Is Apple’s iPhone Losing Its Edge to Samsung Galaxy S4 and Others?

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Commentary about the current state of the smartphone market.

Samsung’s recent announcement of its new Galaxy S4 smartphone really shows how far behind Apple is falling in the continuing smartphone battle.  With a bigger screen, higher res camera and lots of bells and whistles, the S4 is a real standout.  Its 5-inch screen makes the iPhone 5 seem almost retro.  That just goes to show just how competitive and rapid-changing this market is.  Yet Apple still holds on to the top sales spot in the US (45%) while Samsung is number two at 26.7%.  Worldwide, Samsung is number one with 30.3% to Apple’s 19% market share.

The S4 is a beauty.  Its 5-inch screen has a very high resolution matching Apple’s retina display.  Cleverly, Samsung was able to provide the 5-inch screen without really increasing the overall size of the phone from the S3 version.  Narrower bezels did the job. If you compare the S4 directly to an iPhone 5 side by side, I bet you would vote for the S4.  If you watch video on your phone, the 5-inch screen is worth changing to.  But maybe not if you are an Apple addict.  I have an iPhone 5 and I like it but the S4 and other new phones recently announced make me wonder if I will eventually switch over.  Or maybe I will just wait for the next Apple iteration.

Rumors are that an Apple S5 will be available later this year.  July and October are the most likely introduction times, but we shall see.  And what will the 5S be?  How does one top the iPhone 5, S4 and the other competitors?  I doubt that we will see a 5-inch screen as I suspect that it slated for the iPhone 6.  I just cannot imagine what the 5S might offer over the 5.  Maybe NFC. Its best feature, in my opinion, is the LTE.  It is super fast and really noticeable. I suppose the 5S will have the usual upgrade with a faster processor, some camera improvement, and a gimmick or two.  Apple is clever, for sure, but they and all their top competitors are running out of non-trivial new features and benefits with which to one-up one another.

Just think about it.  All the top dogs in this race have phones that are clearly on par with one another.  They all have 4+-inch high res screens, 13 Mpixel or greater cameras, 1 GHz+ multi-core processors, LTE and most now with NFC.  You can go to the websites and download the detailed specs on each phone and do the side-by-side comparison and you will see very little difference. 

Perhaps the only thing making each phone somewhat unique is the operating system.  Look and feel is where the real differences lie.  And in the number and type of apps.  Then there is the big differentiators, market image, cachet, and reputation.  Price does not seem to be a differentiator but that may change in the future as saturation occurs and the companies offer lower priced smartphones to continue to increase volume.

The competition in the top tier smartphone race keeps getting hotter.  BlackBerry’s Z10 is finally on sale this month and is making a decent showing.  Sony just announced a model in this category the Xperia ZL, another 5-incher.  The new HTC One is now available too.  Another 5-inch contender.  And Nokia’s Windows 8-based Lumia models are still excellent phones in this category.  Yet, they are all pretty much the same.  How does one choose a phone today?  And perhaps more important, just what feature or benefit would get you to buy or change?  Maybe it is not phone related.  It may be carrier availability or policy.  T-Mobile just dropped their requirement for a 2-year contract.  That would get many to switch or buy the available phone with that deal.

Today’s smartphone is a be-all and do-all device.  We can’t do without them.  And most of them already do as much as such a device can.  What more can we expect?  I am as anxious as you are to see what new gimmick we will see and how it will affect the market shares of the leaders.  I think what we all really want to see is the next big innovation, whatever that is.

Discuss this Blog Entry 9

on Mar 27, 2013

Hey Lou: First of all, I am one of your Apple Addicts who have been buying their products since 1978. During all those year, I was always told by my PC buddies that I should look at marketshare, number of software apps, and low-cost as the reason to buy their PC rather than my Mac. I kept on buying Apple because it was easier to use, had more refined hardware, had lower cost of ownership by not breaking and retaining its value longer, security of OS, and better system integration. Now that Apple has the marketshare lead and significantly more apps, it seems the reason to buy Samsung is a 5-inch screen which I can't hold in one hand, more megapixels in the camera, and crappy plastic case. Let's ignore the OS, total cost ownership and overall reliability (my iPhone 1, 3GS, and iPhone 5 all still working).

on Mar 27, 2013

I too am an Apple Addict, and Apple speaks for itself. Many come out with bigger, better, faster, etc but the truth will set you free! Apple technology will always have my heart and checkbook!

on Mar 27, 2013

For those of us that must communicate at the fringes of the cell network there is one performance spec where Apple, Samsung and LG just aren't competitive - and that's basic sensitivity. We found only one phone that works where we are and that is the Motorola DROID RAZR MAxx. The others don't work at all whereas we are able to make calls 365/24/7 with our RAZR. We had to find out by trial and error since this rather basic but essential spec is never listed in the literature or in reviews. What good are all the frills if you can't communicate?

on Mar 28, 2013

I have SAMSUNG phone with WINDOWS (7.5) Phone, my daughter has iPhone 5,
I like the SAMSUNG hardware, screen is AMOLED visible on the very bright sun, I don’t like Windows Mobile OS and that is understatement …
I love my daughter’s phone and OS is very good, although I don’t like $$$ cost, So?
Regarding connectivity, my daughter previous phone was G2 she had no issue with connection on her campus, iPhone has some pockets where cannot connect. I’d blame more provider than a phone maker,
My SAMSUNG doesn't work in my office.
My last MOTOROLA phone was 2005 year,… so I forgot how RAZR worked back than,

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Lou Frenzel

Lou Frenzel is the Communications Technology Editor for Electronic Design Magazine where he writes articles, columns, blogs, technology reports, and online material on the wireless, communications...
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