Samsung Chases Curved Smartphone Wave

This story originally appeared on Reuters

Samsung Electronics Co Ltd aims to revive its crumbling lead in the global smartphone industry partly by ramping up high-end devices with curved screens filled with advanced technology that’s tough for rivals to reproduce.

Yet as the South Korean giant seeks to create devices just like the rigid-curve Galaxy Note Edge stick out from a crowd of flat, big-screen handsets, earning money depends on producing them cost-effectively and coaxing developers to tailor applications for the brand new format.

Samsung Electronics is headed because of its worst annual profit in 3 years, under siege as Chinese firms like Xiaomi Technology Co and Lenovo Group Ltd reel in buyers with full-function touch-screen smartphones that are cheaper. Only Apple Inc has maintained full brand premium.

The collective industry move toward larger screens makes distinctive designs tougher to accomplish, said Kim Nam-su, a senior Samsung Electronics designer and an architect of the Note Edge. "A change in the platform can result in a number of new considerations… I believe a curved screen is a big solution for overcoming those challenges," he said.

As Samsung Electronics moves toward what analysts say is actually a nearly one-third drop in operating profit this season, it’s launching more mid-tier phones to counter cheaper rivals. But a high-tech edge for the premium market may possibly also help it compete within an industry that international research firm CCS Insight sees growing to $331 billion by 2018 from $289 billion this season.

The Note Edge isn’t the first device to employ a non-flat format. However the curved edge on these devices is designed to become more than simply a gimmick, offering shortcuts to apps, and also customization to show message notifications or stream headlines in addition to the main screen.

Rigid Curve

On sale in South Korea since late October for near $1,000, and in addition on sale in Japan, the Note Edge is soon to debut in the usa. It’s been well reviewed in the technology press, a departure from recent knocks that Samsung Electronics goods didn’t stick out against your competition.

As the Note Edge’s rigid curve sets it apart, in the premium handset market its rivals include devices like Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus, LG Electronics Inc’s G3 and HTC Corp’s One M8 handsets.

Subsidiary Samsung Display Co and its own rival LG Display Co Ltd are up to now the only firms that may mass-produce the flexible displays had a need to make curved smartphones, having invested more in developing the organic light-emitting diode technology used to manufacture them. Analysts say that investment lead can make it problematic for rivals to create imitations quickly.

Samsung Electronics declined to provide early sales figures or expected income for the Note Edge, however the specialist screen technology required means the curved display is difficult to create and likely more costly – something the firm must address. The Note Edge retails in South Korea for approximately $100 more than the business’s flat-screen counterpart, the Note 4.

Furthermore, technology for other areas like batteries, circuit boards and touch-screen layers have to advance further to keep pace with radical screen designs. In a vicious cycle, per-unit costs will stay comparatively high until and unless components reach mass production.

"For future devices where concept designs include tightly rollable devices with an extremely small radius of curvature, every major component should be redesigned to match right into a package form factor that may withstand a high amount of flexing," said Strategy Analytics analyst Stuart Robinson.

Beyond hardware, the task for Samsung Electronics to make curved products must-have gadgets, rather than gimmick, is to convince audience they can do things on a curved gadget easier and effectively than on a set screen.

To achieve that, it must foster the development of applications offering users something new which makes a virtue of the differentiated screen curvature – and convince developers to purchase what remains a distinct segment product for the present time.

"Each time the cellular phone industry has seen disruption is when the input or interaction experience has changed," said Counterpoint analyst Neil Shah. "Maybe now Samsung with bent, or flex displays could create a new method of interaction with cellular devices, pushing an ecosystem around that."

(Editing by Tony Munroe and Kenneth Maxwell)