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Can the Samsung Galaxy Alpha compete with the iPhone 6?

By Brian S Hall / September 9, 2014


Can the Samsung Galaxy Alpha compete with the iPhone 6?

The shiny new Samsung Galaxy Alpha is Samsung’s first metal smartphone, and a clear challenger to the recently announced iPhone 6, but it will almost certainly fail.

This is too bad, as the Alpha is a solid device.

Samsung sells more smartphones than anyone and has experienced only minimal pain from an angry, litigious Apple, which has long argued that Samsung brazenly copies Apple designs. Samsung’s response? Commercials that mock Apple’s own customers.

It’s time for this to stop. Samsung can and should do better than chase Apple. With competition heating up on all sides, and the iPhone 6 soon available for sale, Samsung will have no choice.

Screenshot-2014-08-07-09.46.57

Fast Follow No More

Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones are known for their plastic casing. Not the Alpha. Its “gorgeous” metal frame, curved edges and light weight give it the unmistakable look and the feel of, well, the iPhone.

The Alpha’s 4.7 inch display is even, surprise, the same size of the new iPhone 6.

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Coincidence? Unlikely. The Samsung Galaxy S5 posted surprisingly anemic sales. The design was panned by several review sites. Perhaps the lackluster sales of the S5 drove Samsung to more closely mirror the look of the always-popular iPhone than ever before.

The result, however, appears to be a phone that may do nothing more than remind buyers they really just want an iPhone. This is unfortunate, as the Alpha sports “desktop class” specs:

  • 6.7mm — extremely thin
  • 115grams — very lightweight
  • fingerprint scanner
  • 2.5GHz quad-core processor
  • 2GB RAM
  • 1280 x 720 resolution (313ppi)
  • Android 4.4.4 (KitKat)
  • 12MP rear camera (with 4K video) and 2.1MP front camera
  • 1860mAh battery and “Ultra power saving” mode software
  • NFC
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 4G (up to 300Mps)

There’s also a heart-rate monitor, the company’s S Health application, and “Private Mode,” which lets users keep select files private. It’s currently available for sale or pre-order in South Korea, the UK and select other countries. Though not available in the US at this time, the cost for the device is approximately $650.

Which begs the question: If Alpha costs the same and looks the same, why not choose the more popular, better integrated iPhone? Or, for those who prefer Android, what does the Alpha offer that makes it the right choice over every other smartphone?

What’s the Alpha’s purpose? Samsung can’t say. The Alpha deserves better.

The Next Big Thing

The new Galaxy Note Edge clearly illustrates Samsung’s stellar hardware capabilities and legitimate design skills. But, chasing Apple’s iPhone, shamelessly parroting known iPhone design elements, as the Galaxy Alpha appears to do so brazenly, is no longer a viable strategy in a crowded, highly competitive marketplace.

With its amazing manufacturing capabilities, distribution prowess, marketing muscle and technical know-how, Samsung is doing both itself and its customers a disservice by chasing Apple. Indeed, Apple itself is no doubt feeling the heat from an array of competitors. Apple’s response is to ratchet up the value of its iPhone by offering superior integration across all devices within its ecosystem, including the Mac. Samsung smartphones, nearly all of which are run on Google’s Android, simply cannot replicate this.

The Galaxy Alpha, then, is almost like a copy of a copy: not quite an iPhone on its own and certainly not an iPhone when it comes to integrating with other apps and devices.

Ok, what, then is Samsung supposed to do? These are, after all, shiny, handheld, rectangular computers. Differentiating them may not be so easy.

Answer: Become even more like Apple. Not copy Apple. Rather, be like Apple. Samsung must control their own ecosystem, focus on a few core devices, extend the integration of their services across all screens, including Samsung smartphones, tablets, televisions, and even appliances.

I also recommend the company make the slow, painful transition away from Android, to Tizen. With the Nokia HERE maps deal, and Microsoft eager to get Bing and other services on as many mobile devices as possible, Samsung can legitimately offer a viable smartphone ecosystem that is truly Google free. Otherwise, it may be doomed to compete solely on price, which may not be sustainable.

Still more advice: stop flooding the market with new devices, quarter after quarter. For example, consider that BGR warned its readers: “don’t buy Samsung’s metal Galaxy Alpha when it launches.”

The reason? Not because it’s a bad device. Rather:

Samsung is planning to release up to three more versions of the Galaxy Alpha this year alone and that some of them might offer superior specs to the Galaxy Alpha.

Three more versions this year alone? Yes, really. Think that’s bad? Samsung has announced six different smartwatches just this year, and there are still four months to go!

Once a year, Apple releases a new iPhone model, moving the previous year’s model down the value chain. Samsung should copy this behavior. Again — copy Apple behavior, not Apple devices. Offer no more than a high-end, mid-tier and a low-end device, and one phablet.

One More Thing

I suspect the company’s hesitance to legitimately follow Apple Inc are driven by fear. The company fears that a single great Samsung Galaxy device, for example, can’t effectively stand up to the latest iPhone. Thus, they seek to counter this reality by throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks.

This is not a viable long-term strategy, not with great low-priced devices by Xiaomi and others, and not when Sony, LG and HTC now all offer great premium devices.

Perhaps, Samsung sees the writing on the wall. At their recent product launch event, Samsung put the spotlight on their new phablets and even a VR headset. The Alpha was a no-show.

Now that the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, and Apple Watch have officially been announced, the likelihood of the Galaxy Alpha grabbing the tech spotlight is very low. However, this just may be exactly what Samsung needs. Now is their chance to fade into the background and start thinking about their next big handset release. After all, we deserve Samsung’s best — and it’s best isn’t in copying iPhone, but in copying Apple.

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