Samsung's gambit: Is dropping features and being more like Apple really that good of an idea?

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.


What kind of industry is this?


When you think about it, it really is ridiculous that an industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars is seeing most of that dough go to just one single company — Apple. Yes, yes, Samsung makes money off Android devices, too, but nothing like what Apple has going on, and it just so happens that it's pretty much the only Android maker that is actually making anything worth talking about. The trouble is that, as of late, it's been having trouble keeping up, and there's no telling where the bottom is.

I won't get into the nitty-gritty here and pretend that explaining how the industry came to be this way wouldn't be an impossibly complex undertaking — it would be based on a ton of speculation anyway — but I think it's worth talking about what's on every Samsung loyalist's mind (and not only): "Why is my favorite company standing less and less for what it used to, and becoming more and more like... Apple?!".

Now, before we begin, humor me here. I know that not everybody necessarily feels that Samsung is becoming more like Apple, nor am I saying that I have insider intel that tells me that the South Korea-based behemoth is intentionally mimicking its biggest rival. It's true, however, that whether intended or not, in effect that's exactly what's been going on as of late — Samsung has been rather explosive in its adoption of a 'less is more' philosophy, which is highly unusual for the company, and shedding features that have granted it a special place in many power users' hearts. In the process, the company has, instead, gone for a more Apple-esque approach, with a decisive focus on slim, industrial design, even when it demands usability sacrifices such as dropping the microSD card slot, fitting smaller juicers, and doing away with the battery door. And I worry that this may just prove to be a huge mistake for Samsung.

Funny how things work out


It's funny that I should get to write this piece, as I'm among them folks that actually like Samsung's new direction. A removable battery is probably one of the worst ways to entice me into a device, and expandable storage just doesn't tempt me since I don't really hold much information on my phone other than photos and apps. And when my photo collections start getting out of hand, I just cut and paste onto the cloud. This happens twice a year tops.

At the same time, I like the new, more stylish design of Samsung devices, and can finally even learn to to live with their new, less cluttered TouchWiz interface. By all means, I'm exactly the target consumer Samsung is going after with its new philosophy, yet I still think the company may be on its way to making a huge mistake. Why? Because I have no loyalty for Samsung whatsoever. While they might dazzle me into buying one of their devices right now, there's absolutely no guarantee I'll come back for another in a year's time. Those folks that simply have to have that microSD card slot? They would. Compare that to Apple and the fanaticism with which its followers eat up its products, and you know that Samsung is headed for trouble.

Samsung's biggest mistake deserves a round of applause


Know another thing that's funny? In a way, Samsung deserves quite the round of applause and respect for its latest actions, as they reveal just how much the company cares about feedback. Indeed, looking back, Samsung hardly has a challenger in terms of the assiduousness with which it's covering all its bases, every time, and that's only possible when heeding external feedback. So when it's announcement time, you can count on Samsung to have the best in store — the best in imaging, the best in processing and storage, and some would say the best even in even display tech (though PhoneArena's editorial opinion differs here).

This is doubly impressive with smartphone makers failing left and right, a shared feature of most of them being that they act as if they think they know better than their user base. This is a tricky and intriguing argument, but I'll leave it for later, and instead discuss a simple tech journalist's (mine) impressions of Samsung over the past few years, and just how much attention Samsung seems to have been paying to what us critics have been saying.

It started off with design — a traditionally weak point of Samsung smartphone manufacturing (I'm talking modern era here). No matter what HTC or Apple did, you could, until recently, count on Samsung to deliver a plastic-happy handset that is well put together, yes, but fails spectacularly in making snap purchases a real possibility. Whether we're talking the Galaxy S or Note lines, it was all the same. And me and my colleagues the world over never missed the chance to point this out. In a reviewer's mind back then, the thing that kept Samsung from delivering a device reasonably close to perfect was nothing more or less than their mundane exterior, though I'd argue that the incredibly heavy TouchWiz of old was a big problem, too. In any case, and though it took a while, Samsung listened — first with the Galaxy Alpha, and then with the Note 4. The culmination of Samsung's resolve to prove to naysayers that it, too, can do beautiful design are, of course, the super-thin Galaxy S6 and S6 edge and their derivatives — the Note5 and S6 edge+. I don't care what anyone says, comparing these four devices to the likes of the Galaxy S5, S4, or S III is simply ridiculous. Even at the time of their release, these were unsightly in comparison.

