Poor Nokia. Samsung doesn’t stop. It’s just announced a new iteration of its flagship Galaxy S4 handset which has a digital camera embedded in its rump. The Galaxy S4 Zoom has a 10X optical zoom lens on the back, giving it two clear aspects: from the front it looks exactly like Samsung’s flagship S4 smartphone. But from the back it looks like a point and shoot digital camera.
The result is a hybrid handset that squeezes the ability of Nokia’s carefully crafted PureView cameraphone brand to stand out. Sure, Nokia’s high end phone lenses might still have better — or at least decent — low light performance, but to the untrained consumer eye which device is going to look more capable in the camera department?
Or this one?
And that’s before Nokia has even got around to launching the long rumoured ‘true PureView’ Lumia. Which will possibly look a little like the original (Symbian-based) 808 PureView — so something along the lines of this:
If you’re going to ask consumers to lug around a bulky, heavy phone, might as well make it look as much like the camera they used to own as possible. Familiarity will aid the trade off, helping them justify carrying a much larger device because it clearly melds two functions. Meanwhile Nokia’s PureView brand has to shout even louder to get noticed. And no matter how great their camera algorithms are, a lens that relies on digital zoom alone simply doesn’t look as capable as an optical zoom lens.
As well as a 10X optical zoom, the Galaxy S4 Zoom has a 16 Mega Pixel CMOS Sensor, Optical Image Stabiliser (so it’s raining on the Lumia 920’s parade too) and Xenon Flash. So basically Samsung is pushing into all the areas where Nokia is trying its utmost to differentiate its flagship Lumias vs the Android-powered competition (i.e. low light photography and extra steady video). Nokia could still push the boat out on megapixel count — if it launches a 41MP Lumia — but that’s a nerdy specs game to play that’s unlikely to have an impact on the mainstream consumer.
Beyond looks and specs, Samsung has also embedded new camera functions into the S4 Zoom designed to tie hardware and software together. For example, a feature called Zoom Ring allows the user to activate an in-call photo sharing feature by twisting the zoom ring on the device and then capturing and sending an image to the caller via MMS — all without having to suspend the call. The Zoom Ring can also be used to activate the Quick Launch and Shortcut features to navigate to the camera and through its modes quickly, again by twisting the ring.
Of course, the S4 Zoom will stand and fall on camera performance — so there’s a lot riding on the quality of the optics and the smoothness of its functions. But from the outside, at least, Samsung has created a device that bellows a heck of a lot louder than Nokia’s Lumias do, for all the marketing cash Nokia has poured into PureView. Even if Nokia can produce some camera comparisons that rank its kit over Samsung’s, being technically better isn’t always enough in the fiercely competitive smartphone space. Having the marketing brashness and brass neck (and massive budget) to get noticed is what counts.
Samsung has not released full details of all the markets where it intends to sell the S4 Zoom but has confirmed the handset will be coming to the U.K. this summer, and the U.S. and other parts of Europe from Q4. Like Nokia with the original 808 Pureview, Samsung dabbled in this area before with last year’s Galaxy Camera but that device was a Wi-Fi/3G/4G connected camera only, so did not include a phone dialler function. The Galaxy S4 Zoom is a full hybrid of phone plus camera, and yet another iteration of a flagship brand. This is Samsung continuing its strategy of iterating its portfolio to saturate the market by pushing its hardware into all the niches, large and small.
Nokia, meanwhile — which used to follow a similar strategy to Samsung, i.e. by producing a vast portfolio of devices across multiple price-points and form factors — now has a larger mountain to climb to get its camera-focused flagship phones noticed by the general consumer. Since switching to the Windows Phone platform, Nokia has had to rein in its portfolio to fit the shrinking size of its business, no longer having the resources to spread its hardware so far. But even while it’s focusing its remaining energy on specific niches, like high end cameraphones, Samsung is harrying those efforts by pushing its fingers in all the smartphone pies.