Samsung Galaxy S4 Not Cool Enough

 | Apr 25, 2013 | 6:00 PM EDT  | Comments
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Kick 'em when they're down.

When a competitor, especially the competitor holding the high ground in your industry, stumbles, you're supposed to do everything you can to increase their pain. That's business.

It's pretty clear that's what Samsung intended to do with its recently launched Galaxy S4 smartphone. Not only was this supposed to be a product refresh that jumped over Apple's (AAPL) iPhone 5, it was supposed to be the phone that took advantage of Apple's recent less than stunning iPhone releases and take a big bite out of Apple's aura.

The idea, I think, was to come up with a product that would make it hard for Apple to regain its "coolness" lead no matter what the iPhone 6 was like. And this effort just got even more important for both Apple and Samsung with recent signs that the iPhone won't refresh until fall.

But from press reviews of the Galaxy S4, it looks like Samsung missed its opportunity to stomp on Apple. It's not that the Galaxy S4 is a bad phone -- it's not. Apparently it's a very good phone. And I haven't seen reports of any major glitch or anything like the Apple iPhone 5 maps fiasco.

The problem is that in its effort to crush Apple, Samsung produced a phone loaded with individually impressive features that collectively just don't work together well enough to put a permanent dent in the iPhone.

This is still a horse race and the market is still pretty much up for grabs depending on which company produces the most recent and coolest refresh. All the pressure is now on Apple to come up with an iPhone 6 that is actually exciting rather than ho hum. But Samsung definitely hasn't knocked Apple out of the race.

Here's one example why the Galaxy S4 isn't an iPhone killer. One of the S4's neatest features is Air View -- when you point to the screen without actually touching the screen, you get pop up preview. But this feature only works, for now, with Samsung's mail program and not with Android's Gmail. And it doesn't work with Google's calendar app or in Google's Chrome browser. To check your email, you'll have to configure Samsung's own email and calendar app.

To take the problem further, the Android operating system requires one app for Gmail and another for other email services. For a user looking for the kind of unified experience that the iPhone usually delivers, this is a disappointing failure.

I don't think any of these glitches are enough to totally blunt the S4 challenge to Apple. Samsung's screen is gorgeous and bigger than the iPhone screen. The battery is bigger and you can actually replace it by simply snapping off the back panel. And the grab bag of new features Samsung added include some really whiz-bang stuff.

Samsung had the opportunity not just to set a challenge for Apple's next iPhone but also to take over the sector's "coolness" lead. Once a product loses its "coolness" lead, it's very hard to regain. With Galaxy S4, Samsung left a window open for Apple to drop an iPhone 6 through. All that Apple has to do is deliver.

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