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History isn’t kind enough for the Galaxy S9 to be boring

by Justin Herrick | February 13, 2018February 13, 2018 12:00 pm PDT

It’s that time of year when all eyes are on Samsung. There’s a new flagship on the horizon, and the company looks to fight back against Apple’s iPhone X with a refined version of the Galaxy S8. It should be a crazy-exciting stretch for anyone who follows the mobile industry, but something feels different now. Many believe Samsung’s 2018 flagship won’t be anything grand that blows us away.

Rather than introducing an entirely new design, Samsung seems keen on making the Galaxy S9 be a lot like its predecessor. Big upgrades for the processor and camera are expected. History, though, tells us maybe that won’t be enough.

Just six months ago we met the Galaxy Note 8. Yet it’s not six months later that we forgot about it. Samsung’s second 2017 flagship quickly came and went with little interest, and that’s because it lacked differentiation from not only the competition but also its maker’s own lineup.

What felt like thousands of people attended a launch event last August at a historical venue in New York City, but the announcement didn’t bring us anything groundbreaking.

No one is like the South Korean juggernaut, and that’s easy to see in its products and advertising. The sole company truly capable of rivaling Apple all these years later continues to be Samsung. A ton of money has been invested in research and development, leading Samsung to bring us things like the Infinity Display and Dual Pixel. And, to promote its flagships, big-budget ad campaigns touch every medium imaginable.

There’s no easy way to say it: Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 was underwhelming. The hype train was as loud you’d imagine after the Galaxy Note 7 fiasco put the series in limbo, and then we realized $950 for a Galaxy S8 2.0 was absurd.

Samsung quite clearly repackaged the Galaxy S8 to create the Galaxy Note 8. The specifications were largely identical, only having differences in the display, rear camera, and battery. Also, the overall designs were appropriately similar since Samsung wants the Galaxy family to appear related. If anything, the Galaxy Note 8 was a slightly more rectangular Galaxy S8. But somehow the company thought that some cosmetic work and adding a dual-camera setup meant the sky-high price tag was justifiable.

Immediately the media shared its take on Samsung’s Next Big Thing. Impressions of the phone were positive, but most found the Galaxy Note 8 unable to stand out from a related model that was released months earlier and cost over $200 less. Only die-hard Galaxy Note fans saw the Galaxy Note 8 as an appealing buy.

The Galaxy Note 8 lost momentum within weeks of being announced. Samsung ran its usual wave of television ads during major events early on, but by the holidays it cut down and let carriers handle promotion. Everyone got bored with the Galaxy Note 8 so fast because the Galaxy S8 remained exciting and didn’t break the bank. In 2018, the same could happen.

Expect the Galaxy S9 to be more of the same as well. Various reports and leaks have all but confirmed what the Galaxy S9 will look like and what specifications it’ll have. From the outside, Samsung’s obviously sticking with a working formula. In fact, the Galaxy S8 fits perfectly in cases made for the Galaxy S9. Both phones are the same size with just the components being altered, putting the company exactly where it was last year with the Galaxy Note 8.

It’s much less expensive for Samsung to use a recycled body. Consumers, on the other hand, want vast improvements as much externally as well as internally. You don’t want to disappoint or tick off the people that pay your bills, right?

Samsung faces a challenge on February 25, the day its latest flagship goes official at MWC 2018 in Barcelona. The world will be watching, no doubt about that. And the initial batch of impressions will probably be positive. It’s what comes in the weeks and months after that should make the company nervous. Because, as of now, the Galaxy S9 could be a Galaxy S8 3.0.

New on the inside does little aside from telling the market you’re staying current. It’s new on the outside that drives sales. Samsung’s marketing engine can manage to push units out of the gate but, as we saw with the Galaxy Note 8, fail to sustain traction in a volatile industry.


Justin Herrick

Justin is easily attracted to power buttons. His interest in technology started as a child in the 1990s with the original PlayStation, and two...

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