Psy can perhaps be dismissed as a one-shot novelty act, but Samsung’s success is no fluke. The company has been around in one form or another since 1938, first as a grocer and now a chaebol that makes everything from apparel to medical equipment to ships. However, in 2012, Samsung became a top-tier player in mobile computing and the only serious rival to Apple in the segment.
Samsung’s commanding position in the market is best illustrated by this chart. By the third quarter, Samsung had sold twice as many smartphones as Apple worldwide, according to IDC.
Clearly, Samsung was hell-bent on breaking into the smartphone market. It wasn’t the only one. Recall that that first Android device was actually manufactured by HTC, which, in 2008, looked like a rising star while Samsung was shaping up to be an also-ran. In fact, things looked that way this time last year, when HTC was still making huge profits and growing at a rapid clip. What was HTC’s problem? In part, the company was getting crushed in China, where Samsung was cutting prices.
In addition to dominating market share for smartphones, Samsung managed to also unseat Nokia as the world’s top manufacturer of cell phones, period, after that company’s 14-year reign. The combination makes Samsung the rare company that leads both the top and the bottom of the market.
Samsung has a reputation for being able to out-produce its competitors, but Rob Enderle, principal analyst with The Enderle Group, notes that the company has always suffered from “under marketing.”
You couldn’t say that this time around. In addition to running the brand’s first-ever Super Bowl ad, Samsung also scored a bona fide viral video with the ad below, a savage attack on Apple fanboys waiting for the iPhone 5 to be released.
Another, more subtle example of Samsung’s growing marketing acumen, Bajarin says, is the Galaxy sub-brand. “They branded Galaxy across multiple devices,” Bajarin says. “That’s Samsung saying, ‘We’re going to provide a whole series of products of the same quality of our Galaxy S III.” Samsung’s annual Galaxy releases are now anticipated and embraced the way Apple’s iPhone upgrades are.
In addition to those exclusive features, the Galaxy S III also sports a physical design that, as the company likes to point out, is all curves — no straight lines anywhere. In addition, there’s a single button below the screen, a feature many Android manufacturers avoided to discourage comparisons with Apple. (That feature must have caused lots of discussion within Samsung, given the company’s various legal battles with Apple.)
Enderle says that such products show that Samsung is no longer aping Apple. “They did the same with Sony,” Enderle says of Samsung. “They learned from and they did the same here. They started by copying Apple pretty closely but if you look at S III, they’re really not. That’s their mode of operation: Emulate and once they have they have that down, they’re the new market leader. it seems to work as a strategy.”
The new stepped up design, marketing and production have propelled Samsung into the top tier. Enderle believes that Samsung is “the only company that’s got Apple worried at all.” Perhaps for more reason than one. Samsung told Mashable in October that it wants to be a serious contender in PCs, a market in which it has dabbled in since the 1990s. (Lenovo became the top PC manufacturer in the world in 2012 signaling another shift in the center of gravity from the U.S. to Asia.)
Tablets are doubtless high on Samsung’s agenda as well — its Galaxy 10.1 has been a disappointing seller and Bajarin says the iPad Mini is still a far superior device.
Gaining significant share in both categories — and addressing its reputation for poor customer service — really would make Samsung a Pepsi to Apple’s Coke, but there’s always the danger that Samsung will get distracted or lose some of its remarkable tenacity. Even if that unlikely event came to pass, though, Samsung has proven it can stand toe to toe with Apple, a feat no one else has been able to pull off in more than a decade.