By Lee Min-hyung
Samsung Electronics’ Galaxy S series has undergone turbulent ups and downs to establish its brand identity as the world’s top-selling premium Android smartphone.
The Samsung flagship handset lineup made its debut at the 2010 CTIA telecommunications tradeshow in the United States.
Its initial market response was stunning enough to earn the nickname “Android iPhone killer.” But as the device was Samsung’s first foray into the untapped territory, its product maturity - in terms of such factors as battery efficiency and managing overheating problems - was not good enough to compete with its Apple iOS counterpart.
Sales for the first Samsung flagship smartphone topped 25 million on the global market. Given Android’s then-weak ecosystem, the result was cited as a decent success.
Under the theme of “how to live smart,” the company unveiled its second flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S2, at the world’s largest mobile show, Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2011 in Barcelona. The company enhanced its basic functionalities such as handle grip and display size.
The device was particularly praised for its sturdiness, compared to the glass-covered iPhones. For such positive market responses, the S2 also set a new sales record of 40 million on the global market.
The device also served as another noteworthy record-breaker for Samsung, allowing the electronics giant to beat Nokia in global handset sales. The company has since continued its winning streak by building its mobile identity as the world’s largest and most influential Android smartphone manufacturer, forming a neck-and-neck rivalry with Apple.
In 2012, Samsung unveiled its third smartphone, the Galaxy S3. The round-cornered device also drew keen attention from the global tech community by adopting the world’s first quad-core chip. Even if the device did not come with a
string of wow factors, sales of the S3 also exceeded its predecessor, topping 65 million.
But another record, which has yet to be broken, came the following year when the company launched the Galaxy S4. Accumulated sales of the device have so far reached 70 million. Against the backdrop of its years-long mobile success, the company showed off its confidence by holding its unpacked event in New York for the first time, in what critics say was a move to intensify its rivalry with the country’s home-turf competitor Apple.
But an unexpected setback hit Samsung Electronics in 2014, as its new flagship Galaxy S5 failed to win as much customer satisfaction as its predecessors. The device is estimated to have sold no more than 50 million. The dwindling sales also drove down the firm’s 2014 annual operating profit to 25 trillion won, down 32 percent from the previous year.
Weak innovation and intense rivalry with the iPhone 6, which underwent a drastic design shift, are cited as the biggest reasons to put the brakes on the series’ continued success.
Hit by a sense of crisis in the Samsung mobile unit, the company focused on bringing about innovation by launching dual flagship phones, Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge.
Even if the devices also failed to rev up its earnings, it served as a turning point for Samsung to establish its design identity. This is because, starting with the S6, the company began manufacturing its much-touted curved-display smartphones.
Because the curved edge design on each side was not considered a mainstream handset design at that time, the device did not serve as a game changer for the company in terms of sales. The weak software optimization with its hardware is also cited as another root cause behind its lukewarm reception.
By overcoming the flaws and enhancing basic user interface functions, however, Samsung achieved a turnaround in 2016 with the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge both in terms of sales and setting a mobile identity.
The device, released in March last year, topped 49 million sales in 2016.
What is notable is the curved display model outperformed the flat screen S7 in sales, proving the firm’s ambitious bet on the “edge” ecosystem was in the right direction.
In 2017, the company made a bold decision to scrap the flat-screen flagship model by releasing only the curved-display model, the Galaxy S8.
“The dual-edge display will be the design identity for our flagship smartphone series,” Samsung Electronics mobile chief Koh Dong-jin said at a press conference in this April.
With the launch of the device, the company also jumped on the artificial intelligence (AI) bandwagon by adding its AI-powered voice assistant, Bixby.
The company also equipped its latest large-screen flagship phone, the Galaxy Note 8, with the two key features of Bixby and dual-curved edge design.
In 2018, the company also aims to make a splash on the global mobile market by releasing the world’s first foldable smartphone. The plan has yet to be confirmed, but the Samsung mobile head has recently acknowledged a foldable phone remains on the firm’s annual roadmap for next year.