Throw enough mud at the wall, and eventually something will stick. This, in a nutshell, is Samsung’s mobile sales strategy.
Take a good look at its product line over the past year. First there were the progressively shrinking tablet releases: The Galaxy Tab 10.1, the Galaxy Tab 8.9 and the Galaxy Tab 7.0, each debuting just months apart from one another.
But tablets were just the beginning. Depending on which carrier you go with, the Galaxy S2 smartphone measures in well past the 4-inch mark — as large as 4.5 inches with Sprint and T-Mobile’s versions, while AT&T’s version sizes up to 4.3 inches. There’s also the Galaxy Nexus, Google’s latest flagship device developed in conjunction with Samsung, which boasts a sizable 4.65-inch display.
And this is to say nothing of the recently launched Galaxy Note, a massive 5.2-inch tab-phone — phablet? tone? — which has seen more than its share of criticism since its debut (we dissed it too). And as recently as Tuesday, Samsung unveiled yet another smartphone size option, the 2.8-inch Galaxy Pocket.
It’s like some tech-themed version of Goldilocks and the three bears, only Samsung can’t seem to find the size that’s just right.
Think of it as the opposite approach to Apple’s device strategy. Apple offers only one smartphone, the iPhone, and its screen size has remained consistent since its launch in 2007. It’s a “take it or leave it” philosophy, furthered by Steve Jobs’ infamous approach to market research: “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
And even some Android manufacturers seem to be taking Apple’s lead. In January, Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha told reporters his company would pare down its number of device releases in 2012, saying that multiple products that are “roughly the same” don’t “drive the market to a new place.” Or in other words, myriad Motorola phones aren’t making the company any more money, as evidenced by its most recent earnings report.
The question is, Will Samsung’s strategy work?
For phones, perhaps. Samsung claimed sales of more than 300 million handsets in 2011, a significant number of which were Galaxy S and Galaxy S2 devices, the company says.
The lion’s share of that number, however, can be attributed to feature phones. Samsung hit the 20 million Galaxy S2 sales mark only weeks ago, while topping 30 million in Galaxy S1 sales last October. That’s still hundreds of millions of devices unaccounted for.
Still, Samsung’s phones are faring far better than its tablets. The iPad continues to reign supreme as the most purchased consumer tablet, research firm Forrester says, while no other competing tablet holds more than a 6 percent tablet market share. Samsung product strategy executive Hankil Yoon even admitted as much in a roundtable with reporters last week.
“Honestly, we’re not doing very well in the tablet market,” Yoon told CNET and others at the roundtable. It’s the most earnest insight into tablet sales the company has provided to date, given that Samsung hasn’t released any tablet sales data whatsoever.
It seems, however, that Samsung may have found the smartphone size sweet spot. Despite the torrent of criticism it received, Samsung claims it has sold more than 2 million Galaxy Note phones since its launch last October, according to a Forbes report, and says it’s on track to hit 10 million in sales by the year’s end.
Of all the myriad, funky sizes Samsung offers, do we really want our next generation of smart handsets to be led by a legion of phablets?
“I think people don’t know what they need,” Yoon told Forbes, taking his lead from Jobs. “But as soon as they start using it, they think that’s what they need.”