The iPhone is the iPhone, because Apple's phone gets roughly one update per year, and looks the same from carrier to carrier. The only Android phone that comes close to being an equivalent, in recognition and universal acceptance, is Samsung's Galaxy series. The newest version, the Galaxy SIII (or S3), was announced yesterday, to great fanfare. But why this one phone, among so many?
The main reason is that its predecessor, the Galaxy SII, was a bona fide international success. It's what helped Samsung end up splitting 99% of global handset profits with Apple. But there must be something more to it than just follow-up anticipation. I write a mostly weekly rumor roundup, and let me tell you, there isn't a week that went by in the last few months that I couldn't have packed the whole thing entirely with SIII rumors. But it's just one Android phone, and no particular aspect of its hardware wasn't going to be available on other phones. So what's the big deal?
After some anthropological surveys (that is, I went a really long way back in Google Reader), I hit upon the following explanations:
The SIII has roughly 45 "EXCLUSIVE!" stickers on its box
Most Android phones are announced with a few standard selling points: the size and resolution of the screen, the power of the processor and graphics chips, and maybe a few software niceties, such as a business-minded contact manager. Sometimes there's a big whammy, like the size and stylus of the Galaxy Note. But mostly, it's a faster, maybe prettier screen on which to read Gmail.
Not the SIII. This guy has "Pop up play," so you can watch a video while doing anything else on your phone. "Smart Stay" actually watches your eyes through the front-facing video camera. "S Voice" is a Siri-style voice assistant and dictation service, "Direct Call" calls the person you're texting if you put the phone to your ear in the middle of writing a text, and Flipboard, the popular social-media-as-magazine app for iOS, is a temporary exclusive on the SIII among Android phones.
Little bits of these features have occasionally leaked out, and some of the buzz around this phone comes from the understanding that Samsung is a manufacturer that likes to add its own touch to standard hardware models.
That huge freaking screen
Having something to set yourself apart is always helpful in marketing (unless it's an astonishingly short battery life). In the case of the SIII, one of the earliest semi-known facts was that it was going to have a big, crisp, brag-bait screen. It's 4.8 inches, has a Super AMOLED screen with Samsung's PenTile technology, shown at a 720p (a.k.a. Blu-Ray-ish) resolution.
It's smaller than the Galaxy Note, and we've seen phones launch with trend-busting sizes: the HTC EVO 4G and Samsung's own Galaxy Nexus come to mind. But this is, as mentioned before, the flagship product from a premiere smartphone maker, and Samsung is putting it out there: we think this is the size people want. It's some kind of water mark, but we don't know whether high or low until the next financial quarter.
Samsung has replaced Google as the Android mover-shaker
Here is an interesting pair of events.
On April 24, Google, the main provider of the free, open-source Android firmware, released Google Drive, a cloud storage service that gave every Google user (and therefore almost every Android user) 5 GB of free space for documents, photos, and whatever else they want to have available at any time.
On May 3, Samsung announced that buyers of the Galaxy SIII would receive 50 GB of free space, for at least two years, on Dropbox, the cloud storage service that many consider to be Google Drive's primary, pre-existing competitor. There is no doubt Samsung could have made the same deal with Google for Drive space, but Samsung chose to add its own pick for cloud storage support to Android, much as it did with its many other supplemental features.
The Galaxy SIII is, simply, the loudest, most attention-grabbing player on the team. There's a lot of room to debate whether it's actually the best player, or even the player that means the most for the Android franchise. But it's certainly going to be one to watch.