Samsung Electronics. Picture: REUTERS/KIM HONG
Samsung Electronics. Picture: REUTERS/KIM HONG

Seoul — Samsung Electronics will create an all-screen front for the Galaxy S8 smartphones coming out next year and scrap the physical home button, people with direct knowledge of the matter said.

The bezel-less displays will provide more viewing space while a virtual home button will be buried in the glass in the lower section, the people said, asking not to be identified because the details had not been released. The new phones will only come with wraparound displays using organic light-emitting diode (LED) technology, the people said.

Samsung needs the Galaxy S8 to be a hit after suffering through the Note 7 debacle that tarnished its brand, led to an embarrassing recall and may cost the company more than $6bn. The world’s biggest smartphone seller is already under pressure from Chinese vendors while Apple is said to be planning to adopt OLED screens, which are thinner and use less power than liquid-crystal screens while also offering deeper colours.

While Samsung is targeting a March release of the S8, that could be delayed until April, the people said. Samsung is adopting tougher testing procedures in the wake of the Note 7 debacle that could push back the launch by about a month, one of the people said.

"Since the phones have a record of burning up, it needs time for these phones to be verified as safe. How safe the phones turn out to be is more important than any hardware innovation," said Greg Roh, an analyst at HMC Investment Securities. "It will take about a month or two for people to actually start opening their pockets," he said.

Samsung declined to comment.

For years, manufacturers have been seeking ways to reduce the size of bezels — which frame the screen and typically provide space for speakers, buttons and cameras — in order to make smartphones smaller while increasing the size of their displays.

Samsung is not the first to do away with the feature. In October, China’s Xiaomi showed off its Mi Mix concept phone developed with designer Philippe Starck that has a display covering 91% of the front.

Samsung has built a physical home button into every previous model in the Galaxy S range. Apple moved to a pressure-sensitive home button with the iPhone 7 that provides a vibrating sensation when pressed instead of an actual click.

Apple plans to ship at least one iPhone using OLED next year, featuring a new look that extends glass from the display to the device’s back and edges, a person familiar with the plan said in November. It is also said to plan a virtual home button.

The changes to Samsung’s screens will be housed in devices of a similar size to the preceding model, the 5.1-inch S7 and 5.5-inch S7 Edge, the people said. Some of the phones will use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 chips while others will feature Samsung’s own Exynos processors, the people said.

Samsung also plans to introduce an upgraded digital assistant that will use voice commands to send text messages, make phone calls and provide daily appointment scheduling. The Suwon, South Korea-based company acquired US-based artificial-intelligence software company Viv Labs in October and said in November that its new S8 would come with artificial intelligence-enabled features "significantly differentiated" from those in the market. Viv was founded by the developers of Apple’s Siri.

In the three months ended September, Samsung reported a 17% slump in net income from the effect of the Note 7 recall. The company has predicted a multibillion dollar hit to earnings in the December and March quarters as well.

The company is considering scrapping plans for a dual-camera on the S8 due to higher manufacturing costs, one of the people said.


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