Of course, this new design philosophy was only the first sign that Samsung was taking a page off Apple's book, and the first time we saw the company deliberately sacrifice practicality — a Samsung specialty until recently — in favor of fashionable looks. Thickness went down, but so did battery capacity. Plastic was gone, but fragility was introduced. Signature features were axed and even TouchWiz was sent to fat camp.

Can the bet pay off? 


In practice, what Samsung essentially chose to do — a notion cemented by the Note5's release — is cater to a new type of consumer (like me), who doesn't necessarily care about non-essential features like a removable battery. This, however, comes at the expense of the very group that not only bought your devices previously (ah, Innovator's Dillema!), but is also your most active evangelist. Techies. Power users. Nerds and fanboys. Call them what you like, but they're undeniably a fundamental part of the success matrix. And though they're a comparatively tiny portion of the entire user base, they have a disproportionately significant influence over the rest of the population, and can definitely set the wrong mood if left untended. As somebody who's a tiny part of the process of setting that mood, I'd argue that ignoring that extremely sensitive band of people is dangerous.

A practical company Samsung is, though, so I'm sure that they ran their numbers a hundred times before committing. I'm confident this is a well-considered and thoroughly calculated gambit. And, sure enough, it does make sense if you think about it — after all, this new group Samsung is trying to dazzle is much, much larger than the one it's been occupied pleasing so far. And while they may also look like the more forgiving bunch that is unlikely to get its panties in a twist if, next year, something like wireless charging is removed, I hold that they're far more unpredictable. Find that hard to believe? Just take a look at what's left of companies like BlackBerry, Nokia, and then the world of trouble that companies like HTC and Sony appear to be in today.


As unpleasant as it may be for me to admit, all facts point to the obvious: there's only one company that is given free reign to set expectations and dictate what the next logical step is. And it's name is Apple, not Samsung. In fact, in many ways, Apple and Samsung aren't even bound by the same rules. As much as I'd like to say otherwise, for all intents and purposes, Samsung hasn't even been competing with Apple these past few years — it's been busy smashing heads within the Android universe. Yes, dominating, but still within the Android universe, which is unfortunately proving to be more and more unattractive from a maker's standpoint. 

The above is very important, for a company competing with Android makers is bound by a different rule set — even one that is seemingly determined to challenge Apple — and Samsung is now disregarding those rules to do so, leaving itself exposed in the process. And if its gamble proves unsuccessful, forcing it to go back to its roots with its tail between its legs, it might just find its home territories suddenly contested by rivals that it thought defeated. For no matter how well it does in its fight with Cupertino, it'll have to consistently, relentlessly outdo other Android makers without any room for mistakes, for then what's to stop buyers on the fence to choose an LG phone? So one 'UltraPixel' fiasco (and I know many claim that the microSD/removable battery situation is a fiasco) and accounting will have to write off a fat chunk of inventory. 

A more risk-averse scenario? By no mean a foolproof plan (or even realistic, given the pressure the company must be under from shareholders), but Samsung might want to re-consider the value in keeping the hardliners among its fan base happier whilst its busy trying to play Apple's game. After all, history teaches us that great empires first start crumbling from the inside. The only problem with that? The two — appeasing your core followers while trying to reach an entirely different demographic at the same time — in my opinion, are quite incompatible, and that's not likely to change, so godspeed, Samsung!

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136 Comments

1. Neros

Posts: 1016; Member since: Dec 19, 2014

Why sale note5 in Europe for 800euros when you can force people to buy the edge plus for 900euros? Best logic ever. This way you have to pay much more for the bigger screen. Sammy knows how to squeeze cash from naive Europeans.

