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Smartphone Wars

Apple, last week, set the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons when it released the iPhone 5. Apple fanboys, affectionately called Mactards, waxed lyrical of the “new” iPhone (that changed everything again, again) while Samsung fanboys, affectionately called Droids (naah! just me who likes to call them that!), bitched so much about it that Manmohan Singh and his UPA government nearly had an identity crisis and had to go all the way to announcing “revolutionary” reforms in the areas of Diesel and LPG pricing and FDI participation in the retail sector in India. And by revolutionary, I don’t mean the nature of the reforms but the revolution that would be led against them by the opposition and the perpetrator-in-chief Mamta-di.

So the iPhone 5 is just longer than its predecessor and it is still technologically inferior to the Samsung Galaxy S3. The older Samsung phone has a bigger screen, better front facing camera, more processor cores, more RAM, more colours and heck, if you prop it up, you can even use it as a storm shelter! I mean what was Apple thinking? How dare they call this iPhone the best iPhone ever, I mean… oh wait! Ummm ok! It is the best iPhone ever. But still, where’s the revolutionary Apple genius? I’m sorry to disappoint people with these arguments but seriously, what were you expecting? A phone that includes a coffee maker and does your laundry? Probably drops the kids off to school and does the grocery shopping on the way back?

I know the last few sentences are an open invitation for trolls to hijack the comments section of this post but what I am trying to say here is that since the first iPhone, this product has been Apple’s flagship product and as such it is a highly evolved one. You see all the new stuff on this product. It was the first to receive the new Retina display a couple of years ago, for instance. Its not like Apple is simply sitting on its hands either. Everybody making jokes about how Apple iPhone generations would now just involve lengthening the phone further completely misses the point. Obviously they missed the part where Phil Schiller launched the iPhone because if they would have been paying any attention instead of outraging on Twitter, they would have heard his explanation as to why the iPhone is just longer and not broader. This simple logic is also what lies behind Apple’s entire product design ethos. The user. Let me put that in caps. THE USER! Apple realised very early in its life that a product that the user does not like to use or has to make an effort to adapt to will be shown the door quicker than you can say “Samsung Galaxy S3” (Man is that a mouthful!). They increased the screen size only by making the phone longer, in effect retaining the grip customers are used to on their older iPhone 4/4s. Add a lighter and thinner device to the mix and you actually have a product the customer is used to already. Migration is easy and cheap too with the carrier upgrade plans.

Now lets talk about features that Samsung tom-toms and points the finger at Apple for missing out on. NFC heads the pack. NFC for the non-geeks (OK! If that’s you, why are you still reading this post?) is basically technology that allows two NFC-enabled devices to communicate when touched or brought in close proximity not more than a few centimeters. Think of it as a touchy feely version of Bluetooth. And Apple skimped on the feature. Look at it this way, NFC requires a chip all for itself. And with all the battery packs in that iPhone, where would you fit another chip in that 7.6mm zer0-figure body? Heck they even had to make the SIM card smaller and thinner to make space (All the best chubby fingers! Good luck handling that nano SIM now). So anyway, Apple did not put NFC into its iPhone but instead put out a software feature in their new iOS 6 called Passbook. What Passbook does is it helps the user save everything from a ticket stub or a boarding pass to a movie ticket on their phone. Neatly categorised and easily accessible. It does require a tie-up with the particular service provider (airline or theatre, etc.) but many have signed up and many more are on their way. Now I agree that the feature will not be of any use in India due to the lack of these tieups but then nor will the NFC on the S3. In fact, there are very few public applications for NFC currently while all of us go to movies and buy air tickets. Oh, and did I mention that Passbook only requires you to upgrade the OS on your phone? So while even iPhone 3GS users will have access to Passbook, good luck to S and S2 users trying to get that NFC chip installed on their device. Albeit a short term solution, Passbook is the need of the hour and Apple is the best when it comes to reading the market pulse.

They already had Thunderbolt and now Lightning. Kinda justifies this image of the iPhone comparing it to Thor.

iPhone 5 vs. Galaxy S3: Which should you get?

Apple happily publicised Lightning as a feature and more critics climbed out of the woodwork to criticise Apple for making a hill out of a haystack. Well, to understand the significance of this new charging port, I request all these critics to pick up an older iDevice and try plugging in the 30-pin connector with their eyes closed or in the dark. Yeah and after you have completed destroying the port on your iDevice by trying to plug in the cable the wrong way, you will understand why Apple changed the connector. The new connector is uni directional so there is no “wrong way” of plugging it in. Even the standard mini USB connector requires the user to ensure the cable is plugged in the right side up. And the Lightning interface is digital which means that it opens an avenue for many more accessories. Not to mention, adapters for the 30-pin system for compatibility with older docks and other accessories. In effect, more business and revenue for Apple. And you can’t blame them for trying to earn money. That’s what their shareholders expect from them. They are after all a profit-making business.

