Last week, Samsung held a small press event in New York City to brief members of the media on its two latest smartphones, the Galaxy S 6 and Galaxy S 6 edge, ahead of today's official device launch at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Samsung sent a number of product marketing and PR representatives to discuss the latest features and answer questions as journalists experimented with the two sleek new gadgets. However, it was Hong Yeo, senior designer with Samsung's Mobile Electronics Communications division, who provided perhaps the best insight on the new Galaxy S6 devices.
Yeo called the Galaxy S 6 initiative "the most exciting design project" he and his team have ever worked on and explained that the group's goal with the Galaxy S 6 devices was to "represent Samsung as not only a technological leader, but as a design leader."
For years, Samsung has been accused of copying the iPhone with its Galaxy S form factors, so all eyes are on Samsung's design team whenever a new Galaxy S device is released.
As such, the designer also broke the ice at the New York media event with a bit of levity. "I know it's not every day that you hear the words 'exciting design project' from an actual Samsung designer," Yeo said, possibly playing off of the market perception that Samsung's last Galaxy S device was somewhat uninspired, at least from a design perspective — or worse, that it was inspired by the iPhone.
"This really is a sign of things to change, and the Galaxy S 6 is just the beginning."
Darkness and Light, Warm and Cold, Metal and Glass
Within Samsung, the Galaxy S 6 initiative was dubbed "Project Zero," according to Yeo, who says he and his team were given carte blanche to create the company's next flagship smartphone.
"We were given the freedom to design our dream phone, and we were free to use any materials that we liked, as long as they met with our performance and our production standards," Yeo says.
Modern mobile phones just keep getting smaller and more compact, and this trend presents a unique challenge for designers, according to Yeo.
"One of the big challenges of being a mobile phone designer these days is the devices are getting thinner and thinner by the year," Yeo says. "If you take the traditional industrial design approach to it, you inevitably end up with a device that's very cold and very industrial."
With this in mind, Yeo says he set out to create a thin, light phone that's also welcoming and warm, colorful and bright.
"One of the key highlights of the Galaxy S 6 is the use of glass and metal," Yeo says. "It's not just any glass that we use, it's beautifully crafted, and we added a reflective structure underneath that glass that really captures the light movement."
Yeo, who spent his two years prior to joining Samsung as a lead designer for luxury sports car maker, McLaren, according to his LinkedIn page, appears to have drawn some inspiration from the experience; the design elements that pop when viewing a McLaren automobile are the long, sweeping curves, the glass, the metal and, very often, bright colors.
The same elements draw attention to the new Galaxy S 6 phones, and both models are available in four different color options. Both the Galaxy S 6 and S 6 edge are available in the quirkily named "white pearl," "black sapphire," and "gold platinum" color options. Each model also comes in an exclusive color; the S 6 is available in "blue topaz," while the S 6 edge comes in "green emerald."
The new Galaxy S 6 phones use Corning's Gorilla Glass 4 on both the front displays and rear sides, and they all glitter and shine under bright lights, thanks to that reflective undercoating, not unlike a piece of high-tech jewelry.
"Some of the colors we used are colors that you haven't seen before on a mobile phone," Yeo says, referring to the blue and green color options. "It really is a very gorgeous use of color, material and finish."
Inspiration for Galaxy S 6 edge's Curved Sides
Both sides of the Galaxy S 6 edge are curved, and though the right side appears to be slightly more curved than the left, due to the presence of additional keys on the left side, the phone is actually symmetrical, according to Philip Berne, Samsung's marketing manager of technical media.
The idea of using a curved side panel on a smartphone isn't new. Samsung announced its first device with one curved side, the Galaxy Note 4, last September. However, the design and function of the Galaxy S 6 edge is very different.
"We took a step back, we listened to what our customers were saying, and from the design point [of view], we wanted to reevaluate and refocus on what we wanted to communicate in term of our design philosophy and our new design language."
Yeo says that meant reevaluating the smartphone display to consider how people really use it, as well as how they look at their screens during regular use. The exercise eventually translated into making a phone with not one, but with two curved sides.
"What we [came up with] is an emotional form wrapped around a very different product than the world has ever seen before."
Galaxy S 6 Software UX Complements Hardware Design
Yeo says the hardware designers worked hand-in-hand with the software and user experience (UX) teams from the start of the Galaxy S 6 project.
"From a very early stage, the product designers got together with the UX designers, again to keep that singular voice and bring the beauty of the outside into the software environment, " Yeo says. "We really focused on refining and streamlining the experience."
Ultimately, that meant stripping out many of the extraneous features that packed previous versions of Samsung's Android "flavor," TouchWiz, and adding new UI features to the S 6 software, dubbed "edge UX."
"We reduced some of the features by more than 40 percent, and that's something that you notice when you go through the menus, and you go through all of the buttons," Yeo says. "It's streamlined and really easy to use."
"We also added what's called 'edge UX.' We took advantage of the physical nature of edge's curved glass, and that's a new tactile experience for our users."
The entire Galaxy S 6 project was about "a return to pure innovation," according to Yeo.
"The Galaxy S 6 and the Galaxy S 6 edge represent a new design era for us," Yeo says. "It's the new face of Samsung design, and it's not something that happened overnight, or even in the past few months. It's something that we've been working on for years."
The Galaxy S 6 and S 6 edge will be available in the United States starting in April, according to Samsung. Visit Samsung's website for more official details on both new devices.