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  • What a Change! Analysts Talking Up Apple, Talking Down Samsung

    March 14th, 2017

    In recent years, whenever a new gadget is expected from Apple, many so-called industry analysts will go on at length as to how the products will somehow be unsatisfactory. This despite the fact that Apple has, with a few exceptions, been able to grow revenue year-over-year.

    So the iPhone 7 was supposed to be little more than a minor refresh of the iPhone 6s. The case was essentially the same, and where’d Apple get the temerity to ditch the headphone jack? At least that was the complaint that persisted for months before it was released.

    That Apple was able to break a down cycle with the iPhone 7 isn’t lost on some skeptics. Besides, it’s water-resistant, so I’d be less fearful of its imminent destruction if it were dunked by accident. Well, not in deep water. Besides, it’s faster and has a better camera than its predecessor. If you have an iPhone 6 or earlier, it’s a huge deal.

    Now that Apple is on a roll again, with higher stock prices, and an iPhone that is, even if only slightly, outselling its predecessor so far, the chatter is about the iPhone 8, the iPhone Edition, or whatever a rumored 10th anniversary model will be called.

    To be sure, this would be a premium product with loads of extra stuff. The rumors talk of an edge-to-edge OLED display, facial recognition, a Home button with Touch ID embedded in the screen, and other joys, such as wireless charging. Well, I don’t care so much about wireless charging, at least in the ways it’s been implemented so far, but OLED has its charms. You have better blacks, richer colors, an unlimited viewing angle, and power savings. The latter means longer battery life.

    But in the past, when people complained about iPhones, they were usually regarded as second best to the latest and greatest Samsung Galaxy smartphone. It’s very much because Samsung is notorious for loading up on fancy-sounding features even if they are of questionable value.

    You might have expected a similar reaction, with complaints that some of the new features being touted in the latest rumors about the iPhone 8 duplicate what you can already get on a Samsung. That includes the edge-to-edge OLED display and wireless charging. There is also a Galaxy handset that claims water-resistance, although it failed a Consumer Reports dunk test.

    In any case, despite those objections, there are renewed concerns that the forthcoming Samsung Galaxy S8, due to be launched by the end of March, is destined to sell fewer copies than the previous model. Predictions have it that Samsung will be lucky to ship 40 to 45 million units for fiscal-year 2017, compared to shipments of 52 million for the Galaxy S7.

    Note that Samsung sales are reported as shipments, which doesn’t mean that many were actually sold. How many were returned unsold to Samsung, or discounted at a loss because of low demand, isn’t stated.

    Now when you look at those numbers, even if you assume most ended up in the hands of real buyers, a comparison with Apple is inevitable. But Apple doesn’t break down sales by model. So while 211.88 million iPhones were sold in fiscal year 2016, how many represented the iPhone 6s, which was the flagship model that year? Half, two thirds? Apple clearly sells more premium smartphones than Samsung. The latter’s advantage is in cheaper gear, in market segments Apple won’t touch because there’s no profit in it.

    But the reason analysts are looking towards an iPhone 8 as doing better than Samsung — even better than the usual breakdown among flagship models between the two companies — is because it’s not expected that the Galaxy S8 will offer much in the way of “sufficiently attractive selling points.”

    When I checked the rumors about the next Samsung, the feature breakdown didn’t seem altogether different when compared to the most important features expected in the iPhone 8. A key difference is a curved OLED display, a feature that the rumors claim Apple has already abandoned. One other potentially interesting feature on the new Samsung is a PC Mode, which supposedly allows you to connect the unit to a computer display or TV to provide a more traditional desktop environment. It’s questionable how well the tiny Android layout will scale up. My suspicion is that it won’t, even though it may sound promising in writing. But this wouldn’t be the first time Samsung has introduced a feature that has little or no practical value.

    To be fair, I suspect that the features being mentioned for the Galaxy S8 are closer to the mark, since the device will be released soon. The next iPhone’s capabilities are less certain since it won’t go into production until the summer. Besides, there are always a few things that Apple manages to conceal, or mostly conceal, until the actual launch date.

    What is interesting is that the chatter from industry analysts has become more positive for Apple at the expense of Samsung. Maybe the Galaxy Note 7 debacle has soured some on Samsung, because it represented a serious quality control lapse. Not mentioned that often is the recent arrest of CEO Jay Y. Lee on bribery charges. Samsung has to really prove itself.

    Regardless, Apple has started this year with the wind at its sails.

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