Samsung Galaxy S4 lands in America to take on Apple and BlackBerry

Telecom Lead Asia: Samsung Galaxy S4 will take on both Apple and BlackBerry in America, the second largest smartphone market.

Samsung Galaxy S4 — unveiled in New York on Thursday at 7pm — has already received the backing from top telecom operators such as T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, etc. The target is to sell through 327 carriers in 155 countries from April.

BlackBerry Q10 will also land in the U.S. and other markets in April.

The S4 will use either Samsung’s own applications processor or Qualcomm’s Snapdragon central processing chip, depending on the country.

The company hasn’t disclosed the phone’s price, but Samsung did say to expect it to be around the same price as a phone like the Galaxy S III. The 16 gigabyte model sold for $200, while the 32 gigabyte variant went for $250.

Analysts are sure that Samsung will continue to grab market share in the rapidly growing smartphone market. In Q4 2012, Samsung sold 63.7 million smartphones against Apple’s 47.8 million.

Though BlackBerry is not in the top 3 global smartphone market chart, Samsung needs to take on BlackBerry in the U.S., where it’s trying for a comeback.

Samsung has smartphone market share of 29 percent against Apple’s 21.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012. While Apple increased market share growth by 23 percent, Apple enhanced market share growth by 22.5 percent.

Reuters report that Apple may already be feeling the heat. Just a day before, marketing chief Phil Schiller blasted Samsung and the Google Android software in rare interviews given to Reuters and other select media, underscoring the pressure that the iPhone maker is feeling from its Korean mobile-phone nemesis.

Jan Dawson, chief telecom analyst at Ovum, said: “As anticipated, the device features a slightly larger screen, an improved camera, and beefed up processor power and memory. The company also augmented various features previously available, including its eye-tracking capabilities.”

The timing of Samsung’s Galaxy S4 launch is significant for the Korean electronics major. BlackBerry Z 10, the new smartphone, is stealing iPhone and Android users, according to a recent note by RBC Capital markets, which shows 45 percent of those buying Z10s converted from the two leading operating systems.

RBC Capital markets says BlackBerry’s fourth quarter sell-through rate will come in substantially stronger than initially expected. BlackBerry 10’s success or failure will ultimately depend on U.S. demand, though, which makes up approximately 20 percent of the company’s subscriber base.

Forbes reported that the launch of Samsung’s new Galaxy S4 will be problematic for BlackBerry as well, pushing down the value of the Galaxy S3, adding one more cheap device to compete with.  Yet BlackBerry appears to be on the right track, defying my previous skepticism. According to RBC, the launch of the Q10 in April could boost sales, but the company still needs to look at lower pricing points and new iterations of its current models to keep growing.

The Galaxy S 4 is a worthy successor to earlier members of this line, and will doubtless sell well.

Challenges for Samsung

But it highlights a couple of the key challenges Samsung faces. Firstly, having innovated rapidly over the last several years to vaunt itself into top spot in the world smartphone rankings, Samsung now faces essentially the same challenge as Apple: how to continue to improve its devices year on year when existing phones are already top of their class, and there aren’t obvious shortcomings?

And secondly, how to set Samsung’s devices apart from other devices that share the Android operating system that provides so much of the functionality? As rivals such as HTC and Sony up the specs of their devices and provide ever better hardware, it becomes more and more important for Samsung to differentiate on software and services.

Ovum’s Dawson says the improvements to eye tracking and the additions of S Translator and the hover feature and so on are good steps in this direction, but they can be seen as gimmicks rather than game changers.

At this point, Samsung appears to be trying to kill the competition with sheer volume of new features – there should be something here for everyone, even if most of these new features won’t be used by most users.

For now, Samsung can likely rely on its vastly superior marketing budget and the relatively weak efforts of its competitors in software to keep it ahead. But competitors will catch up (as Samsung has caught up in many ways with Apple) and Samsung will need to continue to stretch. It also needs to build a stronger set of content offerings that cross its various platforms, so that it can extend its leadership in smartphones into the tablet space, and give consumers a reason to buy into an “all-Samsung” experience with their consumer electronics.

Baburajan K
[email protected]