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Is Samsung overloading the Android market with devices?

Posted: , by Michael H.

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Is Samsung overloading the Android market with devices?
To paraphrase Jeff Jarvis, the world is becoming a mass of niches; a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work so well any more... at least as far as software and content is concerned. The idea is that it's better to excel at a specific thing than to be not-so-great at a lot of things. If you want sports news, you don't turn on your local news station, more likely you go to ESPN. If you want to listen to random music, you may not choose the radio which repeats the same songs on a loop, you use Pandora where you have more control of the experience. We have specialized options for almost everything these days. Unfortunately, that idea hasn't scaled well to hardware, mainly because of the extremely high costs. 

Whereas the decision to choose Pandora over the radio, or ESPN over a local channel may not cost you anything, the difference in cost of hardware can be very prohibitive. The differences between a laptop, a netbook, or a tablet are pretty wide, both in use case and cost. Many say that the tablet has killed the netbook, but that isn't really true. Tablets have simply relegated netbooks into their proper niche: people who need a basic mobile computer, but need to be productive (and therefore need a keyboard), and may need a more traditional operating system for specific apps. The web may supplant many traditional desktop apps, but until text input on tablets can be made as easy and fast as on a device with a keyboard, that niche will continue to exist.

The trouble is that often we don't know what the niche or use case is until we have the device, which may be the reasoning behind Samsung's strategy. Many say that Samsung copies Apple's every move, but when was the last time you saw Apple offer the glut of choices that Samsung is planning to release? A large part of Apple's mystique is its exclusivity: OS X and iOS only exist on Apple hardware, that hardware is limited to a couple of options, and that hardware is kept on a strict update cycle. Essentially, Apple builds one product and expects it to satisfy everyone. Samsung is taking the Android path, which extends into the hardware: build multiple options so there is a choice for everyone. 

After the latest announcements from IFA, the Samsung Android lineup looks like this (in order of smallest screen to largest): 

(Note: for the purposes of this article, we are assuming that the Tab 7.7 will be the successor to the OG Galaxy Tab, meaning there will not be a 7" Tab. As yet, Samsung has not made it clear whether or not this is the case.)

This list of six devices may not seem too complex, but the trouble comes with all of the other variations. Not only will consumers have their choice of screen sizes, but many of the devices also have options for different sizes of internal storage, and with the Tabs there will also be the choice of WiFi-only versus 3G/4G models. So, what starts off as six choices quickly becomes about 15 different variants (not counting carrier specific differences with the S II). That's a lot of choices, and we're not sure it's necessary. Especially since Samsung has yet to show a concrete need for at least three of the devices on the list. To make this discussion easier, we're splitting up the group into the smaller three options and the Tabs.

Is Samsung overloading the Android market with devices?


The smaller options

We began this article talking about niches, because it seems niches are what most of the devices on this list are targeting. The one exception is the one-size-fits-all Samsung Galaxy S II. Other options may have similar capabilities, but this is the only true phone on the list. We'll talk about the multimedia, Internet, productivity, communications, and gaming aspects of the other devices, but the SGS2 is the only one that can be a usable phone. The International and AT&T variants of the Galaxy S II are at 4.3", while the Sprint and T-Mobile variants have screens of 4.52". So, unless clothing makers start putting larger pockets into pants, this is probably the very upper limit for phone sizes. The rule seems to be emerging that anything larger than 4.5" should fall into the tablet category rather than the phone category. Sure, the Galaxy Note is technically a phone, but the size of the device will turn off many consumers, just like the Dell Streak did. 

That is the main issue with the Galaxy Note - the size. At 5.3" and 6.28 oz (178g), it's too big to be an everyday phone, and bigger tablets offer better experiences in many aspects. Of course, we can't make a straight comparison to the Dell Streak, because of three reasons. First, Dell learned its lesson, killed the 5" Streak and replaced it with a 7" Streak, whereas Samsung seems to be getting rid of its 7" option in favor of the 5" Note and the 7.7" version of the Tab. Secondly, the where the Streak had a relatively low resolution, the Note boasts a resolution of 800x1280. Third, the Note comes with a stylus, and this may not be a small difference. 

