Samsung is competing with the models it launched several years ago, and not last years’ Galaxy S8, Galaxy S8+ and Note 8 because it is far too soon for purchasers of those models to buy a new phone. With new flagship smartphone launches, Samsung must persuade existing smartphone owners to upgrade to the new model. As the smartphone market matures, consumers are tempted to hold on to their smartphone for longer.
By looking at IHS Markit active installed base data sets which track smartphones that are currently in use we can compare the features of Samsung’s latest flagship with the most common models consumers own and use now. These smartphone owners are Samsung’s main upgrade targets for its 2018 flagship smartphone models. Globally, the most common Samsung flagship models in use are Samsung’s S7 and S7 Edge (2016) with a combined 5.26% share, 2015’s Galaxy S6 with 1.78% share, and the four year old Galaxy S5 with 1.4% share of the active installed base.
It is these models consumers will compare a new Samsung Galaxy flagship smartphone against.
Looking at the IHS Markit active installed base data sets we can see:
- Which Samsung models are the most popular among users now. This provides metrics to help Samsung, operators and other OEMs know which devices potential consumer upgraders are currently using.
- The features to market to upgraders, based on improvements in current Samsung flagships. We can see the capabilities that existing smartphone owners lack, which Samsung’s 2018 flagship models include.
- How the potential market for a new Samsung Galaxy S smartphone varies by country. In some countries, mid-range Samsung models are much more popular than Samsung’s premium flagship models.
Competing with flagship models from two to four years ago helps Samsung’s marketing in a significant way because a 2018 flagship smartphone is very significantly and visibly superior to a model released in 2015 or 2016 that consumers still commonly use in the greatest numbers. Today’s smartphone flagships have the following key improvements:
- Tremendously improved cameras, with x2 telephoto zoom and dual camera effects; superior low light optics and sensors; and new selfie modes. None of Samsung's older Galaxy S models have these features.
- Larger more vivid displays, yet in the same sized phone. The shift to wider aspect ratio displays only began in early 2017, all older Samsung models have much smaller displays with larger bezels than current flagships models, including Galaxy S7, S7 Edge and S6 all of which had 16:9 aspect displays and not the super wide 18:9 displays common from 2017 onwards.
- Improved networks speeds and reception. Modern smartphones have modems and antenna’s routinely capable of LTE Cat 16, often marketed as “gigabit LTE” which not only improves peak speeds but also average speeds in areas with congestion. By contrast 2015’s S6 only offered LTE Cat 6 with peak speeds of just 300Mbps, under a third of a recent flagship and 2016’s Galaxy S7 was only slightly better with Cat 9 and peak speed of 450Mbps.
There are large country differences in which are the most popular Samsung smartphone models. This explains where Samsung must target its new 2018 Galaxy smartphone model. In Brazil, eight of the top ten slots are mid-range Galaxy Prime, J series or A series models. We see similar trends in other OEMs in the use of those brands’ smartphones. This is the reason why premium smartphone model launches do not focus as strongly on South America, compared with leading Asian markets, Western Europe and North America.
Samsung created the large display, “phablet” smartphone category with 2011’s Galaxy Note. It has repeatedly innovated with high resolution displays, ever larger screens, and the signature curved edge displays. In every region, we see the typical display size in use by consumer growing. In Taiwan, smartphone displays in use in the active installed base are extremely large.
In December 2017, a vast 59% of the smartphones in active use had displays 5.5” or greater. This is also reflected in Samsung’s model success where Note series flagships are especially popular. Samsung and other OEMs must target this Plus sized flagships at Taiwan and other similar large display-focused markets. And, media companies offering streaming video and TV must ensure their services are optimized for smartphones in these markets.
This trend for greater screen sizes helps Samsung to continue to differentiate from competitors, most notably Apple, who offer a comparatively small display on its iPhone X flagship by 2018 standards. While the iPhone X display is a high quality OLED with accurate colour and has an edge to edge super wide 18.5:9 aspect ratio, the actual screen is closest to Samsung’s smaller flagship model – the Galaxy S8 – than Samsung’s Galaxy S Plus model or its Note 8.
However, Samsung’s strongest markets for a new Galaxy S flagship will be in those countries where consumers most value large displays because Samsung’s Galaxy S+ models are most differentiated from its main rival Apple.
In dual cameras Samsung has lagged many of its key rivals. Of the top three smartphone makers, Huawei led the trend for dual camera with early 2016’s Leica co-branded P9. Apple was a full year ahead of Samsung with the late 2017, iPhone 7 Plus. Both companies offered background blur and other effects years ahead of Samsung who only added a second rear camera with the late 2017 Galaxy Note 8.
With its next Galaxy S flagship, Samsung needs to take dual camera innovation into its mainstream Galaxy S flagships to be competitive with its major rivals.
Samsung is not alone in being slow to offer dual camera capabilities. Sony is yet to launch any model with a dual rear camera design. Google has opted for an impressive single camera design which offers background blur for portraits through innovative imaging software, matching Huawei, but one which lacks the advantages of a telephoto camera design which Apple has focused its design efforts upon.