Samsung’s just announced a ton of new products: the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G is the company’s latest flagship and SmartTags are a Tile and (maybe) Apple AirTags competitor. But the real innovation, the thing that Samsung spent almost three minutes waxing poetically about during its 2021 Unpacked presentation, was the color black.
Specifically, “phantom black,” the company’s “new” version of black for the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G. A black that Samsung describes as “strong, fluid, and modern,” and also “unapologetic,” “resonant,” and “unforgettable,” despite looking more or less like the black phones Samsung’s rolled out almost every year. Call it Samsung entering its Adult Goth phase or maybe just a way to pad out a presentation that was light on news. You can get a glimpse of Samsung’s…
“When it comes to design” the video’s serious disembodied designer voice starts, “black isn’t just a color, it’s all colors in one.” In terms of art, that’s accurate, as to print something in black requires multiple “subtractive colors” (like magenta or yellow) combined together, according to Adobe. In the world of physics, black is the absence of light, but Samsung’s “haze glass” covered take isn’t quite shine free.
The style of the video takes the exact same, “I just discovered this” tone of Apple’s design videos, specifically Apple’s Jony Ive-voiced explanation of the jet black version of the iPhone 7. It’s an overview of processes that any phone would go through to be finished with color, but delivered with the reverence of someone explaining their method of curing the common cold. Self-satisfied might be an inaccurate description for the traditionally weird Samsung, but it gets mighty close.
Samsung apparently journeyed through the worlds of fashion, automobiles, and art to settle on its version of the color, which should look like, well, black, from every angle with minimal glare. It’s a “quest” that maybe didn’t need to happen, or at least, didn’t need to be immortalized in video, especially because the “experience” of black can be found by standing in a dark room, closing your eyes, or looking at an S20 from last year. But Samsung’s specific, serious (is it serious? I’ve watched the video multiple times and am no longer sure) consideration of the color and choice of name seems like a deliberate attempt to connect a smartphone to a real scientific breakthrough: Vantablack.
Vantablack is an “ultrablack” material made from carbon nanotubes that was discovered by accident in the pursuit of other, potentially more useful scientific breakthroughs. Nanotubes could one day fortify space equipment or act as a futuristic conductive material, but for now they’re about as useful as Samsung’s video explaining the color black.