Is the Samsung Galaxy S9 already a 'dud'?

Is this a side effect of smartphone sales softening across the board, or is it an issue related specifically to Samsung?
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

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Yet another report suggests that pre-orders of Samsung's Galaxy S9 are down significantly compared to last year's Galaxy S8.

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Barron's picked up on a note from Arthur Wood Research analyst Jeff Johnson, claiming that things are not going well with the Galaxy S9, and that the handset is already a "dud."

According to Johnson, Galaxy S9 orders "are down ~50 percent" compared to the Galaxy S8 from the previous year, and that pre-orders are "significantly underperforming pre-launch expectations of 10 to 15 percent growth."

Johnson goes on to say that this is because end users are "upgrading a much slower pace as features are falling on deaf ears," and that "smartphone sales are starting to decline at an accelerating rate."

There's a big difference between how Samsung sells handsets compared to Apple. Samsung's model is not to sell to the end user, but instead carriers, so weak pre-orders for the Galaxy S9 at this point suggests that it's the carriers that are soft on the Galaxy S9.

So, what's going on here?

Well, if Johnson is right here, I can think of several possibilities:

  • A big one that springs to mind is that maybe the carriers don't consider Samsung the good bet that it once was in the past. Carriers were burned -- no pun intended -- by the Note7 debacle, and maybe that has something to do with them being cautious.
  • Maybe there's just not a clear enough line separating the Galaxy S9 from last year's Galaxy S8.
  • Maybe throwing the Galaxy S9 Plus into the mix is just too much confusion or saturation for the carriers.
  • Or maybe smartphone sales -- especially at the premium end -- are softening at an ever-quickening pace, and that carriers are picking up on the emotional whiplash that consumers are feeling when they look at the price tag. This narrative fits in with the idea floating around that iPhone X sales are also subdued, possibly due to price.

Yearly upgrade cycles are taxing all round, from manufacturers to the end consumer. And Samsung has positioned its release to come at the halfway point between new iPhone releases, and March isn't the most buoyant time for tech sales. It's possible that the carriers are choosing to sit back and see what the demand for the Galaxy S9 is before placing pre-orders, and might be leaving the heavy lifting of marketing this new release to Samsung.

One thing's for sure, if it's getting harder for Apple to sell iPhones, the smaller players -- and, compared to Apple, Samsung is a smaller player -- are going to be feeling the pinch even more.

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