The doors to this year's Mobile World Congress have just barely been opened, but you might say the show is already won. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, it's Samsung doing the winning. For those who were far too busy enjoying their Saturday evenings to notice, I should point out that Samsung has just taken the wraps off of the world's largest smartphone. The global version of Galaxy Note 8.0's fantastically (hilariously?) large display is indeed embedded onto a device that will not only surf the soothing waters of the world wide web, but also make phone calls for those brazen enough to toss it upside their noggin'.
The question, obviously, is "Why? But as I let the announcement wash over me, the answer became all too clear: "Because it can."
You see, Samsung is no longer beholden to some of the same resource restrictions that -- say, HTC -- are. Outside of Apple, it's essentially the only major manufacturer in the smartphone universe that's pulling in meaningful profits. The marketing budget alone of this company outclasses the R&D budget of some of its (very formidable) opponents. Tangible reports suggest an astonishing $12 billion per year -- "more than Apple, Microsoft, HP, Dell and Coca Cola combined." The Galaxy Note 8.0 wasn't built because Samsung expects the world to soon eschew 4.7-inch displays for even larger ones; it was built because it's absurd. Because it's audacious. Because it's unique. And in doing so, it has created one of only a smattering of devices that even the casual observer of technology will remark on as they waltz into work on Monday morning.
A longtime sports radio personality (Colin Cowherd, if you're curious) once said the following: "You either have to be good, or you have to be interesting -- but not necessarily both at the same time." No matter which way you look at it, this illogicality is at least one of the two.
It wasn't that long ago -- June of 2010, as I recall it -- that I was holding the preposterous thing shown above alongside my cranium. That was the ITG xpPhone (casually running Windows XP Embedded, no less), which at the time I called the size of "outrageous" without receiving any questions whatsoever about my sanity. It lived in a world where the 5-inch Dell Streak was being routinely chatted about for pushing the very definition of what kind of form factor a smartphone could accompany. In that era, these hulks were too thick, too exhausting and too uncouth to grab any real market share, despite garnering plenty of brand recognition for the outfits who were willing to give it a whirl.
Samsung built the Note 8.0 for the same core reason that Google built the incongruously-priced Chromebook Pixel.
Which brings us to where we are today. Pundits would probably go so far as to say that this isn't an ongoing race involving the iPhone and Android, but a race involving Apple and Samsung. Even the most lauded of Android handsets seem to be almost instantly overlooked by the mainstream public, regardless of how much praise is heaped upon them by the adoring tech media. In a world where it's almost comically easy for technology consumers to truly educate themselves about available devices in an unfiltered manner, Samsung's skyrocketing growth in the industry proves that overbearing advertisements still work. Brand recognition is still vital. And, most importantly, if you see / hear something long enough... you start to believe it as fact.
"You either have to be good, or you have to be interesting -- but not necessarily both at the same time."
I'm not saying that the Note 8.0 won't be a stellar smartphone. I'm also not promising you that it will be. But what I'm absolutely certain of is that Samsung didn't create this because it believes the majority of consumers are going to bring back Sidetalking the way The Harlem Shake has been resurrected.
It built it for the same core reason that Google built the incongruously-priced Chromebook Pixel: to suck the masses into the overarching brand, only to sell them on something smaller, cheaper and entirely more rational. Make no mistake about it -- the Galaxy brand just got a lot stronger, regardless of whether a single soul dares to make a call in public using the Note 8.0.