Samsung is one of the few companies that has taken a big bite out of potential Apple sales in the last few years.
From its diverse range of products, Samsung's mobile unit scored most of the wins in its battle with the iPhone with the S series. From its inception to the Galaxy S3, the line has sold more than 100 million units; the release of the Galaxy S4, which went on sale just days ago, will doubtless add millions more to that total.
While the S4 is its highest profile launch of the year so far (and likely will remain so), Samsung has announced no less than 16 devices across its smartphone and tablet ranges, including a number of so-called 'phablets' that sit between the two categories.
Let's not gloss over that too quickly. Between January and the end of April, the South Korean manufacturer announced an average of around one new smartphone per week. These aren't all low-end feature phones either — they are fully-fledged smartphones. If you're really interested, here's the full list, with the screen sizes thrown in for good measure:
- Galaxy Note 8 (8.0-inch)
- Galaxy Tab 3 (7.0-inch)
- Galaxy Mega 6.3 (6.3-inch)
- Galaxy Mega 5.8 (5.8-inch)
- Galaxy S4 (5-inch)
- Galaxy Win (4.7-inch)
- Galaxy Express (4.5-inch)
- Galaxy XCover 2 (4-inch)
- Galaxy Fame (3.5-inch)
- REX 90 (3.5-inch)
- Galaxy Young (3.27-inch)
- Galaxy Star (3.0-inch)
- Galaxy Pocket Neo (3-inch)
- REX 70 (3.0-inch)
- REX 80 (3.0-inch)
- REX 60 (2.8-inch)
And while not all phones make it to all markets, many of these will be sold in the US and Europe. It's only really the REX family that's aimed squarely at emerging markets, although the Win isn't likely to be headed to the UK anytime soon either.
Nonetheless, the list that you are looking at isn't Samsung's full product line up; it's just the handsets it has announced this year. By the same point in 2011 and 2012, Samsung had announced 11 devices. This year, that figure is up 45 percent, to 16.
While Samsung is riding high on the success of the Galaxy S series and is one of the only manufacturers that can challenge Apple in terms of sales volume, it is essentially flooding a highly competitive marketplace with devices that are all very similar.
It's also worth bearing in mind that nearly all of these devices run Android and, no matter which family they belong to, they mostly share the same design cues too. Take the image in this story as an example: if you thought it was a Note or Galaxy S, you'd be wrong — it's a Galaxy Grand, but you'd be forgiven for being confused. Sure, the lower-end doesn't have the most expensive hardware and some of the flashier software features, but go ahead, take a look for yourself — there isn't too much to separate the devices.
While Samsung has mimicked the success of Apple's iPhone to some extent, there is also a clear contrast in the two companies' strategies: where Apple is happy to focus its efforts on releasing one new smartphone per year (plus at least one iPad refresh) Samsung seems to be accelerating the pace of its releases to try and grab market share in the high, mid and low end.
It might seem sound to target every price point, but in countries where handset costs are subsidised, choosing between them is trickier as the true price of the phone is often hidden in the contractual commitment. The risk is that it serves to confuse the consumer and potentially dilute Samsung's brand value.
I'd argue that Samsung doesn't need quite this many models — all running the same software, looking mostly the same, aimed at the same segments — of the market to be successful.
Samsung's high-end strategy does bear some resemblance to Apple's though: it's for me it's getting complacent with its S series in the same way Apple has with its iPhone line, or just doesn't know how to top what it has already delivered.
I actually like the S4 more than I thought I might — I was never a fan of the S3 — but that's more as a result of finding it wasn't as frustrating or large as I feared, rather than liking it for itself. At the end of the day, it's an S3 with a larger screen and additional software features.
Apple too thought it could simply add software, like Siri, to its handsets in order to keep people interested in the line between proper hardware refreshes. And, like Apple, Samsung now faces a real challenge: how to emulate the success of the S series without simply emulating the S series.
Samsung seems to avoid differentiation in its handsets: some may get dual-SIM slots, smaller sensors on the cameras, and less well-specced processors to keep the price down for emerging markets, but beyond that, many offer much of the same experience.
Perhaps this is a reflection of Samsung's approach to its global business — perhaps the economies of scale are such that differentiating between devices for different regions just isn't worth the extra investment in software, or perhaps the software it adds to its high-end devices is more popular in its home territory.
Of course, Samsung and Apple are the two most successful handset makers right now, but nothing is forever. There's always another hero phone just around the corner — whichever company makes it.