Samsung's Galaxy Tab S shows innovation in short supply

Samsung's Galaxy Tab has good hardware, but isn't a game-changing product

Samsung's Galaxy Tab S tablets lack standout features to wow customers, a sign that innovation is in short supply in a slowing tablet market that is full of look-alikes.

Samsung Thursday announced and highlighted the screen quality and thinness of the new Galaxy Tab S, but other features of the device are too limited to make it a game-changing product, analysts said. The Tab S is a tough sell in a market split between generic low-cost Android tablets and the high end of the market controlled by Apple.

Tablets are becoming thinner and getting incremental upgrades that include better screens, cameras and storage, but those features don't excite customers. Other than the new Super AMOLED screen, Samsung played it safe with mostly generic features in the Tab S, as it tries to take on Apple in the high end of the market.

"I think there's a bit of hardware innovation challenge," said Bob O'Donnell, principal analyst at Technalysis Research.

The features offered by Samsung's new tablet provide little impetus for people to upgrade, O'Donnell said. Tablets -- particularly with the Android OS -- are becoming increasingly commoditized, and now buyers are showing interest in phablets and also 2-in-1 devices, which can function as tablets and laptops. Tablet shipments rose by just 3.9 percent in this year's first quarter compared to the same quarter in 2013.

"We haven't seen people upgrading their tablets as much as some people thought," O'Donnell said.

The Tab S models -- which come in screen sizes of 10.5 and 8.4 inches -- have a resolution of 2560 x 1600 pixels. Samsung claims the screens are the best on tablets to date.

Screen quality is key, considering that content consumption is what tablets are mostly used for. But with starting prices of US$399 for the 8.4-inch tablet and $499 for the 10.5-inch tablet, the Tab S could be considered expensive by many users, said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar Worldpanel.

"My main concern is that there are many tablets that have a good enough screen for a much lower price, including within the Samsung range. According to our data, consumers who do not have a tablet are unclear about their value add and unsure about the financial investment they require. They remain for most a nice-to-have, not a must-have," Milanesi said.

There is room for innovation in tablets, she said.

"Flexible displays and dual displays will also help on form factors, but it will be a few years out before those devices get to mass-market price points," Milanesi said.

Meanwhile, Android tablets lag behind Apple's iPads in the transition to 64-bit chips and operating systems. The Tab S launched with 32-bit processors. Sixty-four-bit processors are expected to be in smartphones and tablets by year end. Google could announce a 64-bit version of the Android OS at its I/O conference later this month.

A 64-bit Tab S with the requisite amount of internal memory could have been more attractive to buyers, as it would have brought performance benefits, analysts said. Even without additional memory, a 64-bit chip could have caused some waves.

"It's nice to have it. It's a spec thing. You don't get benefits from 64-bit if you don't have more memory," O'Donnell said.

But in a competitive market, simply getting new products out the door matters a lot.

"At the end of the day I think the launch had more to do with getting in the market with yet another tablet before Apple revamps the current iPad models and possibly launches the rumored 12-inch version," Milanesi said.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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