Turning to Samsung and its flagship S3 product, Samsung has taken a lot of heat in the last month. They lost a landmark IP case to Apple and Apple had barely finished counting the billion dollars in loose change (purportedly) paid to them by Samsung when they followed it up with a new phone. Samsung immediately went into a frenzy and the result of that frenzy was a jealousy induced advertisement and the announcement of a new device (supposedly S4).

I am not even going to comment on this “mine is bigger than yours” (literally) ad by Samsung. About the new device, even as I was writing this post, news was “leaked” by an anonymous Samsung employee of a new phone to replace the S3 in February. It will be bigger than the S3 having a 5 inch screen. So looks like Samsung will be taking up the onus on Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Ghar Yojana by providing a ceiling to anyone who can shell out around INR 40,000. And since the S3 is already powered by a Snapdragon S4 quad core, I expect the next iteration to run 8 server cores with liquid cooling. Speaking of processors, it is rumoured that the processor in Apple’s new iPhone 5 is designed in-house by Apple. While this is still unconfirmed since no one has actually been able to lay hands on the device, it was earlier believed that the iPhone 5 would be the first device in the world to have the ARM Cortex A15 chip. However, many people are now of the opinion that this could in fact be Apple’s first in-house designed chip based on the ARMv7 processor architecture and not based on a plain vanilla A9 or A15 chip. To cut through the technical stuff, it means Apple has started making its own SoCs (System-on-a-Chip. Seriously! If you had to read the contents of this bracket, why are you still even here?) which means ARM and progressively Intel will start shivering in their shoes. If one of your largest clients starts making his own stuff, your business is under threat. And combine that with Apple’s penchant for tailoring its software to its specific hardware and you have a really potent mix on your hands. And oh dear! Look at me going off on a tangent about the iPhone while talking about Samsung’s Galaxy S3.

So the S3 is clearly the better device technically. And it is a shade cheaper than the fruit company’s phone too. There has to be a catch here somewhere, right! Unsurprisingly, there is one. To understand Samsung’s pricing strategy one must take a look at their product line. Only the Galaxy series itself has multiple models currently on sale. Apart from the mid-range Ace and Y series, the flagship S series has 3 models. To add to this confusion, these models also differ significantly in terms of technology. Which means that Samsung must price all its products exactly right to avoid one of them cannibalising the other. Add to the mix its Note and Tab offerings, and Samsung has a major problem on its hands where a 5-inch S4 and the Note 2 (or its successor) could seriously sabotage each others sales. To add to a potential customer’s woes is their Android software. Now, while Google’s Android OS is a technically brilliant product, its licensing allows the end supplier to modify and repackage the OS before pushing it out to their customers which is exactly what Samsung does. So their iteration of Gingerbread looks very different to the ICS iteration which in turn has a marked difference when compared to the Jelly Bean OS in the works. This means the users are forced to relearn a few things every time the OS is upgraded. That is, if they receive it. Samsung refuses to support older devices on its new OS packages. So while ICS was made available to S2 users, Galaxy S users were made to feel like ostracized second grade citizens. Expect an encore when Samsung seeds Jelly Bean for the S3 and hangs the S and S2 users out to dry. A stark difference from Apple’s policy where it will be seeding iOS6 even to the over 3-year old iPhone 3GS albeit with few features (like Siri and navigation in maps) missing on the older devices. The user here feels well taken care of. And it is not like Samsung don’t want to do it. They simply can’t. The main reason being that their software is made by someone else and they must customise it to their hardware, which necessarily must be bleeding edge so they can thumb their collective noses at non-Android users. So Apple’s strategy to make both its hardware and software works to their advantage.

By now, even the most benevolent of you would have realised that I am unabashedly an Apple fan boy. Yes I agree that Apple has for generations used “reality distortion” to sell its products but in all fairness their products really are that good that people don’t mind paying a premium to own them. Apple weren’t the first guys to make and all-in-one computer, they weren’t the first ones to make a tablet, or a touch phone. Heck they weren’t even the first ones to make a portable music player, a product that rescued Apple from a flailing nosedive into oblivion and put them firmly on the path to being the technical giants that they are today. But Apple always had one thing going for them. Their passion for their product. If you see the launch event that happened on September 12, you can see the love and passion all the guys on stage have for their products. The event started typically with news, videos and photos of new iStore openings across the world. Call it showing-off if you want but to me it looked more like a child showing off his best toys to everyone. As they went through the new iPhone and the various new iPods, the love for each product was clearly visible. The customer justified this love when over 2 million of its new baby were booked within 24 hours of opening pre-orders in select geographies. Compare this to the S3 selling about 200,000 units worldwide in 24 hours and you may have a clue as to who the market’s darling is.

