Revolution vs Evolution
Both HTC and Samsung have just announced new top of the range devices. Both run on Android and have comparable feature sets, but the design approach and naming conventions used for the two are vastly different. Samsung’s approach to its flagship over the last 12 months – a consistent name and form factor – has given it an advantage other than money when it comes to marketing, which is quite the opposite to how HTC is positioned.
Many have been quick to comment, almost discerningly, that the Galaxy S4 is an evolution, rather than revolution, of the S3. This is true, but it’s a wise and well-considered move from Samsung – at this stage it’s much better in terms of sales for it to make iterative additions to its catalogue than to revolutionise its flagship each year. That’s not to say HTC’s choice to overhaul its design is foolish – it isn’t – but rather that decisions made over the last couple of years have dictated how these two handsets are named and shaped.
So the Samsung Galaxy S4 seems like a slight upgrade from the S3, but we shouldn’t have expected anything else. It may look very similar to its predecessor, but it also looks similar to the Note 2 and, to an extent, the S3 mini. You can tell it’s an upgrade, but not so much so that it’s unrecognisable from the rest of the family. Similarly, we can expect the Galaxy Note 3 to follow the design of the S4 – as was the case with the equivalents last year – and we may even see an S4 mini released to offer a feature set that sits between the S3 and the S3 Mini. This creates a situation for Samsung whereby it has 5 or 6 devices released within 18 months of each other that have the same look, but cover a spectrum of features and budgets. In other words, if you want to buy a new smartphone, chances are a member of the Galaxy S or Galaxy Note range will fit your criteria. At the moment, therefore, it doesn’t make sense for Samsung to revolutionise a handset and form factor that has become so well-known.
For HTC, the situation is very different when it comes to the HTC One. It needs to make a big impact with this device and a new spin on the One X+ wouldn’t cut it. It’s tried to maintain some continuity in sticking to the One series brand name, although as discussed below this may not bode well for its next release. Monikers aside, the form factor of the One certainly outclasses the S4. It’s the first handset to feature a completely aluminium frame and it looks and feels great in the hand. HTC will certainly be hoping to win a few points on looks alone. As we’ve seen with its last few releases though, it’s difficult to revolutionise a flagship year after year while maintaining brand momentum. If the One does reach the heights that HTC is aspiring to, I’d expect see a refinement rather than a revamp for its next release. It’s also good to see that HTC is focusing on a single device launch this year, as opposed to the three-pronged attack it took last year that saw it announce the One X, One S and One V at the same time. This will give it the chance to focus marketing attention on one device at a time, as is the way that Samsung does things.
The importance of a good naming strategy
Out of the big manufactures in the Android market, Samsung certainly has the strongest naming strategy for its flagship handset. This gives it a distinct advantage in that the name of its leading brand is constantly being discussed. The S4 has just been released, but it won’t be long before talk of the S5 begins, as is the case with the Note 3 being rumoured already. This free word of mouth marketing may seem like a small detail, but it makes a big contribution to overall awareness.
Granted, Samsung’s naming strategy isn’t ideal – there are dozens of Galaxy devices by now – but it’s impossible to have a simple naming convention when you release the volume of handsets that Samsung does. What’s important for Samsung is that its biggest selling handsets – the Galaxy S and Galaxy Note series – are constantly talked about in the markets where it receives the majority of influential media attention. It’s easy for consumers to identify these handsets. People know which are its most important handsets and talk about the names of the successors a long time before they are official.
Conversely for HTC, its naming strategy over the last 12 to 18 months has been rather confusing for consumers. It’s released the One X, One S, One V, One X+, One SV, and now the One. There’s also the 8S and 8X which further add to the confusion. For those with an interest in tech it’s quite easy to tell these apart, but for the average customer it’s not all that simple. I’ve already seen some comical names discussed about the name of the One’s successor – the HTC One Two, etc., but on a serious note people won’t know what to call the next device until the name is leaked. Even once it is leaked, there’s still not the brand clarity that the Galaxy S and Galaxy Note ranges command.
Whether or not Samsung’s strength with its naming strategy was due to great foresight from its team or simply a capitalisation on circumstance once the brand had grown is hard to know. It’s a shame for HTC that it didn’t carve a similar situation for the HTC Desire brand name, which was very strong after the first couple of releases. Since then HTC hasn’t developed a smartphone series strong enough to stick with, which has involved creating new names every twelve months or so. It’s also involved revolutionising the form factor of its handsets at the same time, which has the knock on effect of having to create more brand awareness each time around.
Innovation isn’t always the winner
Of the two handsets the HTC One certainly has the most revolutionary form factor. HTC has openly criticised Samsung for the lack of innovation in the S4, but Samsung is at a point where recognition for the Galaxy S series is so strong that completely revamping its flagship would almost be a disadvantage. Samsung is certainly aiming for the mainstream with this approach, but it still attracts the tech community with its market-leading hardware specs. For this reason, it presented the S4 in terms of software features during its announcement, barely mentioning hardware and simplifying its message for the everyday consumer. The microsite for the handset is presented in the same way. For those enthusiasts that are more concerned with the hardware features, they know where to look and will still be attracted by the power of the S4.
For HTC, it has innovated both hardware and software when it comes to the One. This involves a risky approach to the camera specs, a revamp of the home screen, new speaker technology, a new version of Sense and a transformation of form factor. Some of these aren’t perhaps the easiest to promote – dispelling the megapixel myth isn’t easy and BlinkFeed naturally raises concerns about battery life – and there’s a barrage of details to explain to would be buyers. It’s a more complicated message to deliver than that of Samsung and there’s no doubting that the S4 will sell in record numbers. At this stage, though, HTC has no other choice than to go for a device that really shows the design and innovation prowess from which it has developed its reputation. Hopefully it can get past the initial delay hiccup and capture enough market share to keep Peter Chou in a job.