For the past five years we've seen a boom in innovation, with the release of the first Apple iPhone in 2007 leading to a technology arms race in the mobile market. In this race Samsung is debatably one of the few companies to successfully keep pace with Apple, both from an innovation and sales point of view.
After all, each year we inevitably see the latest new iPhone facing off against Samsung's new flagship Galaxy. In early years both companies battled to arm their handsets to the teeth with technical upgrades and new features in the run up to the inevitable grudge match.
Because of this the media circus surrounding iPhone and Galaxy smartphone releases has come close to being farcical, with each unveiling preceded by a sea of leaks from "sources familiar with the matter". However now a good four rounds into the yearly battle, Samsung and Apple seem to have lost a bit of creative steam this year, with their respective Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5S handsets failing to deliver in a number of key areas.
For example, as well as looking close to identical to the Galaxy S3, the S4's primary upgrades are a high-megapixel camera, slightly nippier processor and host of awkward software additions. These include its flaky Eye Scroll and Air Gesture features. Eye Scroll is a custom feature designed to let the S4 know when its user has finished reading a specific section of text and automatically scroll down. Air Gesture is a feature that works to bring Minority Report-style computing to the smartphone world, letting users interact with the phone using motion gestures.
Both Eye Scroll and Air Gesture sound awesome, but, sadly, they're slightly tricky to use in reality. For example, Eye Scroll requires you to make overt head movements before it activates, while Air Gesture requires you to place your hand so close to the screen it's quicker and easier to use the phone the traditional hands-on way.
The Apple iPhone 5S's upgrades are similarly unimpressive. Apart from an upgraded A7 chipset, its only really new feature is a custom Touch ID fingerprint scanner. It was a nice feature and it works well, but lacks any 'wow' factor. Apple did also update its software to iOS 7, but this caused many problems and didn't impressive everyone.
Overall, though, while the upgrades from Apple and Samsung are cool on paper, they're perhaps more interesting as an insight into what both firms may have up their sleeves for 2014. Specifically they show a move towards biometric and gesture technologies. Can you imagine how cool it would be if Samsung managed to launch a phone with Eye Scroll and Air Gesture features that worked every time without issue? The potential uses for such a phone are plentiful.
Imagine being able to walk into a meeting room, link your smartphone to a company projector, place it on the table and then seamlessly give a presentation where your handset not only automatically scrolls down to the next section of text when you've finished reading one part, but also lets you switch slides with a simple swipe of your hand.
The potential for gesture controls is clearly not lost on Apple, which this week bought PrimeSense – the Israeli 3D sensor firm that at one time provided the technology used to power Microsoft's Kinect system – suggesting it has plans to add motion gesture support to future gadgets. Here's hoping there's more to get excited about in the 2014 smartphone Apple vs Samsung grudge match.
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