The week ahead Charles Arthur on crunch time for smartphone geeks
(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) = Though faintly icky, the word "geekgasm" may be the right one to describe what's expected to occur once Samsung unveils its new smartphone this Thursday in New York. For months, fan sites (of which there are plenty) have been salivating over tantalising leaks: will you be able to make it scroll with just your eyes Will it be called the Galaxy S4, given that the number four is unlucky in South Korea, Samsung's home Will it have a 4.99-inch display, rather than the 4.8in display of the Galaxy S3, its predecessor "It's too early to tell," says Android Authority, one of the many sites devoted to vacuuming the internet for the tiniest morsel of information, true or false. An Exynos or Snapdragon processor Yes No To some people, this matters deeply.
= Once it was Apple that commanded such intensity of speculation, as it unveiled its latest iPhones, but Samsung is now the world's largest maker of mobile phones in general and smartphones in particular (crowns it wrested, over 2011 and 2012, from Nokia and arch-rival Apple). The Galaxy S3 was its flagship last year, and by January this year had sold 40m. This time round, the smartphone market is bigger and analysts are upping their expectations for sales: some reckon it could sell 10m a month and hit 100m sales in total.
For the South Korean company, it's been a long haul from making slightly downmarket mobile phones. At one point, the company president was so infuriated by their poor quality control that he assembled Samsung staff in a yard. They were forced to watch as he made a bonfire of 150,000 of their phones, after which he barracked them for their lackadaisical approach.
Meanwhile, rumours continue to swirl that Apple, which has seen its stock fall since the launch of the iPhone 5 last September, will launch a cheaper version of the iPhone in the next few months. Might the "cheap iPhone" have a big screen, to target Asian buyers (who like visual real estate) What would Apple leave out to make it cheaper The rumours are that it may use plastic for the phone's body, as it did with the iPhone 3GS in 2009 - just as Samsung has sort-of confirmed it will continue doing with the S4.
= While they slug it out on retailers' shelves, Apple and Samsung also keep fighting like cat and dog in the courtroom. You may have thought that the titanic legal battle last summer in the US, where a jury awarded Apple $1bn on the grounds that Samsung had copied its designs and infringed patents on use, was the end. Not at all. Two weeks ago the judge there decided that a new jury should decide how much to fine Samsung over 14 of the 28 devices on which the first jury awarded $450m out of the total $1.05bn of damages.
Meanwhile, in the UK courts last week a judge ruled that a number of Samsung mobile network-related patents it was asserting against Apple weren't valid. Generally, Apple has had the better of the court battles - but they haven't given it leverage more broadly. Mostly, it seems to have hardened opinion among those looking for a reason to dislike Apple, while giving Samsung what you could call collateral advertising.
= Still, a few hundred million here or there won't trouble Samsung Electronics, which in the third quarter of 2012 had profits of $7.4bn - about 47% of the whole industry's profits. Apple captured 59%, for a total of 106% - because companies such as BlackBerry and Sony made losses, redressing the balance.
= Samsung also knows how to make the owners of billboards, newspapers, TV channels and websites happy: in 2012 it spent an estimated $12bn on "marketing and advertising", including being one of the principal Olympic sponsors (reckoned to cost north of pounds 1bn on its own), getting its name on football team shirts, and providing encouragement - sometimes in the form of products - to a bubbling group of bloggers who sign up to its "Samsung Mobilers" scheme: they get exposure on its website in return for their huge enthusiasm, which often spills over to the rest of the web.
Unfortunately, last September the scheme backfired a little when two Mobilers were flown over from India to Berlin - and discovered that instead of being VIPs on a fun tour, they were expected to staff a stand for Samsung at the IFA trade fair. When they complained (online, of course), Samsung indicated they could fly themselves home. Naturally, they complained (online); in the resulting PR storm, Nokia stepped in and paid their accommodation and plane tickets.
= One could always hope, as North Korea waggles its nuclear capability, that Samsung might somehow effect a form of technology-driven perestroika - that the new Galaxy S4 might quietly change the lives of people in its northern neighbour. The good news: you can get Samsung phones in North Korea. The bad news They typically cost about US$200 (pounds 134) - far more than the average North Korean can afford.
(c) 2013 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
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