9. SGSatlantis

Posts: 227; Member since: Jul 20, 2011

"force" is bit of an exaggeration, but I feel your pain. Samsung has some explaining to do.

81. j2001m

Posts: 3061; Member since: Apr 28, 2014

Why how many othe phones got the edge, got the ufs got the 7420, got better looks than the iPhone, oh yes none

89. j2001m

Posts: 3061; Member since: Apr 28, 2014

Look Samsung just got the same score for there note 5 over at the verge as they gave for the iPhone 6 plus and the reviewer liked it, I.e. Samsung are now going for 98% of all customers and not the like 2% on websites like this that like to have sd cards and so on. But if you noted not all users of this site need them so it's clear why they being removed Not all needed the sd card reader and removing battery, this is because removing the sd card means ufs and supper fast speed and making no removing battery , means small phone and all of it being better than the iPhone 6 plus and I be thinking thne6s plus, but I be thinking the verge will give it a better score even it being a very bad size over the note 5

11. Dude2

Posts: 41; Member since: Oct 27, 2011

In this case less really is less and we'll see that in less units sold. Between the Note 5 and Note 6 we should really see how style vs function play out in the marketplace.

99. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

Well we already have an example. Samsung doesn't have to be an example. Apple has already shown from day one, the vast majority of folks don't need this. The top selling point of Android yes is flexibility. The flexibility is in software, not hardware per se. When you have a 3500Mah battery that last almost 2 full work days or can charge from 0 to 100 in less than 2 hours, why do you need to remove the battery? With chaging pads and outlets everywhere why do u need removale batteries? If we badger OEMS to increase storage by buying the larger capacity devices and stop buying low capacity devices, they will stop making what doesn't sell. WE...let me repeat..WE CAN PUSH OEMS TO DO WHAT WE WANT. if 16GB isn't eough, STOP BUYING THEM. if 32GB isn't rnough STOP BUYING THEM. If removable batteries are what you want, then don't buy a phone without it. However Apple has sold 700M devices without them and I har no fuss. I don't hear Apple fans asking Apple to make removable iPhone batteries and their devices have some of the worse battery life issues. Yet we have the best devices and people are bitchin about batteries. Shows even people in Android camp are just as stupid as anyone else. In fact that's worth repeating - The iPhone for a flagship has the worse battery-life of any expensive phone, yet iFans aren't asking Apple for removable batteries. Samsung device however have top rated battery-life and have options like wireless charging, quick charge and more and fools here still want removable batteries.

108. Topcat488

Posts: 1416; Member since: Sep 29, 2012

Your FACT that was worth repeating: Gives the definition of sheep. That die after the air runs out IN the barn. Cause their LOCKED inside. The Samsung definition are of dolphins that want the door to the sea open again, so FRESH sea water comes into the pool. POINT MAKING: Batteries go BAD, YEARS before the smartphone components... And a NEW battery, is like fresh AIR or SEA WATER.

28. Switch00

Posts: 536; Member since: Sep 04, 2013

I think that type of logic might lead to Samsung downfall. First in Europe, then elsewhere. Like Apple with Iphone, Samsung made its name and long time consumers in smartphone market with S and Note series, most of them would stick to those two series, most of them don't care about Iphone or even ridicule it. But if Note5 will arrive to late to Europe, many might shift. S edge (+) is not very attractive for 'regular' customers, they will without a doubt avoid it since it is clumsy to use and the edge itself is nowadays useless. In Europe, S edge + will sell only to those, who think they stand out of the rest because of some curve on the phone. But they don't come in masses. Nobody will buy outdated Note5 if it comes to Europe in January unless it is 20-30% off. Samsung flagship politics went completely off track, which is sad, because some two years ago they had all they needed not only to come out of Iphone's shadow, but to surpass it easily - with innovative versatility.

