What does it take to get a phone user to switch from Apple to Android (or Android to Apple)? There are usually three or four factors at play: end of contract, annoyances with the current platform, much-needed features on the new devices, and cost.
Every year, like clockwork, the big smartphone players have played product ping pong with their offerings, hoping to keep their existing customers and lure switchers.
I'm a serial switcher. I switched from the iPhone 4s to the Galaxy S4 because -- at the time -- the S4 seemed to have decades more advanced features than my sluggish iPhone. Then, back in September, I switched back to the iPhone -- in large part because the Galaxy S4's signature advantages of replaceable battery and add-on memory card didn't exist anymore in the Galaxy S6.
My wife and I also liked the idea of easy yearly upgrades to our phones, so we chose the Apple Upgrade Program (which we may yet live to regret).
The more astute of you might note that I haven't talked about features of the Galaxy Note 5, which is and was a viable contender. One of the problems of Samsung's upgrade cadence is they appear to separate their two flagship phones by about six months -- so if you liked the larger form factor, you had to wait half a year to make the decision.
But each year, things change -- sometimes just a little bit, sometimes a lot. Samsung actually has three flagship phones, the S6, the Edge, and the Note. Rumors have it that the next iteration of the S6 and the Edge are due out this month, and so it's a good time to wonder whether Samsung can pull itself back from the brink and motivate buyers to stay loyal or even to switch.
Let's quickly recap the high points of the S7 rumor mill:
- The S7 may get back the MicroSD card
- It may once again be water resistant
- There may be a Note-sized version
- There may be a larger battery for longer life
- The camera's resolution may go down, but the quality may go up
Here's the thing. Smartphones are a lot like presidential elections. The majority of users will align with one party or the other (or one ecosystem or another). There is a smaller, but often influential and desirable, group of independent voters (or buyers in the smartphone case) that can decide an election (or move the market share and profitability needle -- especially for the non-Apple vendors).
So the key to winning a product cycle (or an election) is reaching and appealing to those swing voters/buyers. The big question in the case of the upcoming S7 is whether the new offerings (which really seem to be some of the old offerings, put back into the product) are enough to swing those swing buyers.
Yep, I know. I'm not feeling it either. Perhaps the S7 is merely an off-year upgrade (like the iPhone s models are often considered). Or perhaps smartphones have just had too many features jammed into them, and it's hard now to find universally-compelling new features.
Or, perhaps, we have no idea what we're talking about because we're reporting on rumors. That's always a possibility in a preliminary discussion of this kind. Stay tuned. We'll have a lot more to say once the products are announced and we actually know what we're talking about.