the days of Samsung innovating for innovation’s sake are over. Technology advances will be based around utilitarianism. “The GS 6 and the GS 6 Edge really bring out the future of smartphones. What’s most important is that these two devices are not bound by any convention. If you look at the Edge, it really goes beyond, we have taken the effort to build a device that is strong and beautiful and brings the user an immersive experience.
“We have also done something we haven’t done before in a very meaningful way: we have used premium metals and we have used glass.” And then in a sly quip at rival Apple: “And what that means is you can’t bend the device.” Gokhale was of course referring to the short-lived iControversy that involved the bendability or otherwise of the iPhone 6 Plus, a scandal known variously as ‘Bendgate’ or, by people much cleverer than UnderCurrent, Bendghazi.
Speaking specifically about the Edge iteration of the Galaxy S6, Gokhale said it has been quite difficult for Samsung to build the curved technology. “We are the only brand in the world that can do this and we believe it can make a difference in how customers receive and enjoy content.”
Gokhale used the Australian launch to respond to two major issues rising from the devices’ official unveiling at the 2015 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona: the move to an unreplaceable battery the removal of the storage expansion slot.
“I would like to reiterate our commitment to batteries and power management,” he said, before citing three factors: ultra-powersaving mode, built-in wireless charging and fast charging (up to 4 hours of usage from 10 minutes of juicing).
For critics of the move away from a microSD card slot, Gokhale said the device would come with two years’ free subscription to Microsoft One Drive, a cloud-based storage provider in the same vein as Dropbox. Significant cloud storage is definitely a bonus but some users will whinge that content stored on One Drive is not native and thus requires an internet connection and data quota to access it.
“But if they don’t want to access the cloud, our minimum memory size supported is 32GB, which is actually better than other phones on the market,” Gokhale said, and it is true that the entry level iPhone 6 is 16GB.
Gokhale also mentioned the payment capabilities being provided on third party apps by Westpac and the Commonwealth Bank, and the broad range of accessories available from other brands and from Samsung. Get some Samsung headphones and you can enjoy Milk Music, Samsung’s bespoke free internet radio service. Astute readers may remember that UnderCurrent recently ‘interviewed’ Milk’s sort-of celebrity spoke siblings Angus & Julia Stone at the pasteurisation of this mellifluous program.
Without doubt the most common question posed to UnderCurrent concerns the food on offer at these industry pow-wows. The main courses were alternate serve — confit of pork belly, organic rice, young spinach and Chinese seaweed or Fillet of grain fed beef, morel cream, braised mushrooms and roasted ancient grains — absolutely delicious, unless you’re a vegan!
Samsung’s marketing plan revolves around winning the hearts and minds of consumers. UnderCurrent thinks it is fair to say that Apple has done a spectacularly good job in winning over consumers’ trust and affection, training them on iOS (and its reduced functionality) and then hooking them, like a smoker to the wicked deathsticks. Samsung wants to breaks this addiction and its plan seems to include the adoption of certain iPhone trademarks — fixed battery, no expandable storage, moving the headphone jack to the bottom of the handset (something Samsung mocked Apple mercilessly for a few years back) — and the promotion of the independent functionality that arises from using a more open system like Android— smartwatch agnosticism via Android Wear, for example — while systematically stripping its handsets of the bloatware that actually distinguishes it from other Android manufacturers’ handsets. As the myriad Android handsets are stripped down more and more of their overlaid user interfaces, to the point where they are all running the same vanilla or stock Androids made famous by Google’s own Nexus devices, then appearance and perception will become even more relevant. It’s no surprise, therefore, that Samsung has reimagined the construction of the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, replacing the plastickiness of the GS5 with a premium Corning Gorilla Glass and metal construction. UnderCurrent is happy to report that both handsets feel light but robust in the hand.
Meanwhile, those with a skill for great corporate comms and an eye for spending big budgets would be interested to learn that Samsung’s highly regarded head of PR Richard Noble is leaving the Korean company’s Australian subsidiary after 3.5 formidable years guiding the brand’s local messaging. Richard has been a class act throughout his reign, a time that has seen Samsung and its public relations agency Edelman win many, many awards for its communications and activations. UnderCurrent has often bumped into retail and industry types at Samsung TV, phone and appliance launches, all well sated by the fare provided, and they would do well to remember that Richard has been a charming force overseeing many of these wonderful shindigs.
Of course, one person’s departure is another’s opening. Both Richard and his predecessor Jon Manning (currently heading up Sony’s PR agency Hausmann) have exclaimed with glee of the tremendous scope for communication provided by Samsung’s seemingly bottomless pit of money used for PR and comms, so UnderCurrent expects this to be quite the coveted role.
A dessert of Quay’s seven texture Valrhona chocolate cake or blood plum granita with ice cream wowed those that stayed to the end.