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Samsung's Galaxy S4 Dims Apple's Glow

Samsung's Galaxy S4 Dims Apple's Glow

There are big changes afoot in the wireless industry. A year ago Apple was riding high. Today, it is responding to Samsung's new device with explanatory emails. That's an amazing change for Apple. Has its position veered from offensive to defensive? Apple always ignored other companies. Now it is firing off emails and making excuses.

By Jeff Kagan
03/21/13 5:00 AM PT

Samsung's Galaxy S4 Dims Apple's Glow Talk about attracting attention. As I write this, there are more than a thousand recent news stories and opinion pieces on the Google News site about the brand new Samsung Galaxy S4. That's an incredible win for a company that a few short years ago wasn't well known in the wireless business. Since Samsung is successfully transforming how the world thinks about it as a smartphone maker, what can we expect going forward?

The Samsung Galaxy S4
The Samsung Galaxy S4

If I'm reading the cards correctly, we can expect quite a bit. First, let's pull the camera back and take a look at Samsung from a longer-term historical perspective. Ten years ago, it was not a strong brand name in the wireless space at all, but it had a goal.

A few years ago -- before the great smartphone rush -- I met several high-level Samsung senior executives at a small Sprint Nextel event in Las Vegas. At that time, Samsung was building its brand in the space, but it still was struggling for attention.

During the last year or so, Samsung really seems to have hit its stride with the Galaxy S devices. Partnering with Google and using its Android operating system in wireless phones, Samsung has taken the lead in the space, far outpacing other handset makers. Samsung is climbing the growth side of the wave I often discuss.

Last week, at its big event at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, Samsung blew the roof off. It has become the leader on the Android side, competing directly with Apple. In fact, Samsung has Apple in its sights. Samsung is the No. 1 smartphone manufacturer in the world, and it wants to become the No. 1, best-known brand in the U.S. market as well.

This is a threat to Apple, but what can we really expect?

Market in Motion

If you read the stories, you will find plenty who love Samsung and the new Galaxy S4. Many think it is the iPhone killer. However, there are just as many who think it's just another device -- no big deal. It's just another Android phone, and it will have no effect on the iPhone. The truth may be somewhere in between.

It's easy to offer an opinion -- everyone has one. However, they are mostly based on emotion -- individual likes or dislikes. Opinions by themselves really have little effect on who will win or lose in the marketplace.

So what's the answer? Well, there are plenty who like the Samsung Galaxy S4. Then again, there are also plenty who prefer the Apple iPhone. There are others who are drawn to the Nokia Lumia powered by Microsoft Windows Phone, or the new BlackBerry Z10, or any of a great number of devices from Huawei, ZTE, Sony, Motorola, HTC, LG and more.

Thinking about all these options, we can smile because yes, it appears we have the beginnings of a growing and apparently very healthy and changing market. That is very good news -- so far, at least.

The companies we follow are changing as well. Yesterday we compared the two platform heavy hitters, Apple's iOS vs. Google's Android. However, while Apple has built an ecosystem that includes both an operating system and a line of handsets, Google's smartphone presence comes primarily through its Android OS, which is installed on many different handsets. Google's own branded smartphones have not really clicked yet, but that's another story.

When thinking about the leaders in this space, we have to decide whether we are talking about the operating systems or the handsets. The leading operating systems are Google's Android and Apple's iOS. The leading handset manufacturers are Apple and Samsung.

Today, Samsung is riding its rapid growth wave on handsets, while Apple may be cresting -- for now. This is a rapidly changing marketplace, so the leaders may shuffle from time to time.

Apple on the Defensive

In the mobile device market, Apple has never had to counterpunch before. Suddenly things are changing. Suddenly Apple is acting like the underdog -- very un-Apple-like. It no longer looks like the formidable leader of a year ago. It looks like it has taken a few punches and is trying to catch its breath. Samsung looks like it is gaining ground.

However, don't let all these theatrics fool you. The fight is not over. Apple will continue to do strong business, even though its stock price is in the toilet right now, because its customers love the company. It can recover, of course. The question is, will it? These waves often play out over several years.

Pulling the camera back and looking at the industry in general, it's clear that consumers want multiple choices. Some want one kind of device, while others want another. Many users like a smaller device and appreciate the entire Apple approach. Others like a larger screen and are more in tune with Samsung's approach. There are countless others who like the other competitive offerings as well.

That's the point. That's what we call the beginning of a healthy marketplace and choice. We want multiple players. We want choice. That will keep innovation high, prices low, and both customers and investors happy. Don't hope that one wins and the others lose -- hope they all win. That is good for everyone.

In the meantime, expect the battles between Apple and Google, and Apple and Samsung to continue. Keep your eyes open for two things later this year: One, watch what Apple does next; two, look for some surprises from smaller competitors. 2013 should be a very interesting year.


E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is an industry analyst and consultant who enjoys sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry he's been watching for 25 years. Email him at jeff@jeffKAGAN.com.


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