Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge: Attempts to Change Samsung’s Trend Line

It is encouraging to see Samsung’s design aesthetic for their premium phones take a step up. It is unfortunate that much of the design of the Galaxy S6 is so similar to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus design but the Galaxy Edge will certainly have the premium flair Samsung was shooting for. The glass back with some colorization will show well and is a step up from the plastic back which never felt premium. Samsung has challenges mass producing metal so glass made sense and, by including some color, it has a jewelry-like appeal.

While the Galaxy S6 Edge is likely the more appealing of the two devices, Samsung will have challenges mass manufacturing them and the rumored price (Samsung did not disclose price) looks to be quite expensive. So it is likely volume of the S6 Edge will be quite low. This product is more a design statement than anything and will likely note move the needle. So the question then is, can the Galaxy S6 improve Samsung’s trend line? I have my doubts for several reasons.

Firstly, they took out the removable storage and removable battery. This was a significant differentiator for the hard-core Android crowd since they tend to be very tech savvy. This is a small percentage of Android owners but was still a key point that did appeal to Android’s most loyal bunch.

Second, the Galaxy S line has traditionally done best in Western markets. The US has generally been Samsung’s best region for Galaxy S line products. Does the Galaxy S6 stand out enough from the iPhone? It does not seem so and this is relevant for a more significant reason. In the holiday quarter, Samsung sold more Note 4 devices in the US than any quarter by a long shot. The Note had its best ever quarter in the US and largely thanks to the iPhone 6 Plus. This dynamic of the shift to larger screens in the US, particularly among nationalities other than Caucasian, is a new development that actually favors the Note line as a Western trend more than the Galaxy S6. My sense is the S6 may get lost in no man’s land between the iPhone 6 and the Galaxy Note 4 in the West. This is at least what the current trend line suggests with current US device sales. I’m more optimistic of the Galaxy S6’s volumes in Western Europe, however, volumes overall in that region are much smaller than other areas where Samsung would hope to ship units.

Here is a snapshot from my data model of Samsung units by device by quarter.

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 10.49.10 AM

As you can see, initial launches do quite well for Samsung. Overall, when thinking about these new devices Samsung launched, it is the Note 4 trend line I find most interesting. It is very important to observe that premium devices, the Galaxy S and Note line, are a very small percentage of Samsung’s total quarterly shipments. However, the subtle trend I’m observing, is Samsung’s sales trends are telling us their flagship product is becoming the Note line not the Galaxy S line. This is relevant in light of what they announced today.

Many Wall St. analyst’s notes I’ve read recently make a case that Samsung is going to return to growth on the back of these devices. However, I am unconvinced given the end market trends and signals I am seeing. That, plus many of the same structural dynamics, in markets like China and India, which are impacting Samsung most, remain unchanged. Should this change, I will report what we see.

While many pundits will get lost in the similarities of the S6 design to the iPhone, as well as criticize Samsung’s attempts to get into payments with Samsung Pay, my takeaway at a high level is the market for premium is moving in the right direction. Better sensors, wireless charging, contactless payments, mobile security and identity, etc., are all areas the category needs to advance into. There are a lot of people who don’t buy iPhones and we need to continue to have choice proliferate in the marketplace and advance key areas like the ones I mentioned above universally. I’ve noted many times Apple has all but sealed up the premium market. However, we do still want to see vendors like Samsung spend resources to compete in premium as well. The industry is moving forward as a whole and that is good for consumers.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

23 thoughts on “Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge: Attempts to Change Samsung’s Trend Line”

  1. I can’t help but think Samsung are making the same mistake HTC made a while back by divorcing their long-faithful specs-minded, looks-immune customers and chasing the more fashion-conscious by not only selecting the wrong casing (a glass phone is stupid), but as a consequence dropping other premium features (water resilience, SD slot, user-replaceable battery).
    That’s a pity because the specs and features look very good. At least glass does allow wireless charging, which is extremely convenient.
    I’m also a bit bothered by screen sizes. I’ve used the gamut from 4.3″ to 7″ via 5.3″ and 6″ (each and every one deemed “ridiculously large” in its time) and there really are big advantages to a big screen (up to a sweet which is, for me personally, at 6-6.5″, my current 7″ is unwieldy). Samsung seem to be relinquishing their trend-setter role for screen size. Stagnating at 5″ and 5.5″ when you’ve just been proven right shows lack of ambition, and it’s not the Mega range that’ll fill that void.
    In the end, I feel their design-y line should have been separate, and they should have kept the S line as an uncompromised premium line.

