Samsung has always been a company obsessed with innovation. Here are 10 things they brought to mobiles before anyone else...

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Samsung has always been a company obsessed with innovating. From the very first introduction of the Galaxy S back in 2010, each of its smartphones has been packed with fresh features and functions designed to improve your life in some new and unique way. Many of these innovations have been so functional that they’ve since become standard on all smartphones, with competitors rushing to keep up.

With Samsung’s latest hardware set to be unveiled at an event on 21 February, we’re getting a bit excited. What could the next innovation be? We’ll have to wait to find out, but in the meantime we’ve been taking a stroll down memory lane, rounding up ten things that Samsung brought to mobile before anyone else…

Samsung’s big firsts…

1. LTE 4G
The Samsung Craft SCH-r900 became the world’s first LTE-enabled phone when it landed in late 2010. At that point LTE networks were still in the testing phase in the UK and the US so the phone was very much ahead of its time, but that only serves to show one thing: Samsung’s willingness to bring cutting edge tech to early adopters. Now, if you’re thinking that the HTC Evo was the world’s first ‘4G’ phone, well, you’re still absolutely correct. But HTC’s handset used the rival Wimax service rather than LTE, the latter of which went on to become the world standard for 4G networks.

14070-left2. MP3 playback
The Siemens SL45 is often quoted as being the first phone with MP3 capabilities, but that accolade actually belongs to Samsung. In August 1999, Samsung released the SPH-M2100 in South Korea. While it was essentially a phone and an MP3 player melded together into a single device, the fact remains that it was the first phone ever to support MP3 playback. Even more impressive, it was incredibly energy efficient, supporting 11 hours of playback according to Samsung… Which seems a little overboard given that the inbuilt memory only held about 20 minutes of music.

3. Solar Power
Another one never to have made it to UK shores (and frankly, what use do we have for anything that requires constant sunshine?!), but the Samsung Guru E1107 was the first phone ever to use solar power. The little Samsung Guru arrived in 2009, and was designed for emerging markets where mains power isn’t always stable.

It had a solar panel on its back to charge the battery, with an hour’s worth of charge netting you about 5 minutes on a call – not too shabby for 2009. Sadly though, the tech seems to have disappeared since. Solar tech only improves as time marches on, so could we see Samsung revisit this idea sometime in the future?

4. First projector phone
The Galaxy Beam came out of the blue when Samsung unveiled it at Mobile World Congress in 2012. It was hailed as the first phone with a built-in projector, but it wasn’t really. In fact, it wasn’t even the first Samsung Galaxy Beam! Confused? The first generation of the smartphone came out in Singapore in 2010, with a similar 15 lumen projector that could display images up to 50 inches in size. The phone itself lent itself more to the midrange of the market, but the projector feature was widely regarded as a success, so don’t count out the possibility of Samsung returning to this idea either.

5. Samsung Power Sleep
Power Sleep drifted a little under the radar considering how incredibly mind-boggling the technology is. What is it? A simple alarm app on the surface, where your input begins and ends with setting your alarm and going to sleep. But while you’re resting, the Power Sleep app donates a small portion of your phone’s computing power to a supercloud computer at the University of Vienna, to be used for research on curing diseases such as Alzheimer’s. So if you’ve always wanted to participate in scientific research for a greater good, Power Sleep is your chance.

6. Eye-tracking
Although the Galaxy S4 was widely reported as the debut for Samsung’s eye-tracking technology, it actually appeared first in the Galaxy S III, believe it or not. Under the guise of ‘Smart Stay’, the S III used the front-facing camera to monitor when you were looking at your phone, ensuring that the display wouldn’t go to sleep as long as you were using it.

 

‘The Power Sleep app donates a small
portion of your phone’s computing power to a supercloud
computer at the University of Vienna…’

 

Samsung expanded that technology further for the S4, implementing true eye-tracking so that as you looked up and down the screen, the display would scroll for you automatically. It’s pioneering stuff, but although the technology worked we haven’t seen or heard much of it since. We wouldn’t be surprised to see it come back in future devices, however, what with the emergence of VR tech set to bring eye-tracking tech to the fore.

7. First heart-rate monitor
Although S Health first appeared on the Galaxy S4, it wasn’t until the release of the S5 in April 2014 that Samsung really fleshed out the idea of their all-encompassing health app. A huge part of that was the optical heart-rate monitor on the back of the Galaxy S5, which was the very first of its kind to be built into a smartphone. The HR monitor was surprisingly accurate and, combined with S Health, it could also take a reading on your stress levels as well as your SpO2 percentage (essentially, how oxygenated your blood is). Since then we’ve seen optical heart-rate monitors incorporated into a huge range of mobile devices, from fitness trackers to more smartphones.

8. Multi-window Multi-tasking
Running multiple programs at the same time on the same screen certainly hasn’t been anything new to anyone who has worked with a PC in their lifetime, but Samsung was the first to make it work on a smartphone. Amazingly, it first appeared way back on the Galaxy S4 – long before Google or Apple implemented it into their own operating systems – where all you had to do was touch and hold the recent apps button to choose two apps you wanted to open side-by-side. The tech really came into its own in combination with the extra screen size and stylus provided by the Galaxy Note series, but as far as mobile tech firsts go, this is a big one and it belongs to Samsung.

9. Gear VR
As anyone who’s experienced the Samsung Gear VR will tell you: this is groundbreaking technology. Although Google Cardboard gave most smartphone users a practical (if basic) method of experiencing VR on the cheap, the Gear VR is the first dedicated virtual reality head-mounted display (HMD) ever made for a smartphone. It’s compatible with all four of Samsung’s current flagship devices (and more than likely the next Galaxy devices), using the display and computing power of your Samsung smartphone to run the simulation and the Gear VR to do the rest. The most amazing thing about the Gear VR? Samsung’s original patent for a smartphone HMD was submitted way back in 2005, long before Oculus reignited public interest in virtual reality with its Kickstarter-funded ‘Rift’ HMD. How’s that for innovative vision?

10. Curved display phone
Both Samsung and LG have been pioneering the use of curved displays for years and years now, but Samsung pipped their compatriots to the post when it came to the first smartphone with a curved display. Just. The Samsung Galaxy Round arrived on 10 October, 2013 – just 17 days before LG’s G Flex. Among its very solid technical specifications, it featured a beautiful, 5.7-inch, horizontally concave 1080p OLED display. The Galaxy Round was primarily designed to test how interested the public would be in such a device, and though the Galaxy Round wasn’t especially successful in its own right, it was an important stepping stone on the creative journey that lead to the spectacular Samsung Galaxy S6 edge.

Samsung talks mobile tech: Check out our interview with Samsung’s Ines van Gennip as she reveals the future of smartphones!

By Pete Dreyer