If you missed the announcement yesterday, Samsung has a new Galaxy S22 phone lineup. As in previous years, there are three models to choose from, with prices ranging from $800 to nearly $2,000 with a slew of upgraded features.
There are new cameras, new screen sizes, new colors, and a semi-resurrection of the Note brand, all of which are designed to entice us to spend a thousand or more dollars on a new phone. As Samsung tries to persuade us that the S22 phones are the best made, the press release is replete with adjectives like “unrivaled,” “celebrated,” “unique,” “elegant,” and “reimagined.”
But, when you take a step back, there’s nothing particularly exciting about the Galaxy S22 or S22 Ultra. To be honest, Samsung could have simply skipped this release and no one would have noticed.
The cameras are a little better, the batteries last a little longer, and they’re a little faster. There’s very little reason for an S20 or S21 owner to upgrade and even fewer reasons for iPhone users to consider switching. It’s the same story as the iPhone 13—Samsung is releasing a new phone because they have to, not because there’s any reason for it to exist.
Features breed new features.
The Galaxy S22 phones have a lot of nice features, including some that iPhone users would want, but they’re the same handsets Samsung has been releasing for the past few years. 100X zoom, S-Pen support, AI camera modes, and super-fast charging are all nice, but they’re not game-changing must-have features in 2022.
Part of the issue with the S22 is that Samsung overburdens its phones with features before they’re ready, then improves them over successive generations. The Galaxy line was the first to offer periscope zoom, as well as 120Hz displays, stylus support, edge-to-edge designs, and other features. It’s difficult to get excited about last year’s new feature finally becoming functional.
Apple’s iPhone has the inverse problem. Almost all of its recent flagship features, such as Night and Macro Mode, OLED ProMotion displays, and 5G, were first seen on other devices, and felt more like catch-up features than upgrades. They’re nice to have, of course, but it’s starting to feel like upgrading our phones is becoming something we have to do rather than something we want to do.
After a decade of premium phones competing to outperform each other, we’ve reached a point of no return in terms of innovation. Sure, the S22 phones are stunning. The new Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip and OneUI 4 update will undoubtedly be welcome additions. And we already know that they all have excellent cameras. However, those features are expected in a flagship phone in 2022. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be surprised because it’s been so many generations since we’ve gotten a premium feature that wasn’t iterative or completely lifted from another phone.
The future is bland
It doesn’t just feature parity, but also feature stagnation. None of the recent smartphones have provided compelling reasons for users to upgrade beyond simply wanting the latest handsets, and even folding phones are struggling to provide compelling reasons for users to make the switch. The most recent iPhone 14 rumors, which include a hole-punch display, periscope camera, and a faster chip, don’t move the needle much either. Smartphones are stuck in a rut of updates that rely on incremental chip upgrades, new colors, and a camera feature or two that we’ll almost certainly never use. Even so, we’ll keep getting new ones year after year after year.
It’s not that people won’t be happy with their new S22 or iPhone 13. Every generation of smartphones is the best yet, and it’s always amazing how much power we have in our pockets. But there’s less reason to release new models every year as if they’re still revolutionary.
It is not due to a lack of features. The S22 and iPhone 13 have more sensors and chips than they know what to do with, such as Lidar, ultra-wideband, and the A15 chip’s Neural Engine, all of which have limited functionality but are marketed as significant new features. Perhaps Apple and Samsung are developing software that will eventually unlock their full potential, but it’s also possible that we’ve seen everything they’re capable of.
Perhaps folding phones are the way of the future, or perhaps AR headsets will show us all a new path forward. The S22 is quite nice. The iPhone 13 is as well. But it’s difficult to get excited about them when we’ve already seen everything just a year ago.