    1. Although I suppose screen size preference is probably quite personal, I think that your observation that Samsung is chasing the more fashion-conscious rather than spec-minded is objective and accurate.

      Although it’s debatable whether or not this change in direction will succeed, I think it’s important to realise that Samsung probably perceives the most threat in Xiaomi and less in HTC, LG, Motorola, etc. for their flagships. I’m sure they are learning from Xiaomi’s strategy of emulating Apple.

      The way I see it, it seems like Samsung is determined not to let Xiaomi dominate in the “iPhone look-alike” game.

      1. I’d hardly call the GS6 an iPhone 6 lookalike, unless you count being a glass rectangle being an iPhone ripoff (and that would be an historical mistake). All phones look alike, the non-aluminum unibody GS6, and rounded-edges GS6e, are about as far from the iP6 as a modern phone can be ?

        1. I’m talking more about the features that were stripped out and the features that are the new tent poles. Not so much about physical appearance.

          So replaceable battery, SD slot kind of things.

          1. At this point, I agree that saying who copied who is meaningless.

            If you take Apple’s statements at face value, what matters is selecting the few meaningful features from thousands of potentially good ideas, and discarding the rest.

            My impression from the Galaxy S6 is that the tent poles that they chose were quite similar to what Apple chose for the iPhone 5s and 6. And they also discarded a few features that they had had, but the iphone didn’t (replaceable battery, SD slot). And that selection is also similar to Xiaomi.

            Now, the selection may be good or bad. We don’t know yet. But it seems like instead of bolting on their own ideas, Samsung is more carefully watching what Apple/Xiaomi chose and what they rejected. Once they know the selection, I’m sure that Samsung still is capable of delivering hardware (maybe not software) that is at least on par with Apple, and certainly exceeding Xiaomi.

          2. Let’s go for “unfeature matching” ^^.
            I’m not sure insisting that Samsung only apes Apple covers the most important thing apart from looks (from which the fixed battery and lack of SD probably derive).
            Samsung is staying true to AMOLED at a very high rez (as opposed to Apple’s rather low rez LCD), is introducing wireless charging (the kind of feature you only miss when you’ve had it), is progressing on the camera (who isn’t ?) in innovative ways (auto real-time HDR and f/1.9 sound like killer features, pending tests, no Apple equivalent), and above all are going with in-house components more intensely than before (no Apple equivalent).
            I find that last part most intriguing. If Samsung’s components business managed to surpass what’s available on the market (CPU, camera, flash…) the casing might turn out to be the less relevant (and to me, only negative ^^) feature. It could also lead back to HW superiority (and maybe cost: one can only assume Samsung makes 2x margins on internally-sourced components), not HW/SW/Svces differentiation, being a key factor.
            Edit: I’m curious if that internal sourcing will trickle down to lower-end devices.

          3. Yes, let’s go with “unfeature matching”. It seems to be quite a thing in the S6.

            I agree that Samsung, by not meddling with funny software features and focusing on hardware, seems to have done quite a good job.

          4. ” It also seems that all the security benefits of Apple Pay are present as well.”

            Actually, no. The LoopPay (soon to be Samsung Pay) system doesn’t support the tokenization of credit card numbers so as of today your actual credit/debit card number is transmitted. That process is promised to be coming when the service debuts this summer but until such time Samsung Pay is not nearly as secure.

            Samsung also hasn’t provided information on where fingerprint and card data will be stored. There was no mention of a Secure Element/Enclave protecting that data or if that information will be partitioned from the rest of the system should the user root the device (a common Android practice).

            The wireless charging aspects are a welcome addition and with Starbucks and IKEA offering this feature in their furniture Apple may not be able to ignore this market much longer, though I believe the Apple Watch is their first experiment with a new form of charging devices.

          5. I was just going by what I’ve read in a very topline article. Tokenization is there, but it’s different. I suppose it would need to be to support magnetic stripes. Still, you have a point, I have no idea if it’s better.

            http://www.pymnts.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Loop-MobileTokenization-final4.pdf

            Meanwhile, the bad guys are bypassing the iPhone and hacking the banking system.

            http://www.imore.com/unable-target-apple-pay-criminals-unsurprisingly-stick-fraud-identity-theft

            “Samsung also hasn’t provided information on where fingerprint and card data will be stored.”

