Samsung Launches Two New Smartphones, Mobile Wallet

Payment System to Launch This Summer With Visa, Mastercard

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Samsung S6 Edge
Samsung S6 Edge

As Samsung strains under pressure from Apple, the Korean tech giant is banking its mobile future on a pair of new devices and a mobile payment system, coming this summer, that could have a broader retail reach than that of its rival.

On Sunday, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S6, its latest flagship smartphone, and the Galaxy S6 Edge, a model with a curved edge screen. Both come with installed with Samsung Pay, the company's anticipated entrance into mobile payments. The company said the touchless payment system works with magnetic card reading technology, incorporated from its recent purchase of LoopPay, as well as with near-field communication, the tool used by offerings from Apple and Google.

"It's built right in," JK Shin, Samsung's president and CEO, said on stage about the payment technology. "That's a design with purpose. That's the future."

The executive emphasized the design features of the devices, which arrive after a devastating year for Samsung's mobile business. It lost its seat atop the smartphone market, thanks to pressure from Apple and Chinese manufacturers like Xiaomi. During the fourth quarter, Samsung shipped about as many phones as Apple, depending on which analysts you read, giving each roughly one out of every five phones worldwide. The prior year, Samsung held 29% market share and a 12 percentage point edge over Apple.

"Yes, it's a crowded market. You may have noticed," Mr. Chin said. "Our goal was simple: the most beautiful smartphones in Samsung's history and the most advanced smartphones in the whole world."

Samsung Pay will launch in the U.S. and Korea this summer. Samsung is working with card companies MasterCard and Visa (Apple launched Pay with those two and American Express) and financial institutions American Express, Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase and U.S. Bank. Samsung claimed it "has the potential" of being accepted at over 30 million retail locations worldwide.

Thousands packed into a conference center to see the devices, introduced with high-production fanfare, but little of Samsung's gaudier stagecraft of earlier launches. Instead, the company focused on the product's specifications, which include new wireless charging capabilities. Only four executives took the stage, two of them women.

Samsung even fit in some playful jibes at Apple. Lines about better battery charging than iPhones elicited applause, as did a side-by-side comparison of video shooting features. Younghee Lee, executive VP for Samsung's mobile division and a former L'Oreal marketer, introduced the unique metal design behind the two phones with a cheeky reference to the trumped up controversy around iPhone devices bending. "This metal won't bend," she said. Samsung also indirectly disparaged Apple Pay, noting the limited reach of NFC technology.

Some analysts were skeptical the hardware and payments advancements were enough to resuscitate Samsung. Its payments offering arrives a week after Google, which makes the Android software used by Samsung, brokered a deal to expand its mobile wallet product.

"Despite a new hardware design and some software innovation, there's a risk Samsung's 2015 flagship devices are insufficient for the company to regain brand leadership among consumers and businesses looking for high-end smartphone experiences," Thomas Husson, a Forrester analyst, said in a note.

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