1. Nine54's Avatar
    There has been a lot of discussion around declining Samsung device sales and whether poorer-than-expected S6/Edge sales accelerated the launch of the Note 5 and Edge+. Some may attribute the poor sales performance on the deprecation of certain features, namely the removable storage and batteries. But, sales started declining with the S5 and Apple continues to win over former Android consumers despite never having these features.

    While there probably are multiple factors behind the sales performance, I believe that once Apple upped the screen size with the iPhone 6 and 6+, it eliminated the primary differentiating feature that Android/Samsung had over Apple. Among those who can afford higher-end devices, many simply prefer the overall Apple experience and now they don't have to sacrifice screen size to get it. People don't care about specs: they just want something that is easy to use, that "just works," and that looks nice. Greater perceived value and, subsequently, greater profits, are tied to software--not incrementally higher-spec'ed hardware--and Samsung needs to pivot towards being a more software-focused company.

    That said, there are some key hardware-centric features that I feel Samsung has failed to capitalize on and cultivate into competitive advantages and iconic symbols of the brand. Here are the 3 that stand out to me.

    With the S6/Edge, Samsung revealed a color lineup that included bold new options, such as Blue Topaz and Emerald Green and even a newer Gold. These colors were vibrant, audacious even, but complex in how they seemed to change depending on the lighting and viewing angle. Some people loved them; others thought they were too much. But that people were talking about them and forming opinions is key. I'm normally a black-and-white kind of guy, but found the choice refreshing.

    I was tempted by the blue, but unfortunately, the temptation was short-lived since the color would never see the light of day in the States. Limiting availability of these colors to certain markets was a mistake. People love color, and while different color phones are nothing new, the combination of colors and more premium materials gave them a high-end feel akin to cars or luxury watches as opposed to, say, the color options for Lumia phones. I'm not sure why availability was limited, but overcoming whatever challenges there were would have bolstered Samsung's manufacturing and supply chain prowess while capitalizing on people's love for color. Plus, these colors would stand out on carrier displays. Heck, Samsung could have even worked with carriers to create carrier-specific limited editions.

    The S-Pen continues to evolve in tandem with the Note phones, but not quickly enough in my opinion. With the Note lineup, Samsung has combatted the negative stigma associated with "styli," but still hasn't made it a killer feature. But by fostering more innovation and use cases for the pen, it could create a whole cottage industry of cool first- and third-party accessories.

    Samsung needs to "democratize" S-Pen functionality and quit making it exclusive to the Note lineup. Samsung's goal should be to make using S-Pens a natural and expected part of Samsung's mobile experience to the point where you *could* effectively and easily use the phones without it, but wouldn't want to.

    Samsung is now the benchmark for Android camera performance and with the S6/Edge, it arguably even surpassed Apple in optics performance. (Sony is strong here, too, but with minimal market share and limited device availability, it's arguably irrelevant in the bigger picture.) But the iPhone still remains the device of choice among professional and amateur photographers. Many folks bought S6s over other options due to the camera, and Samsung should capitalize on its momentum and invest more to become the leader in mobile optics. It also can create innovative accessories like phone attachments to augment the device's camera performance or maybe a "travel companion" case that included external storage, battery, and lens capabilities to make Samsung the go-to choice for travel.

    I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Edge screen, but I think the jury is still out here though it seems that much of the interest in the S6 lineup is around the Edge version. I think I've seen more Edge variants than standard S6s, but standard S6s don't stand out quite as much. The Edge screen is interesting, but right now, the utility is limited. That said, I'm not sure it needs more utility than serving as a "bezel-less" or "infinity edge" screen design--the whole Edge functionality might be a distraction. But, the screens are hard to produce, which lead to the supply constraints. They also pose some challenges around ergonomics and fragility. I can't tell if Samsung is doing this because it can (or as a test-bed for watch designs) or it really sees these curved screens as the future.

    Ultimately, Samsung needs to differentiate more through software, but it does have some key hardware advantages over other Android vendors and Apple that it should double-down on and exploit.
    08-17-2015 02:04 AM

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