Samsung Tops Mobile, Smartphone Market Mostly Due to Screen Size & Model Variety

Samsung is the king of the hill in the mobile market, having recently beat Nokia in total mobile phone sales for the first quarter of 2012. The Suwon, South Korea company is also the leader in smartphones, having bested Apple this Q1 2012. Analysts say that one main driver behind Samsung’s success is its variety of offerings.

A man paints a picture in a new phone Samsung Galaxy note at the Mobile World Congress, the world's largest mobile phone trade show, in Barcelona, Spain, Monday, Feb. 27, 2012. Samsung has risen to the top spot in smartphone sales, and analysts say this is due to Samsung's diverse model offerings. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

As of first quarter of 2012, Samsung has sold a total of 93.5 million handsets, 36% higher than Q1 2011. In comparison, Nokia shipped 82.7 million handsets in that quarter, falling 24% from Q1 2011 figures. In smartphones, meanwhile, Samsung overtook Apple in Q1 2012, with 44.5 million smartphones, compared with Apple’s 35.1 million units.

One Size Fits All?

Apple has long adopted a one-size-fits-all mantra for its mobile devices, at least for screen sizes in their popular iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad product lines. The iPod and iPhone launched with a 3.5-inch display, and they still sport that size today. The same goes with the iPad, which have used a 9.7-inch screen for three generations now. The only difference is that Apple has improved the visual quality of their screens by incorporating a high resolution “Retina Display” since the iPhone 4 and the new iPad.

There’s actually a reason why Apple insists on a 3.5-inch screen, and this is because of usability. Designer Dustin Curtis says that 4-inch screens do not necessarily make for better user experiences, because a user’s thumbs can only go so far. Apple designs its iPhone with a 3.5-inch screen so that a user can easily reach from corner to corner, without having to adjust the phone’s position in one’s hand.

However, Apple also insists on its design philosophies, and does not take user preferences and inputs into account. Analysts say that Samsung’s biggest success may have been due to its variety of offerings.

Making Smartphones Desirable

Samsung sells at least 13 smartphone models, with screen sizes ranging from 2.8 inches to 5.3 inches. As such, the company can use market response as a gauge for determining which particular model becomes a hit. Right now, it’s the tablet-smartphone hybrid called the Galaxy Note, which sports a 5.3-inch screen and supports stylus input.

Samsung has sold 5 million units of the Galaxy Note since its October 2011 launch, and the company expects to sell 10 million units by end of 2012.

Still, other analysts say that Samsung has made its products desirable, which is where other companies have failed. Smartphones from HTC and other Android makers often focus on the specifications. Meanwhile, Apple focuses on user experience. Samsung makes their devices desirable. “Samsung … has finally learned the lesson that software and making its devices desirable in themselves counts, rather than just having the best technology and specifications,” says Gavin Byrne of CCS Insight, adding that Samsung should avoid pitfalls made by BlackBerry and HTC in focusing  too much on high-end devices.

Specs vs. User Experience

Samsung is set to launch its latest Galaxy smartphone in London today. While Samsung has been mum on the details of the launch — to the extent of not referring to any model name or number — its “next Galaxy” will definitely come with the latest quad-core Exynos chip. The chip promises double the processing capacity of the existing high-end Galaxy S2 line, while using 20% less energy. The platform also promises full 1080p high-definition video recording and playback.

But like Apple, Samsung is focusing on user experience rather than raw specs. “To the normal consumer the chip is not important per se, but the experience it offers is,” said Carolina Milanesi, Gartner vice president for research. “Less battery use, better touch response and the ability to better handle multitasking to let more operations be carried out simultaneously will all be noted.”

What does Samsung have in store for the smartphone-crazy crowd? Technology publications have been calling it the Samsung Galaxy SIII or S3, with a rumored 4.8-inch screen. We’ll know for sure by 7PM of May 3 London time.