Looking at the Samsung Galaxy S4 Launch from a NFC, Security & ID Perspective

With the launch of Samsung's new flagship next week, the Galaxy S4, I thought it time to put down some thoughts regarding what we might expect, what might it bring that we don't expect, and what impact both this device and Samsung overall might have on the market in 2013.  I think it goes without saying that Samsung will be pushing the boat out with this one.  It has built a leading position in smartphones and it has seen what has happened to its rivals who don't live up to the hype and expectation with each launch.

In terms of where Samsung is positioned now, I think MNOs will view it as it does Apple – as a necessary evil.  Any carrier not supporting the S4 will lose out as subscribers move to those that do.  I would stress that this is the MNOs own fault though, they have dithered in many different respects and still maintain some form of unfounded superiority complex which they should have moved on from 10 years ago when 3G came to the fore.

I have written in some of our client services that from a NFC/payments perspective, last week's Samsung and Visa announcement was massive, potentially a game changer for how this sector develops.  I would go further and say that it is also a bell weather test for how the MNOs feel towards Samsung’s new position as a brand power.  Dare they try and force Samsung to shut down the embedded secure element?

I don't think they will, the S4 has too much consumer appeal and cache as possibly the best handset coming out this year and both Samsung and the MNOs know this.  How far might Samsung go with their push into the NFC and transaction space?  It could be that we see a Visa payWave app preinstalled (although I think that this is unlikely); perhaps more likely is that a possible wallet may be launched with the device, something to rival to Apple's Passbook.  If Samsung is truely ahead of the game then it will bring other service providers (e.g. major retailers, brands, maybe transportation) to the table either at or soon after launch.

Conversely, despite their reservations, I would expect that the S4 will be the flagship launch device for MNO-led payment services and wallets over the next six months.  Other service providers and equipment manufacturers will be looking at cashing in on its tech-led consumer appeal as well.  It could be used to launch and/or promote new capabilities from hardware and platform partners, e.g. automotive, looking to show-off new NFC-based features and capabilities (tap and synch, tap and go navigation, tap and pair for handsfree, tap and stream audio - the list goes on).  Will these be announced at launch or in the following weeks – I suspect the latter.  I think beyond automotive, home entertainment and automation develoeprs are a little further back in terms of market readiness but there could well be some new gaming related apps in the pipeline.

It will also be notable as to who is the supplier of the NFC chips.  It has been NXP to date who has led the charge and been Samsung's NFC supplier, however, Broadcom (controllers) and Oberthur/STMicro (secure elements) will have been keen to maintain their recent momentum with design wins.  Inside Secure is still in the game and is due a major win although I feel that this is less likely for them.

The other point that springs to mind relates to the SAFE and Knox capabilities targeting enterprise and highlighting security.  With BYOD proliferating I would expect SAFE to be a standard feature on the S4.  It may be that Samsung looks to enhance this angle with some brand new security features.  I am thinking in terms of security embedded into the hardware platform but I would not be surprised if something more user-facing, such as a fingerprint reader, was also included.  Samsung has been keen to implement eye-catching features and tech and something like this would certainly be a talking point whilst also providing a new angle for app developers and its own software team to innovate.