Save the Samsung Smartphone


Samsung aims to restore its crumbling lead in the global smartphone industry in part by ramping up high-end devices with curved screens full of advanced technology that's tough for competitors to replicate.

Yet as the South Korean giant seeks to make devices like the rigid-curve Galaxy Note Edge stand out from a crowd of flat, large screen handsets, making money will depend on producing them cost-effectively and encouraging developers to personalised applications for the new format.

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

The whole industry is moving toward larger screens which makes distinctive designs tougher to achieve, said Kim Nam-su, a senior Samsung Electronics designer and an architect of the Note Edge. He said "A change in the platform can bring about a variety of new considerations... I think a curved screen is a big solution for overcoming those challenges,"

Analysts say Samsung Electronics could be heading towards a 30% loss in profits this year, while it continues to launch more mid-tier phones to counter cheaper rivals. But a high-tech edge for the premium market could also help it compete in an industry that international research firm CCS Insight sees growing to $331 billion by 2018 from $289 billion this year.

The Note Edge is not the first device to use a non-flat format. But the curved edge on the device is designed to be more than just a gimmick, offering shortcuts to apps, as well as customization to display message notifications or stream headlines independent of the main screen.

Beyond hardware, the challenge for Samsung Electronics in making curved products must-have gadgets, rather than a gimmick, is to convince potential buyers that they can do things on a curved gadget more easily and effectively than on a flat screen.

To do that, it must foster the development of applications offering users something new that makes a virtue of the differentiated screen curvature - and convince developers to invest in what remains a niche product for now.

"Every time the mobile 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 develop a new way of interaction with mobile devices, pushing an ecosystem around that."

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