Samsung on the Galaxy S5: 'People don't need radical redesigns every year'

A Samsung executive explains why it stuck with the classic design and why the launch lacked the glitz of past events. He also hints at future S5 variations.

Jason Jenkins Director of content / EMEA
Jason Jenkins is the director of content for CNET in EMEA. Based in London, he has been writing about technology since 1999 and was once thrown out of Regent's Park for testing the UK's first Segway.
Jason Jenkins
3 min read
Samsung Vice President for Brand Stephen Taylor wearing a Samsung Gear 2 and holding a Galaxy S5. Jason Jenkins/ CNET

BARCELONA, Spain -- The Galaxy S5 was announced at an event in Mobile World Congress on Monday, but Samsung surprised those expecting a radical design change by unveiling a phone that looks almost identical to its predecessors, the S3 and S4. I sat down with Samsung's vice president for brand, Stephen Taylor, to ask why.

"I don't think that people need radical re-designs every year," said Taylor. "You have to create a design theme that people identify with. If you came out with a radical design right now, would that have fitted with the Galaxy story that we have created over the last 3 or 4 years? It's about making evolutions that matter, so I think the improvements to the covers, finishes and colours are a step forward for people.

"If you look at the feedback, it felt like making [the phone] more durable and keeping the sleek design was what people were after. Waterproof and dustproof elements are more important."

The Galaxy S5 was announced less than one year after its predecessor. Rather than being shown off at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Samsung chose to talk about the S4 at a dedicated event in New York, an event that was criticised by CNET at the time for being "tone-deaf and shockingly sexist".

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This one was positively pedestrian in comparison: out were the forced set pieces from actors and Broadway "glamour". In was a straightforward presentation about consumer benefits from the marketing guy. So why the change in tone and why the early announcement?

"Mobile World Congress is a good event to launch a product," Taylor said. "It was focussed on the theme of going back to what consumers want and need. It wasn't about the glitz, it was about: 'this is the product, this is what we've improved'. I think that straightforward message has been quite well received by people. We're going back to what the consumer needs."

CNET's full coverage of Mobile World Congress

In talking about the timing, Taylor said: "We were able to talk about the product this time. We have the opportunity of being at MWC, where you have the captive audience you would be trying to get for a separate event anyway. For us, it made total sense to do it in one go."

Last year, the Galaxy S4 was accompanied by lots of variants: the Galaxy S4 Active, S4 Mini, and the S4 Zoom. What are the plans for that this year?

"We will have a plan to do a portfolio of products to meet consumer needs, so you'll hear more news about that as the year unfolds," he said. "We've identified that consumers aren't just after one form so we'll be looking at the other options."

One of the standout products of the presentation was the Fit, a wearable fitness device with a bright, curved AMOLED display. It looks cool, but isn't it hard to read the writing on the screen at a 90 degree angle?

"The angle is not as unnatural as you might think," he said. "Especially if you're doing fitness monitoring, the feeling was that it is moving anyway, so it's more natural than you'd expect. [Wearables as a category has] huge potential and we are in the foothills of it now."

I have one final question for Taylor: why don't we see the same funny, aggressive adverts in Europe that Samsung USA runs?

"In a lot of markets we are the clear leader and that's not a leadership role," Taylor said. "[In the] US we're a challenger in the market. [Their ads were] spot-on for that market because it stimulated the thought that Samsung was innovating as much as the leader. It's not right for Europe because we were and are leading in the market."

Thanks Mr Samsung! Why don't you let me know what you think of Stephen Taylor's remarks in the comments below.

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