Apple 2.0

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Live from Radio City Music Hall: Samsung's Galaxy S4

March 14, 2013: 7:14 PM ET

The drumroll for Samsung's new phone is bigger than anything Apple ever produced

Inside Radio City Music Hall. Photo: PED

Inside Radio City Music Hall. Photo: PED

FORTUNE -- The line outside Radio City Music Hall was long -- longer than any Apple (AAPL) iPhone or iPad launch I've covered. (YouTube video: Walking the line.)

The press presence was ridiculous -- there were three media doors, one for video, two for print, and it still took more than an hour to get in. The rumor in the non-press line (mostly industry guys who were invited by Samsung) was that the company had lined up some A-list entertainment: namely, Justin Timberlake. (Spoiler alert: the rumor was not true, but as a consolation check out Timberlake in a tofu suit on the March 9 Saturday Night Live.)

[UPDATE: The official video of the event is now available on YouTube: Samsung Galaxy S 4 Full UNPACKED 2013.]

7:10 The lights dim. The show begins. The host, backed by a full orchestra, is Will Chase, a Broadway actor who got his big break as an understudy in the original production of Rent. Welcomes the audience in the hall and the folks in Times Square. Introduces president of Samsung Electronics IT something or other, JK Shin.

Shin speaks with a Korean accent. He talks about innovation and listening to what customers want. Hints at what's coming. Touchless interfaces. Eye scroll. Dual cameras. Translator. Health. Enhanced security. Synched video. "These ideas have been conceived from our observations of real life." (The implied contrast is to Apple telling the public what it doesn't know it wants.)

Galaxy S4

Galaxy S4

7:18 The reveal: Jeremy, the kid from the TV ads, trots out with the box. Inside: Samsung Galaxy S4: Life companion. "Slimmer yet stronger. Simply amazing." Plan is to roll out to 327 mobile operators starting end of April. i.e. a month an a half from now. No mention of a price point.

More talk of innovations from Shin, then: Thank you very much. Goes to video.

Specs. Click to enlarge.

Specs. Click to enlarge.

7:21 Chase introduces Ryan Bidan director of product marketing. They're going to go over the specs. 140.1mm (length), 71.8mm (width), 7.7mm (depth), and 138 grams (weight). [The iPhone 5 is lighter (112 g) and thinner (7.6 mm) but only 4 inches in diagonal to the S4's 4.99.] super AMOLED screen, whatever that means. 441 ppi (scattering of applause). Polycarbonate case in two colors: black "mist" and white "frost." IR LED for remote control. Camera on back is 13 megapixel. The front facing is 2 megapixels. Ships with 2GB RAM. MicroSD slot for 64GB more. Temperature and humidity sensors. 2,600 mAh removable battery.

7:26 Goes to the entertainment portion. A little vignette from Upper West Side. Stacey twirling in a stage. Dad can't take good pix without the right phone. Shows off dual camera mode so Dad can be in the video with his son. Adding sound to video or photos. (Smattering of applause.) Jeremy can really tap dance! He gets whoops and cheers and what will turn out to be the biggest applause of the night. Drama shot: 100 shots in 4 seconds to make a collage. Or erase people who walked into the frame.

7:33 Second vignette: Two guys backpacking through Asia. Trying to find a museum in Shangai. Uses S Translator to get directions from a guy who only speaks Chinese. Understands 9 languages (10 with British), text to speech and vice versa. Optical reader app can translate written words. Has 3,000 embedded standard sentences. Adapt display adjusts to light.

7:44 Third vignette: Automotive and others. Driving directions, phone calls etc. with S Voice. An actress called Vivanne does a walk-on to introduce something call Hub. Awkward transition to explain Knox, the security system. Keeps business stuff separate from home.

7:48 New scene: Jenny and the girls in Miami having a bachelorette party. Looking for a song for the wedding. The group play feature lets them share music (for wedding) through as many as eight devices. The women break out into an impromptu line dance. Not exactly Rockette stuff. Fiancee Matt shows up to show off a dual video/voice chat feature. (The audience is starting to mumble.)

7:53 Awkward transition to S Health. With S band, scale and heart rate monitor can keep track of weight etc. Can turn data into a report. Rattles off some cases etc. S-U Cover that shows key info on the top.

The hands-on mosh pit. Photo: PED

The hands-on mosh pit. Photo: PED

7:56 That concludes our show. Looks like a wrap up. So much for the much-hyped eye tracking software. So much for the Justin Timberlake rumor.

The cast comes out for a bow. The orchestra rises from the pit. The MC offers the audience a hands on. Hard to imagine how thats's going to work. UPDATE 2: It didn't.

All in all, an information-packed presentation scripted as a Broadway show that would have bombed in New Haven. It's hard to imagine it holding the crowd's attention in Time's Square. The array of features is certainly impressive. What's harder to know is whether most users will bother to drill deep enough to learn how to use them.

UPDATE 3: For a spirited review of the event as theater, check out Molly Wood for CNET: Samsung GS4 launch: Tone-deaf and shockingly sexist.

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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