Samsung shows off gadgets galore in Monaco
The eyes of the technology world will turn on Monday to the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco, where Samsung will fill a venue more accustomed to entertaining the monied denizens of the principality with ballet and opera.
Samsung will showcase, in front of tech industry analysts and the media its latest innovations, including the flexible touch screen technology it plans to incorporate into its smartphones. The firm will also be trying to show just what a wide range of products it makes, from computers and tablets, to televisions, cameras, fridges and vacuum cleaners.
Like Amazon and Apple, it aims to offer consumers a seamless experience for the digital age, with content accessible from any device at home or on the move, and the event is expected to demonstrate the large strides it is making.
Even five years ago, however, the suggestion that Samsung could capture the attention of technology commentators, consumers and rivals worldwide with an event dedicated solely to its wares might well have been deemed preposterous. But, after a burst of growth by the Korean giant - that has seen revenues treble in that time and profit records smashed, on the back of worldwide smartphone sales of 63 million - it is now a given.
Industry observers have come to consider Samsung as part of technology’s elite group of companies. Alongside Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, it has fought its way to become one of the global superpowers, driving innovation and the quick march - towards smartphones and tablets, and away from desktop and laptop computers.
“Samsung is a fiercely competitive company,” says Ian Fogg, head of mobile at IHS Screen Digest. “They analyse the competition and always seeks to better them.”
Until relatively recently, that commercial spirit manifested itself as mostly an efficient “me too” operation, with the technological capability to churn out affordable versions of the latest innovations from Nokia or Sony. It made good value and decent quality televisions and mobile phones, only for its response to Apple’s introduction of the iPhone in 2007 to revolutionise its position.
While other rivals such as HTC were first to answer Apple’s appeal by introducing handsets based on early versions of Google’s Android operating system, it was Samsung that refined and combined it with devices that could match the Californian giant. Today, Samsung is the only smartphone maker apart from Apple that makes a profit from its efforts.
It comes with the help of a marketing budget that dwarfs that of any rival. It runs at about $14bn annually, compared to $1bn for Apple, reflected in its part in the London Olympics where it flexed its muscles notably, with the best-selling Galaxy S3 made the “official phone” of the Games.
“Samsung’s position is now so strong that the smartphone market is a near duopoly between Apple and Samsung,” says Fogg.
Although the iPad still dominates, there are signs Samsung is making inroads into Apple’s dominance of the younger tablet market, too. IDC said last week Samsung’s share doubled in the last three months of 2012, growing to 15.1 per cent.
“They jumped onto the Android bandwagon and rode it very skilfully,” explains Benedict Evans, of Enders Analysis. “But I’d say say far more of their learning has been from Nokia than Apple. Samsung makes a phone for every price point, market, consumer and network technology and experiments with different options all the time, in contrast to Apple’s 'one phone for the world’ approach.”
Apple believes Samsung learned plenty from it, of course, and in January a Californian appeal judge upheld its $1bn patent infringement victory. The case revealed how the Korean firm’s executives felt blindsided by the iPhone’s user-friendly touchscreen interface.
“When our UX [user experience] is compared to the unexpected competitor Apple’s iPhone, the difference is truly that of heaven and Earth. It’s a crisis of design,” said JK Shin, Samsung’s head of mobile, in documents disclosed in evidence.
Google solved that problem for him, for free, with Android, but its generosity has not bought loyalty. Samsung has introduced its first handset running Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8, will launch a new mobile operating system, Tizen, later this year, and given its handsets account for an estimated 60pc of Android handset, as well as all the profits, observers speculate it could “fork” the software. This would mean changing the Android code so it effectively becomes Samsung’s own operating system, with its own app store, and would be a major threat to Google’s mobile plans.
Samsung will to make its next big move in the hyper-competitive smartphone market soon with the introduction of the Galaxy S4, which is expected to technologically leapfrog the iPhone 5. Such predictions are speculation, however: apparently having also learned from Apple’s famous pre-event code of secrecy, Samsung said nobody was available to comment ahead of the Monaco forum.