As Samsung prepares to announce their latest smartphone at next week’s Mobile World Congress, there are a lot of users of the Samsung Galaxy S3 who’ll be looking for a new phone. Has the South Korean company done enough to tempt users coming to the end of a two-year contract to stay with Samsung and upgrade to the S5?
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While the critical reaction to the Samsung Galaxy S4 was not as strong as that of the Galaxy S3, the S4 was a big seller, with some estimates putting sales of the handset at over 40 million units. One of the reasons that I believe the Galaxy S4 sales were so strong was the target market. While the press and media were comparing the S4 to the S3, the consumers who were at the end of their two-year contracts were not carrying Galaxy S3s, they were carrying Galaxy S2s.
There’s no doubt that the S4 was a huge step up from the S2. Anyone making that jump was picking up not just a handset with more memory and a faster processor, they were moving to the latest version of Android (the S2 launched with Android 2.3 and has received support up to Android 4.1, but no further). The S4 brought them an HD quality screen, pin-sharp optics, and all the latest software in the Google Play store were open to them. In short, it made a lot of sense for a Galaxy S2 owner to stick with Samsung when their 24 month contract expired.
While the exact specifications and SKUs of the (presumably) Samsung Galaxy S5 that will be announced at Mobile World Congress remain to be seen, the South Korean company cannot rely on the ‘bigger numbers’ to attract the Galaxy S3 crowds looking for a new handset as they sign to a carrier for another two-year cycle. The Galaxy S3 is still a competent smartphone that can deliver a solid Android experience to consumers.
Perhaps the only area where the Galaxy S3 shows its age is in the general speed of the UI. Given this is Samsung’s own area of customisation, I’m not holding out much hope for an optimised TouchWiz interface to make its way back to the S3 when there are factories full of S5s to sell.
It’s clear why power users would buy into a Galaxy S5, but what about everybody else? Samsung’s issue here is that both the current and the last generation of Android smartphones are ‘good enough’ for most users. While there will always be a user base who want the latest hardware, the newest chipsets, the fastest graphical processors, and displays with ridiculous accuracy, they do not number in the tens of millions.
How to sell this year’s handset when last year’s handset is not only good enough, but overpoweringly good enough for a user, is a tricky challenge. It’s one reason why I think Samsung’s continuing use of an iterative approach and a focus on the high specs of the Galaxy range is a mistake. Selling smartphones is no longer about being the box with the biggest numbers in the marketplace. Smartphones today needs to solve real world problems and work with their owners to provide a better, smarter, and more intelligent service.
Those features are best served in software. While more memory, CPU cycles, and faster connectivity all contribute to the ‘smart’ experience, they are the starting point of a smartphone’s story. It’s all very well having a fingerprint sensor (to take one example), but that is not the selling point. The selling point is what you can do with the fingerprint sensor; how accurate it is; and how well it works in day-to-day use with grubby, rain-soaked fingers.
Samsung’s pitch in 2013, flawed as it was in terms of presentation, did attempt to put the focus on their software, but the initial message was lost in what can only be described as a Radio City Hall car crash worth of Mel Brooks. Once last year’s flagship model in the Galaxy S4 reached the hands of the reviewers, the additional features offered by Samsung were placed in the ‘cute’ category and did not substantively improve the smartphone experience. I personally tested them, tried to use them , but they were unreliable hen in use, and were not employed consistently across all of the smartphone’s applications.
Here is Samsung’s challenge in 2014. Has the South Korean firm found something fundamentally new that allows the Galaxy range to move from the ‘technical’ pile to the ‘emotional’ pile? If that is the case, then I expect the Galaxy S5 to be the number one Android handset of 2014. But if the S5 experience cannot offer anything over the S3 except for the specs, then the playing field is wide open for another manufacturer to come in and create a better connection with the consumer.