19 August 2019
Some analysts think Samsung's latest flagship smartphone is not attractive enough for users to upgrade. Photo: Reuters
Some analysts think Samsung's latest flagship smartphone is not attractive enough for users to upgrade. Photo: Reuters

Will Note 9 be able to boost Samsung smartphone sales?

Samsung Electronics launched Galaxy Note 9 in the United States last week, and it will be available in Hong Kong later this month.

However, some analysts said the company’s latest flagship smartphone is not attractive enough for users to upgrade. This suggests that Samsung may not be able to arrest the continuing decline in shipments even during the holiday season.

In fact, the company has launched a promotion in Hong Kong to drum up demand for its Galaxy S9 series, an indication of a lack of confidence in the performance of its upcoming models. It is giving away up to HK$600 worth of Octopus cards for buyers of the S9 smartphones, including the bigger S9 Plus.

All S9 series buyers will get a HK$300 value on their Octopus card once they activate the service using Samsung Pay, while an additional HK$300 will be given to buyers who trade in their old phones.

The promotion is also meant to boost the use of Smart Octopus and Samsung Pay, which are exclusive services for owners of selected Samsung devices. Apart from S9 series, older models including Note 8, S8 series and several mid-range models are not covered by the promotion.

Samsung fans will welcome the latest promo, but of course. However, in seeking to boost sales, the company appears to be more inclined to give out cash benefits rather than lure customers with new features.

The HK$600 promo can be used for all sorts of Octopus Card transactions from riding the MTR to footing your restaurant bill and paying for your groceries at ParknShop. That’s a lot better than receiving useless giveaways. But such special offers only divert the users’ attention from what they are really getting from buying a Samsung device.

In terms of hardware, Note 9 is no different from S9 apart from the fact that the latest model allows you to use a stylus-like S Pen to control many things.

Many analysts think Note 9 does not have the “wow” factor that would entice users to upgrade their existing phones. 

Another downside is the price. A Note 9 costs US$1,000, which suggests that the Korean tech giant is trying to ride on the success of rival Apple Inc.’s iPhone X, which is similarly priced, in the luxury smartphone segment.

Note 9, aside from its S Pen stylus that supports Bluetooth connection, also has a designated button for remote control – a delightful surprise amid its somewhat predictable hardware upgrades.

For example, users can use the S Pen for taking selfies without having to hold the phone. The new dual camera also comes with an artificial intelligence feature that can automatically detect the scene for the best setting. Users of Note 9 can use an HDMI cable to connect the phone to a monitor for a PC-like experience. The company expects the Note 9 will sell more than the Note 8 in view of these new features.

However, Samsung is facing an uphill battle to maintain its top ranking in the global smartphone market, especially after it failed to gain ground in the Chinese market following the Note 7 battery fiasco two years ago.

Over the past two years, Samsung has failed to win back the trust of Chinese consumers. Its market share dropped from 20 percent in 2013 to below 1 percent, even though Samsung remained on top of the heap.

In China, Samsung is facing challenges in both the high-end and low-end markets. Top-tier smartphone users tend to prefer Apple and Huawei, while those in the middle-range and low-end markets are being drawn to Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo.

One Plus and other local brands are also popular in the mainland’s inner cities because of their very affordable prices.   

A Samsung official recently admitted that the company is having a tough time in China, but insisted that the company will never abandon the Chinese market.

Smartphone makers are finding it increasingly difficult to convince users to buy new phones every year. Users are holding on to their devices, and minor hardware improvements such as better cameras are not enough to tempt them to upgrade every year or two.

Samsung may need to wait until the launch of a revolutionary product, such as a phone with a foldable screen, to turn its smartphone business around.

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EJ Insight writer

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