42. Ashoaib

Posts: 3297; Member since: Nov 15, 2013

Their new philosophy sucks... I will not buy note 5 or edge+ anyway

33. manojmcn

Posts: 634; Member since: Jul 16, 2015

A two minute silence for the manufacturers who will now jump to provide the missing features and end up creating thick bricks in greed to capture market. They will fail miserably and learn a lesson sooner. Also by providing more for less, some of them will deepen their losses.LG's dream phone G4 has crashed out of competition, Q2 profits tumbled. What did they promote? - wow changable battery and micro sd card. It failed utterly in Korean market also. And also reports with images of worn leather & battery life problems. And HTC One M9 with micro SD? Did any one buy..the company is going to lay of a good maount of people. Chinese phones are cheap with lot of features for lesser money. They sell now because of lesser expectations and also for most people these are their secondary devices. One of my friend bought Mi4i for office use. result - not able to coz of lack of encryption. one week later battery is not charging and there is only one service center in the entire country. He is not in hurry coz his primary phone is an iphone.

79. Jairudy

Posts: 13; Member since: Apr 14, 2015

Wow, this is great point. Article does not mention surge in sales of Unlocked phones at cheaper prices. Many are from Chinese, but get your own Squaretrade and send away for repairs. No walk into your Carrier, Say WTH, I know want this Bitch No More!!!!!

82. j2001m

Posts: 3061; Member since: Apr 28, 2014

Why do you think Samsung doing what they are doing as there are loads of China companies doing what lg are doing and none apart from a apple on what Samsung are doing. And Samsung doing a better job All my mates have said to me if the new Apple phone looks the same and comes with no edges hahahahahhahahahahah then they going. Samsung

93. Ashoaib

Posts: 3297; Member since: Nov 15, 2013

LG G4 is failed bcoz of under power Soc, I must say. They are failing bcoz of Qcomm's generosity. We come to know just few days back about leather back issue, so leather is not the issue at first hand

97. manojmcn

Posts: 634; Member since: Jul 16, 2015

SD 808 is not underpowered, as reviews all have given its performance as good. The general public if you ask, they wouldn't even know what qualcomm is. But how a phone looks and feel is something they can easly differentiate. HTC One M9 & LG G4 failed on the looks front mainly. HTC build is good but was same as M8. LG G4 looked similar to G3 and pales when compared to S6 (and S6 edge). They put a lot of money trumpeting the removable battery and micro sd card. Also gave free extra battery & micro sd card as launch offer. Still people weren't interested as expected.

34. tnuc2014

Posts: 294; Member since: Sep 12, 2014

I don't think they will sell many Edge +. We all know the Note 5 will come to Europe eventually, so I think true Note fans will wait. I also think Samsung will lose some customers to Apple by not releasing the Note 5 in Europe yet. Logically speaking, they brought the launch forward to get in ahead of Apple, so perhaps the production volumes won't be at the required level to cope with European demand just yet.

37. tnuc2014

Posts: 294; Member since: Sep 12, 2014

The S6 Edge + isn't priced too badly in the UK. It is expensive, but probably a bit cheaper with my carrier than I thought it would be. It's very tempting to upgrade to this device, but I have my heart set on a Note 5, as long as Apple don't seduce me with the 6S Plus in the meantime.

77. QWERTYphone

Posts: 654; Member since: Sep 22, 2014

NO. SAMSUNG IS DEAD TO ME BECAUSE OF THESE CHANGES.

98. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

How popular is the Note in Europe? Does it have high sales vs the USA? Samsung doesn't give a breakdown of sales by model for each country. But the Note 3 sold 50M devices. How many were sold in all of Europe vs North America? So far numbers show, Samsung major sales are in NA and Europe, but between the 2, NA is the clear winner.

100. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

Because the Note costs more than the S6 Edge Plus. So the Note would be over $1000 Euros vs the Edge Plus. Question. With the Euro being so messed up, if Samsung did release the Note in Europe, right now it would cost over $1000 just for 64GB, how many would sell vs buying the S6 Edge for $800 Euros for the same size, same internals, just no pen/or a pen you can buy in the store yourself. Which makes more sense?

