Samsung’s Galaxy S6 is finally out, and the early reactions show that the design, for a change, is truly impressive. The number of articles gushing about the end of Samsung’s era of cheap, plasticky flagships is testament to the fact the South Korean company has finally got one thing right: design.
But will a radical design make Samsung Galaxy S6 standout and make the flagship smartphone an able challenger to the iPhone 6’s dominance? Will it do what the Samsung Galaxy SIII had done when it launched in 2012 and outsell the iPhone?
With the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, Apple didn’t just increase the screen size, it also managed to capture a significant portion of the premium market as it sold nearly 75 million phones in Q1 of 2015, almost catching up to Samsung. For Apple, this was huge leap given that it only launched two new phones in 2014. Samsung, on the other hand, has a huge array of smartphones at every price-point. But as bottom line revealed, Apple’s investment in positioning itself as the premium brand paid off and it roped in $18 billion worth off profit.
So now with a new glass-body and a metal frame, can the Galaxy S6 upset the Apple-cart and give the iPhone 6 a run for its money?
As far as hardware is concerned, there’s no denying that Samsung Galaxy S6 is clearly superior to the S5. Engadget’s Chris Velcazo was all praise for the device’s performance, noting that “both devices ran terribly smoothly” and that even though he went through “webpages, jumping in and out of open apps with the manic frenzy of a rabid squirrel,” it didn’t affect the S6’s performance in the least.
It’s a fast device, with a better camera (16 mp in the rear and 5 megapixel in the front) and screen resolution (Quad HD) as compared to the iPhone series. But as we’ve seen, mature consumers have moved beyond the numbers game, else the S5 would have outsold the iPhone 6.
More so, the similarities of Samsung Galaxy S6 with the new iPhone 6 or even earlier versions of the iPhone such as iPhone 5 are hard to ignore. The speaker at the bottom, the slim design and form factor, the rounded-edges of the screen, the way the buttons have been placed at the side, it all looks very similar to the iPhone; it all looks like Samsung is still playing catch-up.
Whether or not Apple sues Samsung again remains to be seen, but will consumers line up to buy the Galaxy S6 as they do for the iPhone? Of course, these choices will depend on the price of the Galaxy S6. In India if the Galaxy S6 is priced higher than Rs 55,000, then it will be a turn-off for many users.
From the side, the S6 looks very familiar to the iPhone.For Samsung, replacing the premium brand tag won’t be so easy. Apple for many users implies extravagance and luxury, a class differentiator. With the Galaxy S6 getting rid of plastic and sporting a premium metal and glass design, Samsung’s message to this class of consumers is simple: our phone doesn’t look cheap anymore. But this new glass-unibody is unlikely to convince users so easily.
As Forrester analyst Thomas Husson notes, “Despite a new hardware design and some software innovation, there’s a risk Samsung’s 2015 flagship devices are insufficient for the company to regain brand leadership among consumers and businesses looking for high-end smartphone experiences.”
He adds that, “Samsung’s lack of software DNA will still prevent it from delivering truly differentiated service experiences like Apple does with its premium ecosystem.” Samsung has also launched its Samsung Pay system which will compete with Apple Pay. It will launch in US and South Korea first and it will allow customers to simply tap their phone on a retail store’s NFC-enabled payment machine to pay instead of taking out their credit or debit cards.
Samsung is supplementing NFC with a technology from LoopPay, a startup it’s buying. LoopPay replicates the magnetic-strip signals on plastic cards, so it works with more merchants. While NFC transactions can be authorised through the phones’ fingerprint sensors, LoopPay transactions might still require a physical signature.
However, Samsung Pay is also not inspiring too much faith from analysts.
Husson goes on to note, “Samsung Pay is unlikely to offer the same level of convenience and trust as Apple Pay. In addition, Samsung will face increasing competition not only from Chinese brands tapping into the Android ecosystem, but also directly from Google — its key strategic partner so far in establishing the successful Galaxy range of devices.”
From Bada OS to Tizen to even its TouchWiz UI, Samsung hasn’t always impressed on the software front and it doesn’t look like the company has done anything drastic with the Galaxy S6 either.
With Apple you’re assured of the iOS experience, which has its own limitations but is also unique, while in Samsung’s case the TouchWiz UI is just an unnecessary layer sitting on top of the Android experience. Thankfully, Samsung has reduced the bloatware with less focus on TouchWiz UI, but the problem remains that when it comes to Android world, users have many option nowadays.
The geeks might want CyanogenMod-OS, there are those who want pure Android and thus turn to Motorola which offers cheaper and well-built devices with excellent specs, then there’s competition like Xiaomi which has shown that you can succeed by installing your skin/UI on an Android. The MIUI has solid fan-following and Xiaomi has jumped to the number 3 spot in worldwide smartphone shipments last year.
There’s no doubt that the Galaxy S6 will be one of the most watched devices from the South-Korean company. After all, Samsung is pegging its salvation on the S6. But as this as this tweet from Canalys notes, the Galaxy S6 is not the answer to Samsung’s woes.The tweet reads, “The Galaxy S6 is a much more credible flagship than its predecessor. But Samsung needs successful devices across a much smaller portfolio.”
Samsung’s challenge for the moment though is finding a flagship device that strikes a chord among the consumers. And it is hoping the S6 can do exactly that. Everything else can wait.