Samsung 2, Apple 1

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Sell me another one, not like the other one.

Apple’s reality distortion field did not die with Steve Jobs. Much of the press coverage of today’s announcement of two new iPhone models concluded that the iPhone 5c is aimed at defending global Apple’s market share by moving away from the saturated high end of the smart phone market.

The problem with that idea is that the cheapest unsubsidised 5c costs $549, well north of the low end smart phone offerings of Samsung, ZTE, Huawei, LG and others, which come comfortably under $200. On a spec-by-spec comparison, the 5c looks more like a refresh of the 5, which was discontinued today.

The 5s was the other iPhone introduced at the Cupertino press conference (with satellite events in Beijing and Tokyo). It boasts a heftier chip – the A7 – and a sensor that reads fingerprints. With iOS 7, also announced today, Apple can still meaningfully differentiate itself from Samsung.

But Samsung remains the king of the smart phone mass market. The flagship Galaxy S4 can hold its own against the iPhone, and the increasing diversity and depth of the rest of the fleet ensures that Samsung’s unit sales lead over Apple will continue to widen.

Samsung is also the winner of the September buzz battle. While Apple kicked off the Fall selling season with new colors and neat features, Samsung decided to step out with a smart watch.

It’s an interesting contrast. Apple is only letting the iPhone descend incrementally from the high end of the market. Samsung’s problem is that there’s only 7 billion people in the world and it has competitive offerings that are within reach of nearly all of them. So the only way it can fight market saturation is to figure out how to sell everyone two devices instead of just one. The Galaxy Gear smart watch is a credible and reasonably innovative solution.