When the technology and Wall Street pundits weighed in with their first impressions of the Galaxy S4 smartphone that Samsung unveiled Thursday, they framed their comments in the metaphor of a classic bout between Apple and its main rival. Did Samsung knock out Apple with an innovation it can’t match? Will Samsung’s bulging basket of goodies win over customers? And, of course, there were the inevitable comparisons of showmanship: Samsung’s bevy of Broadway actors at Radio City Music Hall vs. the man in blue jeans and black turtleneck saying, “One more thing…”
But if you reframe the way you evaluate Samsung’s top-of-the-line smartphone, it becomes clear that there is a winner: the mobile ecosystem. And that makes this good and important news for consumers and the financial services industry. As Mary Monahan wrote in her February analysis of trends driving mobile imaging, 2012 marked the turning point when mobile-phone owners were more likely to tote a smartphone than a feature phone (52% vs. 49%). Whether you believe the S4 is truly innovative or feature creep, the reality is that this device only speeds the day when virtually every American will tote a smartphone and will use it in everyday ways for monitoring and managing their finances. Is an individual consumer likely to base a phone-buying decision on the fact that the S4 boasts 13- and 2-megapixel cameras, eight core processors, 441-pixel retinal display, microSD expandable up to 64 gigs, dual-camera display, and so forth? Is that significantly better than the iPhone 5? Maybe not. But the fact that the two leading smartphone manufacturers have raised the bar on the technological quality of power of smartphones means that all rivals must raise their game.
In short order a critical mass of smartphones will have those capabilities. And because these devices are more powerful, the financial services industry can be even more innovative with things such as mobile deposit, mobile bill pay, document scanning, “face-to-face” customer service with video, card-not-present online and mobile purchases, digital account opening, financial alerts that can be evaluated with a hovering fingertip, and the overall speed and quality of conducting financial transactions on a mobile device. Don’t forget that arguably the most captivating mobile-banking feature to date – mobile deposit – truly couldn’t take off until 2-megapixel cameras became common features.
As the pundits rightfully noted, consumers might not discern much additional quality when they take snapshots at the beach. But they are likely to find their smartphones are a whole lot more useful and essential when they can photograph checks in low light, capture documents with tiny legal fine print, or scan documents that range in size from a driver’s license to a poster – and then process that information in the blink of an eye to satisfy our demand for fast transactions. So, who’s the winner of the latest round of Samsung vs. Apple bout? Consumers.