Until yesterday, Samsung’s worst nightmare was coming true.
Sales are down 10%, in large part because cheap Chinese Android knockoffs are cannibalising the low-end of Samsung’s mobile phone shares. Apple’s sales are accelerating, while Samsung’s falter.
And Samsung’s one advantage over Apple — the fact that it offers two large-screen phones in the high-end market where Apple has none — is about to be wiped out by Apple’s new iPhone 6 phablet, expected in September.
And some consumers are likely holding off on buying large-screen phones as they wait to see what Apple will unveil in its fall launch. Samsung has cut its orders for parts for its Galaxy line in Q3 2014.
In short, Apple had Samsung exactly where it wants it: Losing sales, poised to lose share, and with consumers hesitant about buying a new Samsung until they see what iPhone 6 looks like.
But then last night we learned that Apple may not, after all, have a 5.5 inch version of the iPhone 6 ready to go. The 4.7-inch version is still coming, but the super-size iPhone 6 looks like it’s on hold.
As the above comparison chart showing the iPhone lineup next to Samsung’s products shows, a 4.7-inch iPhone 6 (which reportedly is ready for launch) is only a tad larger than the iPhone 5S. It’s significantly smaller than the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Note 3.
If Apple only launches a 4.7-inch iPhone 6 in September, then Samsung will remain as the premier phablet maker for people who want large screens.
Apple was poised to deliver a killer blow to Samsung. But now it seems Samsung has gotten a reprieve.
The 5.5-inch iPhone 6 is delayed because it is turning out to be harder to manufacture due to touch sensitivity issues near the edge of the phone. The phablet iPhone 6 may not arrive until next year, according to analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. That explains why, for months, we’ve been seeing leaked iPhone 6 parts for a 4.7-inch phone but not a 5.5-inch phone.
This, basically, is the best news Samsung could have hoped to hear. It now has an extended window to persuade people who need to upgrade their phones that in fact, for maybe as much as the next six months, if you want a big phone you gotta go to Samsung — because Apple doesn’t have a really big phone.
It would not be surprising if Samsung started lowering the price of its Galaxy and Note phones in order to mop up market share and lock new buyers into the Android system before the end of the year.
Whether Apple cares about this is another issue. Some people believe the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 was not expected to be a large seller for Apple, in part because Apple buyers actually like smaller, more compact phones that can be used comfortably with one hand.
One theory — espoused by BI’s own Jay Yarow — is that Apple does not even share customers with Samsung. Rather, there is a market for Apple products and there is a market for Android products. In the Apple market, Apple competes only with itself. In the Android market, it’s basically Samsung vs. 1,000 Android makers in Asia.
If that’s true, then Apple has nothing to fear over the delay of the iPhone 5.5 inch.
But if it isn’t true, then this might be Samsung’s last chance to prove that it’s a player in big-screen, high-end smartphones.