Samsung came to Apple’s backyard yesterday (Feb. 20) to unveil five new smartphones that will likely shape the company’s year for the foreseeable future, and spark a new trend of foldable phones in the smartphone market.
Only three of those devices will be released in the coming weeks, however—the Galaxy S10, S10+, and S10e (the S10 5G will launch in the second quarter, and the Galaxy Fold on April 26). These three S10 models make up the core of Samsung’s flagship smartphone lineup for the year, and will likely make up the bulk of its sales. But in dropping these three phones on the market, Samsung is following where Apple went in October, when it announced three similarly priced (and sized) phones: the iPhone Xs, Xs Max, and Xr.
It’s not uncommon for the two companies to follow each others’ leads. Apple has been battling Samsung in court for years over its belief that the original Galaxy phone was a direct copy of the iPhone. Apple also saw the success Samsung had in its large Note phones and started producing larger devices of its own. But Apple’s three-phone strategy has so far proven to be a dud.
Apple missed its revenue guidance in the past quarter for the first time in over a decade, posting a massive drop in revenue growth. CEO Tim Cook mainly blamed weakness in sales in China for the drop, but analysts suspect that there has been little demand for the company’s “cheapest” device, the iPhone Xr. While the $749 phone costs about as much as a top-of-the-line phone would’ve cost just a few years ago, it seems that consumers haven’t found the compromises it makes worth the savings over the $999 iPhone Xs.
Samsung will face a similar pricing quandary with its new phones— its S10 line also starts at $749 and tops out at over $1,600—but presumably hopes that it can carve out different niches than Apple has. The company has the benefit of selling other devices at just about every single price point imaginable—unlike Apple, it isn’t just a “luxury” company that sells older devices as its affordable options—so perhaps it’ll find more customers than Apple has for its lower-tier smartphones.
Justin Denison, Samsung’s senior vice president for marketing, told Quartz that he sees this as a strength for the company. “Samsung’s strategy has always been to democratize technology,” he said. “Consumers expect us to deliver cutting-edge technology at all price points. Not only at the Galaxy S10 family of devices we announced today, but some of our other devices, like the Galaxy A series, and we’re going to keep delivering on that promise.”
It’s an uphill battle, whenever trying to introduce more complexity into an already weighty decision for consumers, but Samsung does have the luxury of not just serving luxury customers.
“Consumers have learned what the promise of the Galaxy S is, but now consumers are seeing us reinforce the mid-tier of devices,” Denison said. “We’re delivering innovation in there, it’s not necessarily a step down: in some ways, it can be a step up. If you paid attention to the [Galaxy]A9 announcement, that was the first device that we launched [in 2018] that had four cameras. You’ll see us deliver innovation at all tiers of the portfolio, and consumers will self-select which device suits them best.”
But whether they’re going to be receptive to having to choose between a phone that fits well in their hand in the S10e, or the most powerful, far larger phones Samsung can deliver, is unclear.