Samsung’s Galaxy S4 smartphone is being billed as the product that will allow the South Korean manufacturer to leapfrog archrival Apple, in large part due to Samsung’s software innovations. As the company increasingly banks on software for competitive advantage, however, development challenges could be holding it back. Early reports suggest the phone still has glitches in some of its most touted features, and a recent Fortune article speculated that the device’s unfinished software could be delaying its release.
When reports of the Galaxy S4 first surfaced last fall in the Korea Times, the company appeared slated for a February or March 2013 release, Fortune noted. While Samsung recently unveiled the device in a press conference at Radio City Music Hall, it has not yet announced a U.S. release date, other than claiming it will happen before the end of April. However, given the incomplete state of certain features – and the removal of other highly touted ones, such as eye-scrolling – that target may also prove to be a challenge. AT&T will begin accepting pre-orders for the phone on April 16, although it has not announced when the device will be available, while T-Mobile appears set to release the phone on May 1, according to Gotta Be Mobile.
Samsung has been going ahead with its marketing campaign for the Galaxy S4 despite lacking concrete release announcements, however, Fortune noted. Since booking advertising spots and events such as the launch require months of advance planning, the company may be in a bit of a crunch to line its product schedule up with its media push.
“If [this media campaign explanation] is right, Samsung is rolling some expensive dice – gambling that its software engineers can iron out the bugs before its innovative new phone hits the stores in April or May,” Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt wrote.
Samsung as a software company
The stakes of having a smooth release for the Galaxy S4 are high, as the smartphone represents Samsung’s bid to establish its superiority on the basis of its software, the Wall Street Journal’s Spencer Ante explained. In his hands-on review of the device, Ante noted that Samsung was introducing features designed to make the phone fun, convenient, capable of encouraging closer relationships and equipped to improve health. These include several new camera functions, translation tools, gesture technologies that allow users to control the phone without touching it and health apps designed to integrate with body sensors.
“But while many of the functions are useful or innovative, a few of them didn’t seem ready for prime time in a preview with journalists,” Ante wrote. “The Galaxy’s 4′s impressive but less-than-perfect performance underscores the challenge Samsung faces in transforming itself from a hardware-driven company into a software leader as mobile phones become increasingly commoditized.”
Samsung has recently faced several software security vulnerabilities in its Galaxy S3 smartphones, underscoring the difficulty the company faces in making a strategic shift toward defining itself as more than just a hardware manufacturer. As it transitions toward emphasizing software, the importance of delivering error-free code will increase.
To follow through on its new approach, Samsung may need to improve its development processes to eliminate errors while meeting tight production deadlines – or else risk undercutting its investment. Companies faced with this type of pressure can turn to tools such as static analysis software, which enables developers to catch errors and quickly make revisions in the coding process. By eliminating bugs as they arise, vendors can reduce the time spent testing and improve the quality of their code.
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