Samsung is moving quickly to diversify its phone line, with variants of the S4 popping out of the woodwork left and right, including the Galaxy S4 Zoom, which features a rumored 10x optical zoom on its rear camera. Today the Galaxy S4 Active, a ruggedized, smaller version of the flagship S4 has hit the Bluetooth Special Interest Group for certification, which means it could be coming along shortly, too.
The S4 Active is supposedly a water- and dust-resistant phone designed for use with an active lifestyle, or in outdoor conditions where generally phones don’t fare very well. The S4 Active would compete head-to-head with Sony’s latest lineup of phones, including the Xperia ZR announced today, which is a smaller version of the Xperia Z with slightly less impressive specs. It’s submersible in water for up to 1.5 meters, however, which pits it against the Active’s rumored feature set.
Both the Active and the Zoom S4 variants remind me of how companies are diversifying in another crowded, near saturated market: point-and-shoot cameras. Manufacturers regularly highlight the long zoom and rugged versions of their devices, as these are areas where consumers feel they need more than what’s available to them on the smartphone devices they carry around every day.
Manufacturers like Sony and Samsung moving in this direction with their devices marks an attempt to broaden their lineup’s appeal vs. other similar competitors, but also encroaches on the territory of single-purpose devices like the camera. And the market is likely to get more crowded, not less, as Google has been teasing devices that can withstand harsh environmental forces coming from its Motorola acquisition, through executive statements.
I said previously that Samsung is essentially preparing a phone for every feature to compete with any unique advantage its rivals may try, and the S4 Active is definitely that. But these variant devices also have the potential to act as advance market research for tech that can be adopted back into a flagship device: if any is particularly successful, it provides a roadmap for Samsung about what will draw customers to the S5 or beyond.
The S4 Active getting its Bluetooth certification means it’s likely to get a consumer reveal before too long, so we should see exactly how far Samsung has taken the rugged phone concept soon.