Can a holographic screen help a phone stand out in a crowd?

Published 4:18 pm Thursday, November 1, 2018

NEW YORK — Most leading phones offer the same basics: Big screens, decent battery life and good cameras. So when a newcomer brings something innovative to the party, why is it difficult to break through a phone market dominated by Apple and Samsung?

One such smartphone comes out this week from Red, a company with roots in digital cameras for movie productions. The new Hydrogen One has a holographic screen that produces 3-D visuals without needing special glasses. It is launching with two major movies converted to this format and allows users to create and share their own videos shot with the phone.

Red’s goals are modest — about 16 million units a year, based on Red’s stated target of 0.5 percent of Samsung’s sales. But Red will need customers beyond the tech elite and camera buffs; it’ll need their friends and friends of their friends. It doesn’t help that the Hydrogen One carries a hefty $1,295 price tag.

“The Red Hydrogen One stands little chance of upsetting the smartphone status quo,” said Geoff Blaber, a research analyst at CCS Insight.

Chipping away at Apple’s and Samsung’s dominance is much harder than it used to be because phone innovation isn’t so much about hardware any more, Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi said. What matters more, she said, is the software and artificial intelligence behind it.

Consider Apple’s new iPhones. Sure, the new XR and XS models all have decent screens, battery life and cameras. But Apple has also been emphasizing such software-based features as augmented reality, artificial intelligence and automation using the Siri digital assistant. Or take Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9. Signature features include the use of AI to automatically fine-tune images.