Samsung and its war against the iPad

August 19, 2012

Maybe Samsung is trying too hard.

A lot’s been written about Samsung’s release of yet another Galaxy tablet this week, the Galaxy Note 10.1. The Note is the latest in a long line of tablets released by Samsung over the past two years.

It appears that Samsung has every single area of the smartphone-to-tablet spectrum covered with its Galaxy series with every screen size you can possibly fathom. Each iteration gets a little more … everything. More hardware, more feature apps, more software that makes it different from the stock Android it was created from and from its chief competitor, Apple’s iPad.

The Galaxy Note series, from its “phablet” (cross smartphone/tablet) smartphone to the newest 10.1-inch beast, is defined by the addition of a digital stylus. The “S Pen,” as it is so cleverly named, is supposed to be the next great way to interface with your brand new tablet. Whether or not consumers actually care about the S Pen will be another matter entirely.

Apple does not provide its own products for people that want to work with a stylus. There is, however, a large cottage industry of third-party applications within the iOS ecosystem that are designed to use the iPad with a stylus.

Paper for iPad is one such application and came out to raving critical reviews in April. With a third-party stylus, such as the Wacom Bamboo Stylus, Cosmonaut by Studio Neat or the Kensington Virtuoso Stylus, an approximation of decent drawing and handwriting functionality can be found for the iPad.

“A stylus? Who wants a stylus?” Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs said at MacWorld 2007 when introducing multi-touch for the iPhone. “You have to get them out and put them away and then you lose them. Yuck.”

Give Samsung credit, it wants to be different. Also to its credit, the S Pen is not exactly your normal stylus. It digitally links to the screen, allowing for handwriting translation, synchronized note taking and interaction with dual-screen apps where you can write with the S Pen on one side while looking at your email or notes on the other.

The problem that Samsung will have with the Note 10.1 is that it will not be able to compete with the iPad just because it has a somewhat interesting new tool in the S Pen. A stylus is toy, a gimmick that some people might find interesting.

The stylus, no matter what kind of new functions it performs, is not a revolutionary turn in computing or input. Samsung, though its best marketing efforts, will try to tell consumers that it is.

The stylus is just one point in the Note 10.1 (and really any other Galaxy device Samsung has released this year) that shows how desperate the South Korean manufacturer has become to dominate the mobile market.

The Galaxy S III smartphone and Note 10.1 are jam packed with high-end hardware and “S” apps that make it feel like bloated, shadows of the devices they could have been. Samsung obviously feels that more features and building its own redundant software will sell more devices. In reality, it is just more stuff and more is not always good.

Samsung would do better against Apple in the tablet market if it competed more directly on price. The baseline Note 10.1 with 16 GB and Wi-Fi of memory is $499. Coincidentally, that is how much the iPad costs. Samsung is betting that it can win a feature war in a side-by-side comparison with Apple and win.

That is not likely to happen. If Samsung wants to beat Apple in the tablet market, it needs to undercut the iPad on price. If the Note 10.1 was $349, all of those new features and apps become much more attractive. Even if Samsung loses money at that price, it will meet its objective: to take the tablet market from Apple.

Stylus be damned, Samsung. There are better ways to take the legs out from under Apple.


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