Each year, it seems there is an even wider variety of smartphones for consumers to choose from. This is because, there are too many smartphones to choose from. As well as the old guard smartphone manufacturers who grace us with their latest generation handsets each year, there are always a number of new additions or ‘convert to Android’ manufacturers who come through with their new offerings. While this is a good thing from the consumer perspective, as choice is good, it can get a little confusing at times. And especially when it comes to Samsung.
There is no arguing with the fact that Samsung is probably the manufacturer who releases the greatest variety of handsets each year. After all, they are the biggest Android smartphone manufacturer and part of their ‘bread and butter’ sales is due to the variance on offer. Regardless of your budget, expectations, regional needs, Samsung has a phone waiting for you to buy. In fact, in November, they were said to be the leading smartphone manufacturer in five out of six regions, with North America being the one they were not top in. Interestingly, about the same time, another report emerged suggesting that 40% of all phones sold in Holland were Samsung phones. In fact yesterday saw the latest IDC report come through which highlighted that once again, Samsung has shipped the most smartphones worldwide in 2015, 324.8 million to be exact.
So the width and bread of their approach (every market and every sub-market) does seem to be working to an extent. However, even from their perspective, the number of devices they now have, has gotten a little out of hand. That is why Samsung made it clear that they were planning on slimming down their portfolio. The original slimming down announcement came all the way back in 2014, with Samsung stating that they were planning on releasing a lesser number of devices in 2015. Among other things, a good cost cutting measure as they trim the fat from their bulging portfolio. And to be fair to them, they did. Whether you realize or not, they have reduced the overall number of handsets which they released, compared to the year before. But is that enough? While the overall number of handsets have decreased, Samsung has remained a company who has released a ton of smartphones over the past twelve months. Too many to count. In fact, when it came to their first flagship device (note first as the operative word) of 2015, the Galaxy S6, they also introduced another variant in the form of the Galaxy S6 Edge. Fair enough, two variants of a flagship device. However, when they released their other flagship device, the Galaxy Note 5, they also released another Galaxy S6 variant, the larger (which was pretty much the only difference), Galaxy S6 Edge+. Not forgetting of course, there was also the Active version which came through during the year as well. Presumably, for those that the standard, the Edge or the larger Edge+ did not satisfy. So there are four devices already and keeping in mind that they are four devices of the same singular concept device, which is only one device that is part of their much wider portfolio.
Up until recently, it had started to look like Samsung were planning on doing the same again this year. This was thanks to rumors which began appearing and suggesting there could be as many as four variants of their upcoming Galaxy S7. These were the actual Galaxy S7, another Edge variant, a larger Edge+ variant and also a larger normal S7 version, the Galaxy S7+. However, these initial rumors did die down with more recent indications suggesting that there would only be three variants (Galaxy S7, S7 Edge and S7 Edge+). Following which, the most recent news this week, saw a rumor emerging that even the S7 Edge+ might not be on the cards either – with Samsung now likely to only release the Galaxy S7 and the Galaxy S7 Edge. Which does seem to make more sense to be honest. Two variants of the same flagship device (as part of a much wider portfolio) is probably more than enough. Of course, there will likely be a Galaxy S7 Active later in the year, but let’s forget about that for the moment at least.
So, in spite of Samsung opting to not release enough variants of the Galaxy S7 for an NBA starting lineup to each have their own variant, it does still raise the question of whether Samsung should continue cutting down on the variance even more? It is obvious that the Galaxy S and Note ranges are the bulk of their sales and certainly their meal ticket devices, but they are not the only devices which helped Samsung hit 324.8 million units shipped. It is the wealth of their variation of devices which ensures that in every market in the world (and every price tier within those markets) that Samsung has something to sell.
The problem with this gameplan though, is that it does not seem to be helping the company as much anymore. Yes, it is sustaining the company to some degree, but Samsung has been seeing declines in sales and very small levels of growth at times. Of course, due to the natural influx of other manufacturers, the level of choice is now so great that many smaller companies can pinch a million sales here and a million sales there. Why buy a Samsung Galaxy A5 when you can buy a OnePlus 2? In fact, this general decline is what prompted Samsung to begin their slimming down in the first place. So the question remains as to whether Samsung is still releasing too many devices? Should they be cutting down their portfolio even more so that the devices they do offer, feel more premium, more exclusive. Nowadays, it is is not hard to own a Samsung device as they have made it so that everyone can. But the problem with that logic is where is the actual appeal? Hate it or not, owning an iPhone does bring with it an element of exclusivity, one which does help to further generate subsequent sales and next-generation sales as the number of Apple devices on offer are far fewer. So if you are going to upgrade from Apple to Apple, then you are going to upgrade your iPhone to another iPhone. Yes, they do offer variants, but these are still only variants of one device. So the selling point of the iPhone (and not Apple, per se) remains. In Samsung’s case, the same cannot be said. You buy the flagship smartphone this year, decide you want to save money next year, so you opt for a lesser (or better to say, more affordable) Samsung smartphone and forgo the flagship upgrade. While this does still guarantee the company a sale, does the option to actually be able to opt out of a flagship device essentially take away the motivation to stick with the flagship range?
Maybe the issue is not actually the number of smartphones in general, but the number of flagships that Samsung now offers. You can have a Galaxy S, or a Note, or an Edge. And that is before we even find out what the next major flagship offshoot Samsung has up its sleeves. With a widening of the number of flagships, maybe Samsung is again, depreciating the idea of a flagship and to some extent, maybe even confusing consumers. While most who follow mobile news might be aware of the difference between an S and a Note and an Edge, maybe the big chunk of the consumer market who are just after a new phone are not so savvy. Maybe walking into a store and being presented with a number of “this is the best Samsung device” options is too much. Maybe it is just much easier to buy the new iPhone instead?
In the bigger scheme of Android things though, this is no longer just a Samsung issue as the last year saw HTC and LG both introduce new flagship or hero devices to the market. Ones which are designed to supposedly compliment their already existing flagship range(s). So with other companies now looking to expand their flagship ranges, in a bid to the secure sales of a market which is already becoming diluted due to the increase of manufacturers, it certainly seems that the level of choice on offer is going to get even bigger. As such, should this be the time when Samsung really starts to contract its variety of devices, variety of flagship devices or… expand the variance even more?