As mentioned before, input is a problem with touchscreen devices when considering using a keyboard as compared to a soft keyboard. A stylus is completely different. That's not to say better. There's a reason why schools are beginning to forego cursive handwriting in favor of keyboard literacy classes, but pen input does have a defined niche. But, that niche is limited further by the size of the screen. It is too small for most uses by artists, and the general public doesn't care so much about annotating photos, etc. So, that essentially just leaves field reporters. The trouble is in whether or not this niche of field reporters would have any interest in switching from paper notepads to a fairly bulky, heavy and relatively expensive (at least compared to paper) device. The addition of a stylus could also impact gaming by bringing many of the gameplay elements found on the Nintendo DS to the Note, but it's unclear if this device could survive simply as a gaming device. 

The last of the small devices is the one with the most obvious place in the market, the Galaxy WiFi 3.6, which is essentially a portable media and gaming device for kids. Any adult who has tried to play certain types of games on a sub-4" device knows that it's just too small to hold comfortably. Add that to the fact that kids are the only demographic that doesn't necessarily need phone capabilities, and you've got your target for this device. The trouble here is in parental controls which are essentially non-existent on Android. Google has instituted an app rating system which helps, but in general there are very few ways for parents to control an Android device to shut down Market purchases or block certain websites. 

Is Samsung overloading the Android market with devices?


The Tabs

Determining niches and use cases for the three Tabs is far more difficult. Essentially, all three Tabs offer the same user experience. Each model has generally the same hardware specs, save for minor bumps in CPU speed, but we're trying to avoid hardware spec arguments in this piece, because hardware will always get better and better. The more relevant information for this discussion are features that change how you may use the device, or what tasks it is used for.  The only real differences are in the size of each, and in that the Tab 7.7 includes a stylus. The size differences are as follows:

  • Tab 7.7 - 7.9mm thick, 11.8oz (335g)
  • Tab 8.9 - 8.6mm thick, 16.6oz (470g)
  • Tab 10.1 - 8.6mm thick, 21oz (595g)

As a general rule, the lighter a device, the more likely it will be used as a mobile device rather than just a portable device (mobile devices can easily be kept with you at all times - phones, media players, etc. - whereas portable devices can be carried, but size makes it uncomfortable - laptops, netbooks, larger tablets.) Samsung has done an amazing job of making all of these devices thin and light, so each can be either a couch device or a mobile device. The differences in screen size won't make much difference in the experience of playing games, watching movies, or most other tasks. A larger screen will make the onscreen keyboard more useable, so the Tab 10.1 does have the best chance of crossing over from being a consumption device to a hybrid productivity device, but none will really be a full laptop/netbook replacement for someone who needs to do a large amount of typing. 

The stylus for the Tab 7.7 should add a number of interesting uses, especially once developers start making apps for it. Because of the larger screen as compared to the Note, the Tab 7.7 should find uses with artists in possibly replacing Wacom tablets in some cases, or in being a digital canvas. The stylus could also add in the same gaming features mentioned above for the Note. The larger screen size would make for a more comfortable writing surface, so anyone looking to take handwritten notes, or annotate documents may find use in the Tab 7.7. But, overall it's unclear if the market for stylus input devices still exists as it once did. 

Conclusion

Ultimately, it feels like there are too many devices vying for too few spaces in the market. As you may have noticed, the Tab 8.9 was not mentioned at all in the last section, because it feels like a duplicate. It adds nothing over any other device, and its only appeal is in being slightly smaller and lighter than the Tab 10.1.  And, the price doesn't seem to justify the difference either. a 16 GB Tab 10.1 is $499, whereas the same model Tab 8.9 has been listed by Samsung at $469. Given the hardware packed into the Tab 7.7, it's unlikely that will retail for much less than the $450 range.

