Samsung took center stage at the Radio City Music Hall in New York on Thursday night to introduce the Galaxy S4, demonstrating a slew of unusual features that it hopes will win consumers away from Apple's iPhone.
Rather than explicitly pitching the phone as an Apple alternative as it did with the Galaxy S III, however, Samsung argued that the new features will help users achieve a "richer, simpler, more full life." The tagline for the phone was "Life companion."
After Samsung mobile chief J.K. Shin ran down some of those capabilities, which include automatically pausing video when users look away and taking photos with the front and back cameras simultaneously, a cast of nearly 20 actors and a full orchestra performed four scenes depicting how the phone can be used in everyday life.
In the first such vignette, a father at an elementary school talent show used the dual-camera functionality to photograph his family and his own reaction at the same time, superimposing his face onto the image of his son and wife.
The second scene demonstrated how the S4 can translate between nine different languages -- 10 if you separate British and North American English -- depicting a backpacker visiting Shanghai typing a question in English and playing a Chinese translation through the phone.
The next enactment showed Will Chase, a Broadway actor and the event emcee, using the phone's S Voice Drive feature while driving through Manhattan. S Voice allows users to take calls, check the weather, play music and perform other tasks without using their hands. Using just voice commands, Mr. Chase was able to get directions and receive a message from his agent about being cast in a Steven Spielberg movie.
The final scene portrayed a wedding party in Miami using the Group Play feature, which allows S4 owners to sync their phones to each play the same song at the same time. Group Play can also turn five phones into a five-channel surround sound system, according to Samsung director of product marketing Ryan Bidan.
Samsung said the Galaxy S4 can also automatically scrolls through emails and websites as users tilt the phone.
Samsung did not disclose a price for the S4. The company is the world's biggest maker of smart phones, shipping 215.8 million worldwide last year compared to 136.8 million iPhones, according to IDC. Samsung had nearly 40% of the global smartphone market in 2012 compared to 25% for Apple.
Anticipation around Samsung's latest smartphone salvo had built sufficiently that attendees lines up around Radio City Music Hall beforehand and eventually filled the venue up to its second mezzanine.
Like all Broadway shows, there was no guarantee that the S4 launch would go off without a hitch -- or guerrilla marketing efforts from rival phone-makers. While members of the media were waiting for the venue doors to open, women dressed in HTC garb handed out bottles of water and cans of Pringles with labels promoting the HTC One phone, which is expected to be released in the coming weeks.
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