Apple was once the king of innovation, but Samsung has emerged as a contender to seize its throne. With the recent launch of the Galaxy S4, though, the South Korean tech giant could be setting itself up to face the same bumps on the road to success that have dogged Apple. Esat Dedezade takes a look at the fruits of success potential pitfalls of success and the stagnation that it might bring.
The iPhone brutally and unapologetically smashed the smartphone market square in the mouth, leaving its competition lying face up on the mat, dazed and confused.
Fast forward six years, though, and there’s a new heavyweight in town. And its blue shorts are emblazoned with the Samsung logo.
The cracks in Apple’s facade started to appear with the unveiling of the iPhone 5 in late 2011. Sorry, did we say iPhone 5? We meant the iPhone 4S. Instead of the dramatic redesign that many were expecting, Apple delivered an incremental update – the same design, with a few internal tweaks and a camera upgrade. And of course, Siri. And by the time the iPhone 5 arrived, there was a new player in town – the Samsung Galaxy S3.
Building on the Galaxy S2’s foundations, the S3 was the phone the iPhone 4S should have been. It had the power. It offered the first truly buttery-smooth Android experience. It had innovations galore – like Smart Stay, which kept the screen on for as long as you were looking at it, and the Pop up Play picture-in-picture mode. To the average consumer, the Galaxy S3 was Android. Samsung’s Galaxy moniker had become a force to be reckoned with.
Apple didn’t sit on its laurels though. The iPhone 5 brought with it a larger screen and a newer, sleeker and thinner design. But iOS, aesthetically unchanged since its arrival, was looking dangerously stale – and its one big innovation, Apple Maps, was a debacle that forced an apology from Apple CEO Tim Cook himself. Meanwhile, the Galaxy S3 continued to sell like Slush Puppies in a desert.
Paul Erickson, senior analyst at IHS Electronics and Media, believes that we’re “seeing a shift where Apple is no longer pushing the boundaries and taking risks”. The risk-taker, according to Erickson, is now Samsung – which is continuing to push the boundaries with its successful Note range, and even has the 8in Note 8 tablet-cum-phone under its belt. It isn’t afraid to experiment and try out new things – while Apple has found itself playing catch-up, with the launch of the iPad Mini giving the lie to Steve Jobs’ infamous ‘7in tablets will be dead on arrival’ quote.
The pendulum could shift once again, though. The Galaxy S4 – which made its debut amidst a cringe-inducing Broadway fanfare – looks nearly identical to the Galaxy S3, right down to its plastic polycarbonate construction. And the jury’s still out on whether its new software features will be more than just a few cool tricks to show off down the pub.
Will Samsung follow in Apple’s incremental upgrade footsteps, content to let the Galaxy brand work its magic, powered by its ludicrously large marketing budget? It’s certainly possible.
Then there’s HTC, who has battled its way through a very tough year and has graced us with the HTC One – an absolutely gorgeous solid aluminium handset that you’ll want to pick up, hold and caress, just for the sake of it. It pushes the boundaries of smartphone cameras, bowing out of the megapixel race with a 4MP Ultrapixel camera that focuses on guzzling more light than any of its rivals for better low-light shots. The kind of ‘night out’ shots that grace 90 per cent of Facebook, in fact. It’s a useful feature packed into fantastic hardware and it deserves to do well.
Of course, Apple and Samsung will continue to sell phones by the gazillions while the HTCs and Sonys of the world battle for third place – but nothing is set in stone though. People and companies get complacent – and laziness and predictability follows.
As for us? We’re happy to grab an industrial-sized bag of popcorn, sit back and watch the titans battle it out. After all, that can only lead to healthy competition – and to better devices for you, the consumer.
New video! Samsung Galaxy S4 first look video review