If we had to make a prediction, we'd say that the Galaxy WiFi 3.6, the Galaxy Note, and the Galaxy 8.9 probably will not have very long lifespans. The Galaxy WiFi 3.6 could be a success given the right marketing, and the addition of parental controls, but otherwise there isn't much need for the device. The Galaxy S II is already a success. The Galaxy Note will likely face the same fate as its spiritual predecessor, the Dell Streak. The Note is a tweener device that won't find a comfortable space with phones or tablets. Samsung has proven the market for 7" tablets, so the Tab 7.7 should find its market, especially if developers adopt the stylus. Apple and Asus have proven the market for 10" tablets, so the Tab 10.1 is safe, but there is no reason to believe the Tab 8.9 will sell well enough to justify its existence. 

Perhaps these new devices are test devices from Samsung. They are a short walk along "if you build it, they will come". Unfortunately, that phrase just isn't true in the world of hardware. With hardware, it is always better to give concrete examples of how a device can be used. In this way, Apple has always excelled. Apple devices may find more use cases than what Steve and co. lay out, but there is always a defined market at launch. Maybe Samsung will find markets that we didn't know existed before, but right now it seems like there are too many choices and not enough uses. Samsung hasn't explained why we need all of these choices. Samsung will have to be careful to not overproduce products until the market is proven. Choice is a good thing for consumers, but there also needs to be clear benefits and variations between products, or the choice is pointless.

77 Comments
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posted on 02 Sep 2011, 12:13 1

1. PeterIfromsweden (Posts: 1230; Member since: 03 Aug 2011)


PhonArena, i think you need to edit this article.
You forgot to put the wave 3 in between the galaxy wifi 3,6 and the galaxy s2.ยจ
Please make this update.

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 12:17 22

2. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2705; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Edited to make it clear that we're only talking Android devices...

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 12:51 1

15. PeterIfromsweden (Posts: 1230; Member since: 03 Aug 2011)


OK, thanks for clarification.

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 14:33 5

37. firebo14 (Posts: 77; Member since: 16 Aug 2011)


It is all about Samsung..... go go gogogogo!

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 12:45 10

12. protozeloz (Posts: 5396; Member since: 16 Sep 2010)


Dude... seriously.....

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 13:13 7

24. remixfa (Posts: 14255; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


and peter keeps trying to tell us his opinions are unbiased :)


anyways, good article michael, it gives us something to chew on.

I dont completely agree with the tab 8.9. I think it has a safer spot than the tab7.7 in my own view. I currently use an 8.9 LG G-Slate and I think its the perfect balance between portability and screen real estate The 7s are just a big call-less phone to me and the 10s just seem to big for every day use. I take my 8.9 with me everywhere and dont even think twice about it. Ive heard a lot of people with 8.9's say the same thing.

Besides, the market is so small right now (we get blown away by "a few million sold" which sounds like a lot but is a drop in the bucket compared to the computer population), we dont really know what the best fits are... or if there is any.

Tablets are here to stay but we dont know which ones.. so samsung's "lets throw every size out and see what sticks" approach is a great way to actually see where the market will go when given a choice. If smaller tablets keep up in popularity, you can all but bet eventually even apple will offer a smaller model.

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 12:47 2

14. kainy (Posts: 165; Member since: 10 Aug 2011)


Suppressors!!! You don't show the precious Bada to the public!!! You monsters!!! *rofl* :D

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 13:35 9

29. IEatApples (Posts: 66; Member since: 06 Jul 2011)


I hope bada and all of its research and data get destroyed in a firey plane crash. Its terrible.

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 13:50 3

34. PeterIfromsweden (Posts: 1230; Member since: 03 Aug 2011)


won't happen. Lets hope that happens to google android instead, or maybe WP7 : D

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 14:34 10

38. firebo14 (Posts: 77; Member since: 16 Aug 2011)


Never heard of bada (2.0).