103. Ninetysix

Posts: 2965; Member since: Oct 08, 2012

S6 Edge Plus is more expensive than the Note 5 broski.

107. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

Yes, you are correct. I am use to the S always costing less than the Note and I didn't check the cost of the S6 Edge Plus as close. Yes I stand corrected. The S6 Edge is more. So the S6 Edge Plus could end up costing as much as $1000 Euros while the Note would be 900 Euros. However there has to be a reason other than cost as to why the Note 5 isn't being pushed with the S6 Edge Plus. So I guess Samsung should be the ones to provide an exact answer instead of us guessing. Thanks for the correction.

2. shy2papa

Posts: 336; Member since: Jan 23, 2010

No it isn't, in my personal opinion Samsung messed up with the Galaxy Note 5 and 6 edge+ I rather get s6 or note 4 than a more expensive note 5 with less features.

41. Commentator

Posts: 3723; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

I like Samsung's new design, but I feel like they hit the sweet-spot with the Note 4: fantastic design AND all the features that differentiate them from the rest. It seems strange to me that they pretty much dropped that design language within six months. I don't personally need a removable battery, but a lot of people do, and sacrificing a plastic back in exchange for a glass one doesn't pay off in my opinion.

59. cncrim

Posts: 1588; Member since: Aug 15, 2011

Let's me add I have a feeling this is where Samsung will join HTC king of Android then every year screw up one way or another. So far I found Moto Or LG is the best 2015 android, Samsung kept this pace Apple like I said in 3 years either LG or Moto will be the king of android.

80. Commentator

Posts: 3723; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

HTC couldn't afford to screw up; as a tiny player on a frozen pond full of giants they were always skating on thin ice. Samsung can, especially now that their user-base is the size it is. Also bear in mind that HTC's screw ups were pretty much absolute; nobody could argue that their Ultrapixel experiment was a success. Meanwhile, Samsung's design change is debatable because a significant number of people welcomed the change.

109. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

Slow storage replaced with faster storage...that isn't less or more. Removable battery replaced with a efficient system where even the smaller battery last longer than the bigger one did, I see more here. Faster charging wirelessly along with Quick charge 2.0 by wire. That's also more. Samsung Pay is also more as the Note 4 doesn't have it. A better version of the 16MP camera and a 5Mp too. A better 1440p display than the one on the Note 4. I mean it is offering more than the previous model even if it is not a whole bunch.

3. GreekGeek

Posts: 1276; Member since: Mar 22, 2014

They will probably win some BUT they'll lose much much more in return, you know, those power users who got used to SD cards...As cutting edge as the Note5 might sound, NO...they will not upgrade to a paltry 32GB.....But, but, there's a 64GB option for them, lol still no, considering the cost they have to throw at it for the measly storage bump So to sum it all up-----> B-A-D IDEA

52. maherk

Posts: 6939; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

Same was said when the S6 was announced, and how Samsung will be forced to get back to their old days and offer these 2 lost features. 5 months later, Samsung stuck to the same plan, removing these 2 features from it's Note lineup. And this shows one thing, Samsung has lost sum, but won much much more in return.

62. Commentator

Posts: 3723; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

I don't necessarily think it shows that they won much more. It's way too early to tell that, and just because they stuck to the same plan doesn't mean the plan is working; having a flawed plan is better than having no plan at all, or a more-flawed plan. That being said, we can't forget that Samsung spends millions on market research, and they've been VERY successful in the industry (slumping sales notwithstanding) so I have to imagine this course of action makes sense. I'll give a successful company the benefit of the doubt over the rantings of a mob of fanboys any day of the week.

72. maherk

Posts: 6939; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

"having a flawed plan is better than having no plan at all, or a more-flawed plan" What are you talking about? How would they have no plan if it is either offering sd card slots and removable batteries or taking them off their phones. And them sticking to the same decisions they took with the S6, 5 months after releasing it, DOES tell that Samsung are quite happy with the S6's sales and that they have made the right decision.

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