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What Samsung needs to do in 2018

by Justin Herrick | December 31, 2017December 31, 2017 11:00 am PST

2017 was an excellent year for Samsung. Both the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note 8 helped the brand rebound after the Galaxy Note 7 scandal in 2016. Consumers loved what they saw from those two flagships and helped make them among the year’s most popular phones. Samsung shouldn’t head into 2018 in a relaxed state, though. There’s plenty of work to be done, and the company really has an opportunity to put itself ahead of Apple by releasing a new flagship that doesn’t cost quite as much as the iPhone X. Samsung also has to keep an eye on the rest of the industry.

Here’s what we think Samsung should do in 2018.

Separate the Galaxy S9 from the S9+, but not too much

People love new things. What they don’t love are iterations new in name but not in appearance or performance. Unfortunately, the Galaxy S9 probably won’t be a dramatic departure from its predecessor. Samsung, however, should try to expand its lineup’s appeal in 2018 by introducing two models of the same high-end phone but with significant differentiation. Apple started doing this with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, but Samsung’s kept its own duo close together for a few years.

Now is the right time to divide the Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy S9+, creating unique interest in each of them.

The Galaxy S9 needs to come across as premium. As does the Galaxy S9+, of course. But we’ve seen previous Galaxy S releases feel like only one phone was announced. Samsung never gives anything remarkable to the Plus-branded model that the smaller one doesn’t have. That type of differentiation is needed in 2018 to reenergize loyalists and attract the average consumer who’s been staring at an iPhone. Because, honestly, the Galaxy S8 was an excellent phone but nothing about it was particularly mind-blowing.

Samsung should throw everything imaginable into the Galaxy S9+. While an in-display fingerprint scanner probably won’t be ready until late in 2018, it’d be nice if the company could offer more advantages over the smaller model. A larger display and bigger battery just isn’t going to cut it anymore. We want things like more cameras, additional RAM, and unique software features.

Everyone wants to feel they paid big money for the latest and greatest phone on the market. With Samsung, it’s been an awkward transaction in that you’re spending more money but getting an identical experience. Maybe something like industry-leading facial recognition could be on the Galaxy S9+ but not on the Galaxy S9. Or the company could settle for better cameras, as Apple does with the iPhone. That would certainly make consumers face a tough decision.

Whatever Samsung decides to do, it needs to consider ways to make the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ stand out from each other. Back in 2015, the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge were similar but unique due to the curved display of the latter. That feature became standard on all models, so now the company must figure out the next innovation to separate its flagships.

Go all-in on mid-range, even in the U.S.

Mid-range devices aren’t new to Samsung. They’ve always been in production. However, Samsung doesn’t have a marquee device that’s affordable. Motorola, meanwhile, dominates this space with the Moto G series. We all know that the Moto G5 Plus is the best pick for a new phone that won’t break the bank, and the 2018 model will likely hold that title as well.

Many have tried to topple Motorola and the Moto G series, none of have succeeded. The only company who hasn’t given a good effort is Samsung. Surprisingly, the odds would be in Samsung’s favor. Its software is cleaned up, and the supply chain makes distributing anything a breeze.

There does seem to be movement in this direction after the announcement of the new Galaxy A8 and Galaxy A8+. Things normally relegated to the Galaxy S and Galaxy Note series have been brought over to the Galaxy A series. Samsung will ship the phones with metal- and glass-made bodies, the trademark Infinity Display, Samsung Pay, and Gear VR support. Availability isn’t known yet, but we’re hoping Samsung distributes the Galaxy A8 and Galaxy A8+ around the world. Because of the brand’s strong presence in a number of markets, Samsung could find plenty of success by releasing hardware blurring the lines between high-end and mid-range.

Don’t go chasing the iPhone X (in terms of price)

Apple’s brand loyalty is unbeatable. No one is trusted more than the Cupertino-based company. Its products may be really expensive, but consumers have shown no hesitation in buying them. Most of its products continue to sell in high volume every quarter. And, while Samsung is a dominant force in many of the same businesses, the company can’t expect the same response to every product. It’s clear that, in 2017, the Galaxy Note 8 was priced a little too high.

Look at Samsung’s second flagship of the year. The Galaxy Note 8 debuted at a global launch event in New York City, and it earned positive reviews in almost every area. Where is it now? Samsung runs a few ads, but the phone doesn’t get a ton or airtime nor are carriers pushing it. All of them quickly shifted their attention to Google’s Pixel 2 and Apple’s latest iPhones. The public largely rejected the notion of spending laptop-level money on a phone.

Here’s what we learned: Samsung isn’t immune to backlash, unlike Apple is in most cases. The sky-high price for the Galaxy Note 8 was deemed unacceptable. Aside from Samsung’s loyalists, there wasn’t heavy interest in the phone. And there wasn’t enough done to make the Galaxy Note 8 an easy choice over the Galaxy S8.

The Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ are going to be priced against the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, but Samsung also needs to make sure the Galaxy Note 9 is less expensive than its predecessor and the iPhone X. People just won’t show up to purchase $1,000 phones in droves unless there’s an Apple logo on it.

Commit to timely, substantial software updates

In 2016 and 2017, we discovered that Samsung really does care about software. TouchWiz was drastically watered-down for the Galaxy S7, and then the Galaxy S8 ushered in the Samsung Experience era.

These days you’ll find a very limited number of folks complaining about the way the user interface on Galaxy-branded product looks. The journey is not complete, though. The focus should turn to software updates in 2018.

It takes months, not weeks, for any non-Pixel or Nexus device to get the latest version of Android. And, when a partner does roll out a software update, it’s often not the specific version Google’s phones and tablets are on nor is the highest security patch level included. Android was and still is a hot mess in terms of software updates.

If Samsung wants to silence the haters, its software engineers should commit to getting software updates out fast and in their entirety. Certainly enough resources are available. Samsung doesn’t have a small team working on software. So why not lead the way and create a new standard? Assuming Treble doesn’t pan out for Google (and we won’t know for a few years), Samsung could be the knight in shining armor saving Android.

No one sells more Android devices than Samsung, so its input in the fight against fragmentation would be felt pretty soon.

Keep pushing wearables, and don’t stop connecting all of our things

Wearables aren’t as popular as they once were, but Samsung and Apple remain heavily invested in the categories. Apple responded to the Gear IconX with the AirPods, and then Samsung rebutted with the Gear IconX (2018). The two also go back-and-forth with smartwatches. After the Apple Watch Series 3 was introduced featuring an LTE connection, Samsung stuck to the basics and slimmed down its design language for the Gear Sport. The wearables just mentioned are fantastic by the way, in case you didn’t know that already.

Samsung is expected to continue developing new wearables in the future, as it should. Because Apple creates a walled garden for its products and services, there needs to be alternatives for the 2 billion Android devices roaming the planet. The most viable ones come from Samsung. As long as you have an Android device with KitKat or above, you’re set to use its smartwatches and wireless earbuds. Even owners of Apple’s iPhone are welcome to use devices like the Gear S3 and Gear IconX.

The next step is to bring products and services together. Your smartwatch should be able to control your connected devices as your phone already does. And Samsung is prepared to do it. SmartThings is fully integrated into Samsung now, and the ecosystem involves everything from phones to cameras to lights to home appliances to televisions.


Justin Herrick

Justin is easily attracted to power buttons. His interest in technology started as a child in the 1990s with the original PlayStation, and two...

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