            That doesn’t make me trust either of them. It’s quite possible they can both be good or can both suck. I’ve paid with both Google Wallet and Softcard. Meh.

          6. My apologies but I was certain I’d read somewhere that LoopPay and Samsung were still working on some sort of security method. I thought that method was tokenization but clearly I’m wrong.

            What is true is that the service won’t be available until the summer while Samsung does its dance with banks and credit card companies to promote Samsung Pay.

            If your experience with Google Wallet wasn’t up to your satisfaction I highly recommend trying Apple Pay if you have the means. It is so choice.

            Although I only shop at Whole Foods when I hit the PowerBall using your iPhone to pay in 2 seconds is quite a joy. One night I left my wallet in my laptop bag but thankfully I had my iPhone. I went into Walgreens and grabbed a sandwich and iced tea with nothing more than my phone.

            If there’s one problem with Walgreens it’s answering all the questions like donating to charity, rejecting the money back prompt (even on credit) and confirming the final total. If you choose debit there’s one more screen.

            But, outside of Walgreens using Apple Pay is truly remarkable and will be one of the tentpoles of the Apple Watch.

  2. I have been holding off on switching to iPhone from Android until seeing what Samsung has up its sleeves this Q. If S6 is as similar to iPhone as indicated, it is going to be easier decision. I am not looking for challenges of getting used to the new OS. At the same time, am bit bored of Android. I am mostly intrigued by the Edge. Have been looking for an Android device that is more of a statement (yet fully functional.) That device may convince me not to convert to Apple. Interesting observation on mass manufacturing challenges for Edge. The graph is interesting, although I am not seeing any specific trend line for Note 4 yet. I guess, this Q (Q1 15) sales numbers would provide a better view into Note 4 trend line.

    1. I doubt an iPhone will make any statement that can satisfy your particular taste or requirements, especially considering your doubts. Apple may survive though.

  3. Chances are slim I will be getting either. I’ve had a Samsung every year since the original Captivate. It’s a very desirable device in many ways, but of all things to copy, removal of the SD card kills these models for me. They went form over function.

    Still, that’s a benefit of Android, I’ve been saying it all along. I can tune my radar to HTC or LG, or Motorola. I can wait to see if the Note 5 maintains the SD card. I can not upgrade at all this year. I have both a Nexus 7 and Nexus 9 tablet. They never leave the house because I can’t fit what I want in them.

    Case in point. SD cards permit:
    a) The device to grow to your needs.
    b) Hold my entire music library, and swap it out for movies if I choose. Then swap back.
    c) Not tied to special software.
    d) I keep my entire library, and the entire US and half the EU GPS maps, with room to spare. That way, when I’m in the middle of nowhere, without connectivity, just when I need them the most, they are available.

    The day may come when all phones and tablets have removed SD cards. When that day comes, there will likely be 256 GB to 1 TB models. Until then it’s a requirement, for me.

    1. It seems that the removal of the SD-card is irking Android users and that is very interesting.

      It would be very interesting to understand Samsung’s rationale.

      1. It remains to be seen. For these models, I think they simply went for the numbers game, as Apple does. Good for them, bad for me. Well, not really bad for me, I’ll either keep my money or go elsewhere.

        I do think, though I can definitely be wrong, that the Note 5 will remain their “do it all” model.

      2. Samsung seem to be pricing +32 GB (64 vs 32) @ 100€ (SD price: 20e) and 96 GB @200€ (SD price for 128GB: 80€; 35€ for 64GB).
        That’s way overpriced, especially for media storage where speed/specs don’t matter. And you lose the flexibility to recycle your previous SD, to buy it later, or even to swap it.
        To me personally, it would probably mean having to pay 200€ extra just in case, since I’m currently at a well-filled 16+64GB on all devices, out of necessity (frequently out of coverage -> need in-device media).

        At least they’ve got the decency to not offer 8 or 16 GB models.

      3. From what I’ve read on the subject, it seems that the SD-slot was sacrificed in exchange for thinness. If so, then that is such a Jony Ive-ish decision: Thinness at all costs.

  4. Ben, do you have any info on the “unnamed supplier” who is supplying the fingerprint sensor for the S6? It looks to be a huge improvement over the S5 and looks to be on par with the Touch ID sensor in the iPhone.

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