Samsung unveiled two new handsets at its Unpacked event in New York; the Galaxy S6 Plus and the Galaxy Note 5. Both phones boast nearly identical hardware. Both feature the same processor as the Galaxy S6, a Samsung Exynos octa-core chip, as well as the same modem, the Samsung Shannon 333. Both also have 5.7 inch quad HD displays, but the S6 Edge Plus’ screen has curved edges similar to the Galaxy S6 Edge while the Note 5 has a more traditional candybar design. The Note 5 continues with the Note range’s unique stylus pen.
Notably, Samsung will launch the Note 5 in just North America and select Asian markets initially; while the S6 Edge Plus will be pushed in Europe.
Samsung also announced that its Samsung Pay service (which was unveiled in February) will finally go live in the USA and South Korea.
Samsung also mentioned its first round smartwatch, the Gear S2 but with more details coming at IFA in September. It follows Motorola, LG, and Huawei to opt for the more traditional round watch shape.
It is unsurprising for Samsung to release a new Note as well as a larger curved screen device. The hardware contained in both handsets was also expected, although the continued choice of Exynos is another significant flagship loss for Qualcomm’s Snapdragon range.
But the timing and details of the launch are notable and different compared with previous years.
The Note range has usually been announced at the IFA conference in late August/early September. By launching a couple weeks earlier, Samsung is hoping to steal a march on Apple’s new iPhone announcement which will likely happen in early September. The Galaxy Note 4 was hit by direct competition from the larger screen iPhone 6 Plus during the year which likely had a significant impact on the Note 4’s success. Until autumn 2014, Apple had no large screen smartphones which could compete with Samsung.
Now, under competitive pressure, Samsung is looking to launch its devices into the market before 2015’s new iPhone models again overshadow the market. With Samsung’s shipments coming under increasing pressure from not just Apple, but other Android brands as well, Samsung management looks to eke out any advantage possible.
Samsung’s decision to split the launch of these two devices by region is also striking. Previously the Note 4 and Note 4 Edge launched at the same time. This year, it is possible this decision is solely to allow Samsung’s regional marketing departments to focus on one product, given the significant difference in the propositions for the Note 5 and S6 Edge Plus. But if so, this decision denies many countries from benefiting from Samsung’s differentiated stylus-based flagship because the S6 Edge Plus does not include one.
A more likely possibility is that the accelerated timetable and earlier announcement has prevented Samsung from having the required levels of stock for a simultaneous global launch for both handset models. If this is true, then it negates part of the benefit of announcing early.
IHS believes that both handsets can co-exist in the same market as they serve different niches despite having quite similar hardware. The Note 5 is an excellent device to market for “prosumers” and enterprise due to its stylus and keyboard attachment. The S6 Edge Plus is a much more fashion-forward device and is likely to appeal to a younger, hipper market than the Note 5.
Both model designs are highly differentiated and closely tied to the Samsung brand: The stylus-equipped large screen Note is a category Samsung essentially created in 2011 with the original Galaxy Note. While the curved screen S6 Edge Plus is a unique Samsung design.
To maximise shipments, Samsung must aim to accelerate the launch of both models into all global markets. Otherwise, consumers with a preference for one or other of Samsung’s differentiated designs will simply defer their purchase, hurting Samsung’s business.
Samsung is facing stiff competition by coming late to the mobile payments scene. It pushed back its initial launch from July to September while Apple Pay has established a lead in the US and Google is revamping Google Wallet to Android Pay. Unlike Apple which has accumulated 800 million payment card accounts associated with iTunes, Samsung lacks this critical element for its payment service to quickly gain traction. Samsung Pay’s co-existence with Android Pay is likely to create frictions in the Android ecosystem as consumers could be confused by the two payment options.
Samsung Pay’s advantage lies in its MST (Magnetic Secure Transmission) technology which works with existing magnetic readers used for swiping cards. It claims to be accepted by over 10 million locations in the US, compared to Apple Pay’s 1 million locations. However, as U.S. POS terminals are migrating to EMV chip-and-pin by October 2015, the advantage of MST will gradually disappear and Samsung needs to offer better solutions to compete with all other payment services using NFC (Near Field Communication) terminals.