And now it is time for me to go buy a Galaxy S3 to hide under when Mamta-di declares me a Maoist and comes looking for me for the unseemly comments that I made against her earlier. Maybe I’ll also buy an iPhone 5 just to fight her off!

(P.S. I took a page out of Samsung’s own playbook and have copied all images in this post blatantly from other websites. I do not own IP rights for any of them. See, I’m trying to adopt Samsung.)

  1. Grond
    17 September 2012 at 23:07 IST

    Troll wars to follow.

    This is getting even more interesting that reading spy thrillers of the Cold War periods.

    This space will be watched with interest.

    • 17 September 2012 at 23:19 IST

      haha sure! though its still quietish here… for now šŸ˜‰

  2. Puneet
    18 September 2012 at 12:14 IST

    SO what you mean to say is that apple makes a fool of you and you are ready to be fooled. You ur self realised that there are multiple features that apple has not put in the new device, while there is not a single feature that ip5 has which is not already in the market. any intellegent individual will agree that having options to choose(different models of samsung with different price) is better than having no option at all(Apple).

    • 18 September 2012 at 12:32 IST

      Thanks for the comment Puneet. What I mean to point out is that Apple is not stuffing technology into their phones for the heck of it. Instead they are putting stuff that is immediately relevant. And I do not agree with the comment that “Apple makes a fool of you and you are ready to be fooled”. I have already mentioned that a product hits mass numbers and market shares only if it is worthwhile. You can sell a bad product once, but not over multiple product cycles over a period of close to 5 years.
      As for many models in the Samsung lineup, yes choice is good as long as products don’t start cannibalising each other. Remember markets are sensitive to pricing and placement. If my premium tablet/phone is only a few shades more expensive than the next lower device, I may not buy it at all. Or conversely, I would buy the next higher device thus reducing sales of the particular product. There is a cost associated with carrying multiple products in your inventory which is what Apple cuts down upon by restricting themselves to three models only, retiring the oldest one in favour of the most recent model. So iPhone 3GS does not exist in the product lineup and iPhone 4 has become the entry level iPhone.

  3. Ninad
    18 September 2012 at 17:29 IST

    Good post Sid. I am myself an apple fan boy, which I earlier wasn’t and strongly believed that iFans are fools or to quote Puneet – “ready to be fooled”. But the very premise that everyone else out there buying apple products is a fool is flawed. Apple knows what the consumer/end user wants:

    – A product that looks and FEELS good
    – Best in class H/W – S/W integration
    – Need of the hour (no NFC – thank god, ‘only’ 2 cores – thank god, same screen width – THANK GOD). The day isn’t far when Samsung phones will be the size of tablets (uh well the Note 3 will surely achieve that landmark)
    – Superb build quality, and so on..

    I was myself divided between the S3/Note and iPhone5 when it was obvious that apple merely stretched the 4/4S and didn’t introduce anything that didn’t already exist (I love my iPhone4 though). But when I started checking out my colleagues’ Droid computational powerhouses, the first thing that struck me was CHEAP. Their case feels yuck, screen resolution was yuck, the phone size was yuck, every phone has a different OS version installed, and there is no S/W support to the end user. And no matter how many cores Samsung puts in to their phones at the end of the day it doesn’t make sense and the phones still have a lag. Who needs so many cores in a phone after all? For Christ’s sake its a phone and not a server.

    And as far as NFC is concerned, where the heck are those Droidsters planning to use the feature anyway? Droidsters have a habit of comparing the iPhone with 4-5 different manufacturers. Look – “the RAZR is thinner”, “S3 has more cores”, “Note’s screen is bigger”, “Nokia’s got awesome battery life”!!! I mean come on guys, if you need 4 different phones to compare with one iPhone then please just go and buzz off..

    I got up early morning on Sept 14th and ordered my iPhone5. Can’t wait for it to arrive on the 21st šŸ™‚

    • 18 September 2012 at 19:42 IST

      Thanks for the comment Ninad. I am glad you liked the post. Please do share the link around amongst like minded people šŸ˜‰
      You will notice I have pulled up most of these points in my blog post too and which is my precise point. If Samsung or anybody else is making a superpowered product, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the product the market wants or needs. Apple over the years has become exceptionally good at reading the pulse of the market to gauge what they should add to their products. The Apple products were revolutionary once upon the time but they are like an advanced life form. They are now evolving. They add new features and hardware as and when required, not for the heck of it. It is a phone and as such it does a great job at it.

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