Samsung late last night launched its latest flagship device, the Galaxy S III. The device comes at a key time for the Korean manufacturer, after it became the biggest mobile phone and smartphone vendor in the world in the first quarter 2012, according to IDC.

Samsung has come a long way since it launched its first mobile phone in 1993 in Korea. The launch of the Galaxy S III marks the beginning of a new era for Samsung: the leadership era. The Galaxy S III can play a major role in Samsung’s ongoing success, as it will continue the legacy of its predecessor, the Galaxy S II, in competing with the popular iPhone. Samsung is now the only company that can compete and challenge Apple in the smartphone segment.

The Galaxy S III continues to show what Samsung has been good at over the last few years: innovation in hardware and enhancements in the user interface and user experience. The 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED display will continue to differentiate Samsung’s offering from other manufacturers.

The definition and brightness of Samsung’s displays have been central to attracting consumers to a superior multimedia experience, and users can also record HD videos and take pictures at the same time. The device is extremely light, weighing only 133g, and comes with features such as the S Voice, S Beam, Direct Call, and the Dropbox cloud service with 50GB.

Despite probably being the best Android device on the market, I believe Samsung could have gone a lot further than just ticking the boxes with must-have features and top-end specifications. Samsung could have taken a bolder approach and seized the opportunity to lead in innovation of design and usability, where everyone fails to compete with Apple.

After the excellent performance of the previous version of the Galaxy S, Samsung needs to keep the momentum high, especially when its main competitor, Apple, is expected to launch a new device in 2012 that could be disruptive again.

Smartphone competition is no longer just a hardware race. It is a usability competition for the simplest and most pleasing experience with innovative features. The design of the Galaxy S III is little more than a facelift of the Galaxy Nexus. It feels less “plasticy” than the previous Galaxy S II, too, but it is not an eye-catching device that will overwhelm consumers. Hardware-wise, the Galaxy S II was a lot more disruptive than this version is today.

The key opportunity for Samsung, however, lies in the user experience and it is here that it needs to excel if it is to close the gap with Apple in terms of product aspiration. The Galaxy S III’s features are interesting but fail to create an easy, out-of-the-box experience that consumers will want to adopt immediately.

S Beam is probably the best example. By using NFC technology, the Galaxy S III will be able to share pictures and videos with other Galaxy S III’s at high speed, but the set-up process is rather complicated. Samsung is missing an opportunity to lead the “experience” race by simplifying the usability of the innovative features it includes on its devices, the ones that sound very interesting when presented at launch events but that consumers will seldom use, until the day Apple simplifies them and makes them effortless for end users.