Tomorrow, Samsung will release the latest addition to their Galaxy line of smartphones, the Samsung Galaxy S9. This release marks the beginning of a new year in mobile technology which will be capped off with new hardware from Apple and Google. It’s important to note though, the latter two companies have truly gone beyond the definition of smartphones. What they offer to consumers are hyperphones.
You see, the term smartphone applies to just about any mobile device with a touchscreen and stable internet connection. But what differentiates the iPhone or Pixel line of devices is their ability to usher in new technologies, new experiences, and new expectations. They exist in realm above your typical smartphone. A plane of existence that’s beyond the term itself. A place that’s barred by price, parts, and a premium clientele. Now combine what’s offered with the cost of entry, and you begin to see why these devices should be considered hyperphones.
Samsung is showing clear signs of declining relevancy in the age of hyperphones
If you were to apply these same parameters to the new Galaxy S9, you start to understand why it doesn’t deserve to be in the same category as the previously mentioned devices. With the upcoming release of the Galaxy S9, Samsung is showing clear signs of declining relevancy in the age of hyperphones. Their inability to have a single, truly innovative feature in the past three years, coupled with increasing pressure from their competition, is why they’re on the path to mobile purgatory.
This isn’t reimagining. This is regurgitating.
The key slogan that Samsung keeps hammering with the S9 is The Camera. Reimagined. This stems from their tentpole feature where the S9 camera can use one of two aperture settings controlled by a mechanical aperture ring. But let’s be honest, this is horse shit. The camera reimagined? We’ve had this system for nearly as long as we’ve had photography. This isn’t reimagining. This is regurgitating.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a novel feature for mobile photography, but Samsung is putting all their weight around something that is largely a marketing gimmick. Of course, this mechanism could lead to great photos. However, to put your key messaging around one aspect of your flagship phone is shortsighted and does a disservice to the rest of your phone. Unless of course, their isn’t much else to talk about.
The Samsung Galaxy S9 is essentially a Galaxy S8 with a spec bump. To argue otherwise is foolish. Despite this reality, the messaging being sold is an attempt to convince you otherwise. Truthfully, the Korean giant hasn’t been a real innovator in the last three years. While they have access to great parts and manufacturing, what have they added to mobile technology in terms of a novel feature? And don’t bring up their facial recognition software. Samsung’s Face and Eye Unlock features are more flash than anything given their poor levels of security.
It’s safe to assume that the S9 won’t see Android P until 2019 at best
Early during their keynote presentation, Samsung admitted to the complexity around navigating their mobile software. And then came some buzzwords with how they plan on changing that to create a better user experience. Bring in Maury Povich to tell you that the lie detector tests came back, and that was a lie.
All jokes aside, we’re supposed to believe that Samsung cares about creating a useable and ubiquitous software experience for its customers? At the time of writing this, not a single Samsung phone has the latest version of Android, Oreo. Heck, the next version of Android has been announced already and it’s safe to assume that the S9 won’t see it until 2019. How can we take their words at face value when their software release schedule has been a disaster for years? While Google moves the Android operating system forward, Samsung continues to lag behind and hold back features.
What we should remember is that Samsung is a hardware company. They make money when people buy their phones. When consumers use Google services and buy apps on the Play Store, Samsung isn’t seeing a penny from that. Not to mention, they don’t generate any additional revenue for software updates. So what incentive do they have to keep their phones up to date? Not much. While Samsung can talk about a better user experience, they make money when people buy their phones. You can expect to see them continue this trend where their flagship software becomes outdated in six months and the words “less complex” is highly subjective.
It’s a race to zero
It’s no secret that despite their lack of innovation, and shady software release cycle, Samsung ships millions and millions of phones. But a large part of this is because of their deeply connected business structure that is only rivalled by Apple. The South Korean mega company has a huge amount of verticality to their manufacturing which allows them to control pricing at a granular level. This permits them to have a race to zero in the subsidized phone market where you’ll see the Galaxy S9 aggressively priced against it’s competitors a lot faster than an iPhone X or Pixel 2. I’m not saying this is unfair. What I’m saying is that the reported sales figures will not be proof to their innovation. It’s proof to their business savvy.
I’m sure we’ll see Samsung post some fantastic sales figures. Based on recent trends, I would predict that they ship 5.5 million Galaxy S9 and S9+ units in the first month and just over 21 million in the first 90 days. On the other hand, consumers can expect to see the S9 heavily discounted by carriers around 45 days after launch to move as many units as possible, before the end of the second quarter (June 2018). All this combined, I would approximate that Samsung will report about 23-25% global marketshare for Q2, but only 11-12% of global profits. This race to zero just eats into their bottom line and further highlights their business prowess, not product superiority.
Samsung is on a path to irrelevancy
With their lacklustre feature set, a complete disregard for timely software updates, within a market that is shared by the likes of Apple and Google, Samsung is on a path to irrelevancy among hyperphones. The South Korean giant continues to staple gimmicks on an admittedly nice housing to entice the average consumer to upgrade. However, their phones will not be capturing headlines during the most critical sales period of the year. History shows us that Samsung will market their gimmicks and price their phones strategically to sell the illusion of a cutting-edge hyperphone. The reality is actually quite the opposite.
What is most frustrating is that this trend employed by Samsung isn’t good for the industry. With their size and resources, we should expect more for them so that the market remains competitive and grows. This is truly what is best for consumers. In an ideal world, it should be difficult to pick a new mobile device because the options available are rich and diverse. Instead, we’re seeing a major competitor rest on their laurels. We’re seeing a massive company becoming less and less relevant. So forget the camera: we need to see Samsung reimagined.