Kanye West helps launch Samsung's Galaxy Note II

TecTile NFC app gets update also

Galaxy Note II NFC
Samsung upgraded its TecTile app, which programs NFC tags for use with devices like the new Galaxy Note II. Image: Matt Hamblen

NEW YORK -- Performer Kanye West was on hand Wednesday night when Samsung officially launched the 5.5-in. Galaxy Note II at an elaborate New York event that capped weeks of pre-release disclosures about the device's capabilities.

The Note II, a mix of a smartphone and a tablet with an improved digital stylus called the S Pen, will be available from Sprint starting Thursday for $300 with a two-year contract. AT&T will begin selling it at the same price on Nov. 9.

T-Mobile USA will sell the Note II for $370 after a $50 rebate with a contract. (Verizon Wireless and U.S. Cellular will also sell it, Samsung said, but prices and launch dates aren't known.)

Samsung officials noted that the original Note device quickly sold 10 million copies, despite plenty of initial ridicule from reviewers and analysts. "People were perplexed," said Kevin Packingham, chief product officer for Samsung Mobile U.S. "It didn't get rave reviews right off the bat."

Earlier in the day, Samsung released Version 3.0 of its TecTile near field communication (NFC) app on the Google Play store. The app, first released four months ago, works with NFC-ready stick-on tags that can be programmed to perform tasks automatically when users tap them with NFC smartphones.

Analysts see TecTile stickers, which are available for $14.95 for a package of five from wireless carriers and at Samsung.com, as a more elaborate form of QR code. When an NFC smartphone hovers close to a TecTile sticker, it will read the sticker's data and then do whatever the tag is programmed to do -- such as activate Bluetooth or launch an app.

Officials at the launch event said the stickers can even be used to automatically send text messages.

And retailers could use TecTile tags like QR codes and program them to transmit information about products to shoppers' smartphones

Version 3.0 of the TecTile app includes the ability to lock the information stored on a sticker so it can't be changed -- though tags can also be left unlocked for future rewrites.

Analysts at the Wednesday event said it's not clear how quickly TecTile will catch on, since the stickers are more expensive than QR code stickers, which transmit data via a phone's optical scanning capability. Compared to QR symbols, TecTile stickers have more flexibility in terms of what they can be programmed to do, and they can store more data, according to Samsung.

The TecTile sticker is an example of how Samsung is trying to innovate, and also to show how its innovation has made it the largest maker of phones both globally and in the United States.

Although the Galaxy Note II launch was attended by hundreds of journalists and analysts, the event was somewhat anticlimactic because weeks of early reports on the device's features and functions had built up the level of anticipation.

After using the Galaxy Note II for several days, Computerworld blogger JR Raphael said in a review that he liked the quality of the device's display and the responsiveness of its stylus, but he also said it's a bit big and bulky and its interface is busy.

Samsung's event revealed that the manufacturer is willing to spend heavily to promote its devices, including the popular Galaxy S III smartphone and the Note II. In addition to bringing West to the event, Samsung has begun TV promotions featuring NBA star Lebron James of the Miami Heat.

Samsung officials also said they have put $35 billion into an "innovation pipeline" for research and development of new devices in coming years.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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