A smartphone can be nothing more than just a phone. Or, it could be a companion that helps you navigate this crazy world. Samsung thinks that it has designed its newest flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S4, to be a life companion to help you with the intricacies of existence. The truth is a bit more complex.
Samsung says that the design of the Galaxy S4 was inspired by, “A precious stone glittering in the dark, or countless stars sparkling in the night sky.”
That would be awesome if it made any lick of sense.
It is hard to get inspired by the design of a smartphone that feels like a piece of plastic. That is not to say that Samsung did a poor job with the Galaxy S4, it is a quality phone (even if it has its faults). But it is difficult to put it up against some of its sleeker rivals (HTC One, iPhone 5) and say that Samsung knocked it out of the park in terms of design.
In a video released by Samsung today, the company explains its design decisions in a very Apple-esque type of way. Samsung roles out its Korean design team to tell you how the Galaxy S4 was, “inspired by nature” and “plays to your emotions” and is a life companion. It would be funny if it was a parody, but Samsung released the video without a hint of sarcasm.
Once you get past all the platitudes and corporate speak of why the Galaxy S4 is super awesome (from Samsung designers’ point of view), the video does hit on one key notion that is increasingly relevant when a person interacts with a smartphone. Namely, smartphones have become “life companions.”
In many ways this is true. Smartphones are becoming truly smart with the ability to intuit where people are, why they are there and what they are doing. Your smartphone can help you find friends who are near you or the best restaurant to eat at in an unfamiliar neighborhood. It manages your schedules, sleeps when you do and you can talk to it. If you do not have any other friends, a smartphone indeed can make a decent life companion.
Yet, Samsung did not really come up with this idea. The notion of a “personal assistant” was popularized by Apple with Siri. Intuiting the world around you is a concept championed by Google as can be seen with Google Now and Maps. In many ways, these are some of the first mass-culture steps into the realm of artificial intelligence where a device you carry around with you at all times becomes an extension of your own body and mind. Companies like Nuance (which makes Dragon language software and helped develop parts of Siri) or Kimera are working on semantic software solutions that help your smartphone understand data that is inputted into the device to help you understand the world around you. An entire ecosystem has grown to provide life companion-like qualities that Samsung is touting as its own.
Samsung’s role is to provide the vehicle for these types of solutions. It does that by providing a high-quality device where these semantic solutions can be integrated. The Korean manufacturer may like to think that it is the panacea of all things smart, but, as the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a life companion.