For many years now, Samsung has been floating atop the smartphone ladder, trading blows with, and trying to knock off, Apple wherever it can. The South Korean giant has become a ubiquitous name in the mobile world. While it’s arguable that they wouldn’t have got there without Google’s Android, it’s undeniable that Android wouldn’t have the market share it does now without Samsung. Android is not what a lot of users flock to Samsung smartphones for though, it certainly helps and makes things a hell of a lot easier for users, but it’s features and designs of Samsung that bring new customers and keep faithful ones. Features like removable batteries and expandable storage, a wealth of software features and some of the best specs available. These features, along with an aggressive and relentless marketing campaign, have helped Samsung become King of the Hill where Android is concerned. While that crown is still sitting pretty, it’s been wobbling ever-so-slightly for the past few years, and with the announcement that J.K. Shin is being replaced at, it could be time for a genuine change at Samsung.
Die-hard Samsung fans will know J.K. Shin as the short, enthusiastic Korean that has introduced a number of Samsung flagships over the years from live streams. His full name is Jong-Kyun Shin and since 2012 he has been the President of Samsung’s IT & Mobile Communications Business. Shin was integral to the launch of the Galaxy S III, the Android smartphone that really propelled Samsung to the top. Before then, the Galaxy S II and original Galaxy S were launched as successful smartphones in a market that was hit hard with iPhone clones and “me too” phones that weren’t so smart. This was right at the time that Android was starting to take off and the likes of Nokia and BlackBerry were starting to get left behind. The Galaxy S III was such a huge success because Samsung managed to do something that a lot of other phone manufacturers – save Apple – were unable to do.
Samsung’s third Galaxy S smartphone launched on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon as the same exact phone, aside from logos and such. Today, this doesn’t sound like a big deal at all, flagship smartphones launch from all sorts of different manufacturers as the same phone across the big four all the time, but back then Samsung were the first, at least where Android was concerned. This made the Galaxy S III a phone that practically anyone, all over the globe, regardless of network or location could pick up and enjoy. In North America, this clearly had a big effect as it sold 40 Million units in just 7 Months on sale, and hit its 1st Million units sold after being on sale for just 50 days.
The Galaxy S IV enjoyed similar success, despite the fact that it was an extremely iterative product and for a lot of users represented the same phone they had launched the year prior. Presumably, the Galaxy S IV’s success was down to the fact that the Samsung was very much a rising star in the smartphone game at this point, they were already successful, of course, but they seemingly had an indefinite runway. Where technology is concerned, it’s cool to jump onboard with the rising star, we only have to look at the iPod to know this is true. Speaking of Apple, Samsung took the fight to them hard in advertisements calling out the iPhone as a device for older, less trendy people. These ads were especially successful in North America, where the social status of Apple’s brand had become a way of life practically. Samsung had been doing this with the Galaxy S III previously, and it was working well for them.
The old saying, ‘the harder they fall…’ rang true for Samsung with the launch of the Galaxy S5. Despite this device introducing a new design language, as well an innovative – at the time – fingerprint sensor, a better camera and even waterproofing, it wasn’t all that well-received and the sales confirmed as much. For Q3 2014, Samsung sold a respectable 73 Million smartphones, fewer than 7 Million smartphones sold during Q3 of 2013, the previous year. This saw Samsung weather a drop in profits, compared to the same period the previous year, of 60%. Something was wrong, and while saturation was beginning to have an effect, with the majority of people already having a phone good enough, it makes sense to see the company that probably sold them those phones take a hit.
Throughout this time, J.K. Shin is said to have been the driving force behind all of these product launches. Not only did he do a lot of the talking, but he also had a lot of input in their design as well as their features. It’s been said numerous times that Samsung is not a company with one genius with all of the ideas, but if there was someone at Samsung who made the decisions on the Galaxy smartphones, it was J.K. Shin. When the iPhone was the current King of smartphones, with few able to challenge it, Shin was set on turning things around and didn’t hold back when he told employees that Apple’s smartphones were “like Heaven” while Samsung’s products “from Earth”. For many years, it appeared as though the answer to this problem was to simply throw in everything and the kitchen sink. The Galaxy S III and Galaxy S IV were all packed full of features, in fact the latter had all sorts of crazy software features, few of which have survived as daily staples. The Galaxy S5 took a much more refined approach to things, with a cleaner software design, as well as a more thoughtful approach to hardware, but it clearly wasn’t enough.
So, what was the answer with this latest question? The Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge. Two very similar smartphones launched with a completely fresh approach to both software and hardware. Make no mistake, the smartphones of 2015 from Samsung have absolutely been their best. With premium materials like metal and glass used in their construction and interesting new features like curved edges, Samsung ticked a lot of boxes on their users’ feedback forms. It’s hard to say whether or not the Galaxy S6 line was a successful launch for Samsung or not, I’d say that it was, and judging by some figures from IDC that would seem to be the case. During Q2 of 2015, the first quarter that saw Galaxy S6 sales, Samsung sold more smartphones that anyone else, shipping 73.2 Million smartphones versus Apple’s 47.5 Million shipments. This compares neatly with the 74.9 Million shipments for the same period the previous year. However, if you take the most recent figures for Q3 2015 it paints a different story. Revenue for smartphones were up 2% over the previous quarter and 8% over the same period last year, but profit fell due to price cuts on the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge. Let’s not forget that Q3 of this year saw the first sales of the Galaxy S6 Edge+ and the Galaxy Note 5 as well. Even with two new smartphones, Samsung saw a fall in profits, something that the South Korean firm is sadly become accustomed to where mobile devices are concerned.
It would appear as though the Galaxy S6 line has not done what J.K. Shin and the rest of Samsung wanted it to. It has certainly stopped the falling sales and profits that the Galaxy S5 started, but again we are seeing a return to fall in profits. Recently, Samsung announced that J.K. Shin would be stepping down as President of the mobile division, to be replaced by Dong-Jin Koh. It’s said that Koh was instrumental in a lot of the development of the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 5 line of devices, and has spent much of time in the mobile division in Research and Development. As I noted previously, Shin was a man that made important decisions that led to the position that Samsung now commands in the market. That position is established, and for high-end manufacturers like Sony, LG and HTC it’s difficult to go up against them. Even so, chinks in their armor are starting to show, and if Samsung want to enjoy a strong 2017 it seems wise to replace Shin. Having done his job and delivered Samsung a strong position, it’s time for him to step aside and let someone else make the tough decisions that will help Samsung return to their former glory days.
As someone who understands what’s next, Dong-Jin Koh could be just what Samsung needs. Which is arguably a look ahead to the future, not more of the same. The Galaxy S6 line was a step in the right direction, but it didn’t go far enough, what Samsung needs to do – just like a lot of smartphone players today – is to take risks, look ahead to the future and create another Galaxy S III moment. We need to see a device from Samsung that we will remember like the Galaxy S III, the Galaxy S6 should have been that device, but for whatever reason it wasn’t and Koh could be the man to help Samsung take risks, hit the reset button and do something brave.