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 17:32 8

49. RORYREVOLUTION (Posts: 3109; Member since: 12 Jan 2010)


lol Peter did you give yourself a thumbs up? Because I don't think anyone else would with that kind of comment.

posted on 03 Sep 2011, 04:35 1

58. PeterIfromsweden (Posts: 1230; Member since: 03 Aug 2011)


didn't expect all those thumbs down ; )
I'm not taco or miz, ntheir favorite color is red. My favorite is blue : )
what was it in my post that you think deserves thumbs down ???
I only made a statement, and PA corrected the article to make it clear they are only talking about android devices.

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 12:20 3

3. jthiagesan (Posts: 104; Member since: 20 Apr 2011)


Of course. Samsung is dumping out all their technologies very soon. Should wait at least like Sony ericsson. A life of their product should be at least a year. They just released galaxy s2 and now galaxy note very soon. Does this mean they don't value what they created yesterday.

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 12:23 2

5. PimpStrong (Posts: 310; Member since: 25 Jul 2011)


No it means they know that it's different strokes for different folks. Plus us consumers should welcome a 6 month shelf life on this stuff. It means you get better products FASTER.

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 12:32

6. jthiagesan (Posts: 104; Member since: 20 Apr 2011)


None of the products dies in 6 months. We buy handsets on contract for lesser prices so we can replace our shelf. Imagine those who spends more money in buying cellphones like asia and other regions. does your "us" means US peoples?

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 12:52

16. PimpStrong (Posts: 310; Member since: 25 Jul 2011)


"None of the products dies in 6 months."

Really? Phones bought today aren't being outdone 6 months later with better features by the same manufacturer huh?

As for "those who spends more money in buying cellphones" its not like because your 6 month old phone is outdone does not mean you HAVE to go spend more money. It's choice.

And no us does not mean US peoples. It means people who decide to or not to buy a new phone.

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 12:54 1

19. PimpStrong (Posts: 310; Member since: 25 Jul 2011)


Delete

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 13:50 3

35. jthiagesan (Posts: 104; Member since: 20 Apr 2011)


Everybody needs a phone with at least a year time of life span. I'm a kind of person who changes cell phone once in 3 or 4 years. So i dont mind whatever they release. I use cellphone only to talk, text and data for finding the route or some stores nearby my area. I say that a great company like Sammy should give proper life to their products. It's applicable for all the companies not the Sammy

posted on 03 Sep 2011, 12:26

63. Piotrek007 (Posts: 112; Member since: 07 Dec 2010)


Oh cmon ??!! How long it took to update galaxy S and start selling Galaxy S II ?? Like 1 year ?? And who will buy galaxy S now ? If the phone wont be for free no 1 will buy it... Phones dies... very fast I would say...

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 12:20 3

4. PimpStrong (Posts: 310; Member since: 25 Jul 2011)


You can never have too many options.

There are quite a lot of Televisions to choose from but this question would never be posed.

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 12:32 2

7. evolutionqy7 (Posts: 38; Member since: 27 May 2011)


For us yes more options is better.

For average consumers more options is just a headache.

If you ever worked for Carphone Warehouse or BestBuy mobile you would know that certain customers get their head friend from all the networks and the large amount of phones.

So too many options isnt always the perfect scenario

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 12:46

13. PimpStrong (Posts: 310; Member since: 25 Jul 2011)


fried*?

I could imagine it makes the phone selecting task more difficult for mom and pops but hey that keeps CW and BBm employee's employed.

TV's, Cars, computers, its all a headache for the uninformed.

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 16:35

46. evolutionqy7 (Posts: 38; Member since: 27 May 2011)


Fried :) typo :)

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 12:35 5

8. Joshing4fun (Posts: 1237; Member since: 13 Aug 2010)


I wouldn't say too many, i would say too many with not enough variation.

