Samsung has been at its most successful when filling voids in Apple's iPhone lineup: It offered Verizon support up until 2011, large screens up until 2014. What voids are left to fill now?
The Samsung Galaxy S6 and Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge have to answer that question, starting with today's pre-order and carrying over to April 10's release date and beyond. It's an answer I'm truly interested in seeing, because right now I have no idea to whom I could recommend either of those phones.
This is where I pause and give a trigger warning to all my Android friends. Part of my covering the iPhone is covering competition to the iPhone: How other companies choose to counter-program Apple fascinates me as a marketer, and how well they do it directly affects me as a customer. The better the competition, the harder everyone has to work. Cool? Cool!
Four or five years ago, I could have recommended the Samsung Galaxy to people who wanted an iPhone but needed to use Verizon. Two years ago, I could have recommended a GS4 to someone who wanted an iPhone but really needed a bigger screen. Last year, I could have recommended a GS5 to someone who wanted an iPhone but felt they absolutely had to have a replaceable battery, SD card, and/or waterproofing. The GS6, however...
With its newest smartphone, Samsung has gone back to the GS series looking like an iPhone — from multiple angles — complete with analogs for Touch ID and Apple Pay. They also got rid of everything they spent the last year advertising as a differentiator: the aforementioned battery, SD card, and waterproofing. The price is also premium, so there's no money to be saved here either.
That means the only person I can think of recommending a Galaxy S6 to is someone who wants an iPhone, but hates Apple and iOS. Even then, they'd have to really want an iPhone without Apple or iOS. If they just preferred Android, I'd be tempted to recommend something else, like an HTC model (if camera wasn't a priority) or Motorola, or a Nexus (unless it's too big), or one of the increasingly interesting Chinese manufacturers like Xiaomi.
I get the feeling Samsung is having the same problem: The company doesn't know who their customer is any more than I do. They seem to be hoping that it's people who want iPhones... but instead, those people are getting iPhones, and in record numbers to boot.
To be clear, this isn't Samsung changing: Samsung actually changing would be staying a course for more than a year. It's also not Samsung listening to their customers: How do you listen to customers when you don't know who they are? This is Samsung going back to a strategy that worked in the past, but for reasons that no longer exist.
Here's why that concerns me: There are very few companies in the world that have the resources to compete with Apple, and Samsung is probably the best-equipped of all of them. They're a manufacturer — they're often Apple's manufacturer — and that means they don't have to worry about having access to technologies or components. They're also incredibly well financed: They have, effectively, limitless funds with which to compete. They can make anything.
Give that, Samsung should be pushing Apple. Hard. Instead of playing catch-up, Samsung should be leaping ahead and forcing Apple to play that game. Instead of an iPhone 6 design complete with Touch ID and Apple Pay, they should have features that terrify Apple and make all of us in the media wonder out loud how Apple will respond to them.
There's nothing terrifying about the Galaxy S6, though. We're not anticipating any of the S6's new features moving to iPhone — they're already all there. Instead, most everyone in the media is anticipating Apple's incorporation of its own technologies like Force Touch and Taptics into its smartphone and tablet line, with nothing from Samsung even close to being on the radar.
That's bad for me, and for anyone who wants competition. It's bad for Apple, which can always benefit from tough competition. Whether or not it's bad for Samsung, though, we'll have to wait and see. I'm sure the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge will garner favorable reviews from mainstream outlets. It's a beautifully tailored suit, but ultimately it strikes me as an empty one.
How it does in the market, and how much it moves the needle for Samsung, is going to be really interesting to see. I know I'll be watching Android Central's coverage closely! But I don't think it will make much of a dent in Apple's plans or marketing. And that's not a good thing.