With Samsung, It’s More Mirrors Than Smoke

March 4th, 2015

At the Mobile World Congress this week, Apple, as usual, looms large even though our favorite fruit company never shows up at such events. But that didn’t stop Apple’s gear from being used as the basis for comparison, overtly or otherwise.

So what is Samsung’s answer to the stellar success of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus? Well, it’s the Galaxy S6, touted as the next great thing, or at least a way for Samsung to undo the damage caused by the tepid reaction to its predecessor, the S5. The refresh comes at an unfortunate time for Samsung, having suffered from sales woes and falling profits in the past year.

At one time, Samsung was supposedly destined to own the smartphone business, and it did for a time when it comes to unit sales. But according to the latest survey from Gartner, sales of Samsung smartphones tumbled during the fourth quarter of 2014 from some 73,317,000 units the previous year to 63,032,000 units. That puts it just behind Apple, who reported sales of 74,832,000 iPhones during the same period. The report is supposedly based on “Sales to End Users,” although Samsung has, when they report unit sales at all, confined that to shipments. That means, the product may or may not actually be sold to a real live customer.

True, Samsung is still number one with total mobile handset sales, but many of those sales involve low-end gear that produces slim profits. Without growth in its most profitable product line, Samsung has obviously lost a lot of its luster. If that happened to Apple, the “Death Knells” would be loud and frequent, but nobody assumes Samsung is dying. Even if mobile handsets don’t do so well, there are always TVs, appliances, raw parts — lots of things.

Now that S6 has been demonstrated, in versions with and without wraparound displays, what did Samsung do to jumpstart sales? Well, depending on which story you read, it’s either a comedown, or a smart move.

But if you thought that Samsung was copying Apple before, it appears they’ve come closer than ever, in a sense mirroring elements of Apple’s design approach for the iPhone. So Samsung has given up on plastic and gone to aluminum, with a claim it’s less bendable than the iPhone 6 Plus. I suppose that will be tested once the unit goes on sale, though it’s still a nonissue.

Samsung has also also removed the ability to add a memory card, and the metal case is shut tight, meaning you can’t swap the battery in the field. So two supposed advantages of a Samsung Galaxy are now history. The faulty fingerprint sensor is supposedly better — we’ll see! — and there are the usual enhancements to screen resolution, processor clock speed, and it now contains 3GB of onboard RAM. The iPhones have traditionally had 1GB of RAM in recent years, but it’s not that people are complaining about performance.

Now it’s understandable that Samsung wants to get into the mobile payments game, but does the use of the label Samsung Pay make the S6 somehow stand out when compared to Apple Pay? Evidently Samsung’s product people are really out of ideas this time, or the PowerPoint spreadsheet wouldn’t stop crashing, so they had to stop the development process before it was done. Or something.

Samsung is still up to its old tricks, though, based on a recent benchmark I read. It seems a demo sample of the S6 soared way past the iPhone 6, but that test evidently involved a unit with a processor that may not even be sold in the U.S. Samsung has, in the past, also been exposed as deliberately overclocking the processor when benchmark apps are run, and I don’t know if that was the case this time. If the shipping handset is really faster, so be it. If it requires components that you can’t buy, or settings that do not reflect real world use, it’s little more than another bait and switch tactic.

Clearly, Samsung is desperate for good headlines, and it’s not that the S6 is unattractive. From the descriptions and the photos I’ve seen, it appears to be pretty attractive with good construction quality, but does delivering a product that more closely matches the iPhone magically guarantee success? Clearly plastic didn’t make it, but that may not be the main reason people didn’t buy the Galaxy S5.

While I realize emulating Apple’s build quality has its charms, does cutting back on some features, such as removable batteries and a port for a memory card, somehow mean more people will line up to buy one? Is Samsung trying to take a “less is better” approach? Or have they just run out of features to add, and are hoping that a simpler design will sell. In any case, folks who want an Android phone that appears to be both good looking and powerful would probably do well with the latest and greatest from Samsung.

Or Samsung may be hoping the only way to go is up.

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One Response to “With Samsung, It’s More Mirrors Than Smoke”

  1. DaveD says:

    I don’t know if Apple considers Samsung’s new products and service as “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” But I would bet Apple does not. Going through the courts haven’t slowed Samsung with their photo copiers.

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