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 12:39 2

9. Sammy4ever (unregistered)


guys you got it all wrong about the "Note", it's the smartphone that every tech geek was dreaming of!!!! and i think it will face a huge success! first it's the same galaxy s2 with a bigger AMAZING screen, and a faster processor,better desingn, and a new innovation in the pen thing( maybe not new but stolen from htc flyer :p). so who would not want that just cz it don't fit in the pocket????? don't worry we love walking around and showing our amazing huge device without putting it in the pocket ;)
@peterfromsweden you're so phenomenal dude! so funny! what's your story exactly with bada???? yes maybe it's the samsung future but not now, it's still a newborn os and need some time to face the competition, even bada 2 is still very weak! don't say no like a stupid, that's the truth!!!!

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 12:39 2

10. tech-head (unregistered)


This is the main thing that makes me worry about android. I'm an iphone 3gs user who is eligible for upgrade. I really want a phone other than an iphone(boring os) but android tech moves way too fast. Who's to say that if I buy a SGII it wont be totally obsolete in a few months. :( 2-year contracts suck......and being stuck with an obsolete phone for 1.5 years really sucks. I'm almost hoping the iphone 5 is gimped so I can pick another phone.......lol.

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 12:53 1

17. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2705; Member since: 26 May 2011)


The Android ecosystem does move fast, but it's also very iterative. There will be better phones out a few months after you buy, but they aren't that much better as to make a big difference. I'm coming up on the end of my time with my Nexus One, and it's been a great phone for the past 18 months. When I upgrade to the Nexus Prime, it'll be a big jump, but my Nexus One has been a great experience throughout.

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 22:17

57. E.N. (Posts: 2610; Member since: 25 Jan 2009)


I definitely agree with that. So if the newer phones aren't much better than the previous, I don't see why they should be released at all. Think of how much better the Droid Bionic could have been or how much faster it could have arrived to the market if Motorola had focused all of its resources on the device instead of half-assed pointless devices like the revamped Droid X. I'm definitely not recommending Apple's yearly cycle (I have my own negative opinions about that), but releasing new phones less frequently might even work in their favor. I really don't see why Android users are so happy happy about the speed in which new models are released.

@tech-head. I definitely sympathize with you tech-head. The Motorola Atrix was released only about 6 months ago and it already feels like old news. Hopefully Motorola keeps it up with the timely updates. Hopefully Samsung has time for once top devices like the vibrant, epic, and fascinate. Lots of "Hopefully's". Releasing less devices would solve these problems.

My recommendation is that if the iPhone 5 doesn't disappoint hardware-wise, you should buy it. You'll know for sure that Apple will treat the iP5 like gold. My iP4 is over a year old and I don't feel like its obsolete in any way. It's actually still up there competing with the big dogs and it probably shouldn't be.

And just to throw this in there, Android technology isn't moving as fast as people make it out to be. Based on the rumors, when the iPhone 5 launches, it will have the same specs as the top Android devices. The only reason why it feels like Android is moving faster is because more Android phones are released. Like Stuntman says, it's all an illusion. They're both going at the same speed.

posted on 03 Sep 2011, 15:05 1

64. remixfa (Posts: 14255; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


1ghz dual core, 3.7 inch screen, stolen old android UI enhancements... = obsolete at launch.

posted on 03 Sep 2011, 21:29 1

66. E.N. (Posts: 2610; Member since: 25 Jan 2009)


In the browser speed tests posted by PA, the iPhone 4 was almost as fast as some dual core processor Android device, I seriously don't remember which but they're all the same so who cares. 1 ghz or 1.5 ghz doesn't matter. And let's not use the cop-out about Android being more complicated so it's slower. Total bullsh*t. A browser speed test is a browser speed test.

When the iPhone 4 launched, it was still the best device even though devices like the Evo and Droid X with their large screens, so what's the difference a year later.

And lastly, the iPhone was better than Android even without those UI enhancements. Apple coming out with notifications and OTA doesn't make iPhone any worse, it just gives consumers even less reason to buy an Android device. Customization really is the only thing Android has going for it, right now

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