Google Inc. (GOOG), Apple inc. (AAPL): Samsung Comes Up Short in the Next Evolution of the Smartphone Wars

The arms race for global smartphone superiority heated up once again Thursday night, as the second major smartphone launch of 2013 took place at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall. There, South Korean electronics giant Samsung lifted the curtain on the latest edition of its best-selling Galaxy line of smartphones — the Galaxy S4.

After a banner 2012 in which Samsung claimed the top spot for global smartphone and generated the majority of the profits among handset makers using Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG)‘s Android mobile OS, last night’s launch ushered in what’s likely to be the next chapter in Samsung’s amazing run in the smartphone space.

Much was made of what would and wouldn’t appear in the device in the week leading up to yesterday. Now that we know, here’s what investors and consumers will get in Samsung’s latest and greatest.

The Galaxy S4 unpacked
I was fortunate enough to attend the launch with a few fellow Fools, and one thing was abundantly clear: Samsung’s strategy with this phone centers mainly on software.

Although the basic OS was the Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean many expected, Samsung layered a number of new programs and features on top of it, all of which are aimed squarely at challenging arrival Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) in their perennial battle for handset dominance. Here’s a short list of some of the new software features Samsung packed into its latest handset.

Samsung repeatedly touted the idea that the S4 is more than simply a phone, calling it a “life companion.” Although that sounds more like a spouse than a piece of technology, the notion is clear that the Galaxy S4 is intended to cater to every aspect of its users’ increasingly mobile lives.

On the personal side of things, many of the new features center on the camera, and for good reason. The camera itself underwent a major upgrade this time around. The back-facing camera now comes in at a whopping 13 megapixels, and the front-facing camera a respectable 2 megapixels. The software supporting that camera comes with a bevy of features that allow the users to do things like use the front and back-facing camera in a single shot, include sound with pictures, and splice a sequence of images into a single frame. Definitely neat.

On the productivity side of things, Samsung touted its new Knox software, which completely segments a user’s personal and professional content. This idea lines Samsung up to further tap into the BYOD movement that’s gaining momentum with tech-savvy corporations. It’s also been done before. Canadian smartphone maker Research In Motion Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY) introduced a nearly identical feature called BlackBerry Balance when it launched its next-gen BB10 operating system in January.