Sam­sung Gal­axy S9 sales are slump­ing and that’s a prob­lem for all pre­mium An­droid phones

Does any­one want an $800 An­droid phone any­more?

PCWorld (USA) - - News - BY MICHAEL SI­MON

When Sam­sung of­fi­cially an­nounces its re­sults for the se­cond quar­ter, the numbers ( go.pc­world. com/rcpf) will look plenty good to the un­trained eye: $13 bil­lion in profit on $51.8 bil­lion rev­enue. How­ever, an­a­lysts will tell you that those fig­ures rep­re­sent a 0.7 per­cent de­cline in sales com­pared with the prior year’s quar­ter. That might not seem like a ter­ri­ble dip, but when you zoom in a lit­tle fur­ther, it spells trou­ble for one of Sam­sung’s most vis­i­ble prod­ucts: the Gal­axy S9 ( go. pc­world.com/smg9).

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, Sam­sung sold the fewest num­ber of S se­ries flag­ship phones since 2012’s Gal­axy S3 ( go.pc­world.com/ sgs3), with a re­ported 31 mil­lion units ship­ping in 2018. To put that in per­spec­tive, the Gal­axy S7 was the high-wa­ter mark for Sam­sung’s S flag­ship, with some 50 mil­lion sales. That means many peo­ple are ei­ther

stick­ing with their S7s or switch­ing to a dif­fer­ent phone al­to­gether. And that’s a prob­lem, not just for Sam­sung but for all pre­mium An­droid phone mak­ers.

It’s not just that Apple sold more iphones last quar­ter ( go.pc­world.com/rcq2) than Sam­sung’s ex­pected S9 sales for the en­tire year. That’s no sur­prise. But it’s be­com­ing in­creas­ingly clear that con­sumers aren’t wowed by pre­mium An­droid phones any­more. And un­less 2019 brings some se­ri­ous in­no­va­tion, the buzz around pre­mium An­droid phones may slip away for­ever.

NOTH­ING TO SEE HERE

Many crit­ics will point to the Gal­axy S9’s over­all lack of in­no­va­tion as a rea­son for the lag­ging sales, and that’s cer­tainly a fac­tor. The Gal­axy S9 is vis­ually iden­ti­cal to last year’s S8, and its main im­prove­ments—a vari­able aper­ture cam­era, Super Slo Mo, and AR Emoji—are hardly gotta-have-it fea­tures.

But the S9 is still the year’s best An­droid phone so far ( go.pc­world.com/ap18). And that’s where the prob­lem lies. An­droid phone mak­ers are so con­cerned with keep­ing up with Apple by adding a cam­era notch and fa­cial recog­ni­tion, none of them are in­no­vat­ing any­more ( go.pc­world.com/inno), at least not like they were in the days of the Gal­axy S3. The phones’ pro­ces­sors, cam­eras, dis­plays, and graph­ics have dra­mat­i­cally im­proved since then, of course, but the year-over-year im­prove­ments are largely in­cre­men­tal th­ese days. And even for cus­tomers who live on the cut­ting edge, there just aren’t many com­pelling rea­sons to plunk down a pile of cash for a new An­droid phone each year.

There’s noth­ing about the S9 that’s par­tic­u­larly in­no­va­tive, yet it still paces the pre­mium field. There’s noth­ing in the LG G7 ( go.pc­world.com/lgg7) or HTC U12+ (see page 62) to al­ter the land­scape, and even the ru­mored Pixel 3 ( go.pc­world.com/ p3lk) looks to be an­other it­er­a­tive re­lease. That might change with the S10, which is ru­mored to have a true edge-to-edge screen ( go. pc­world.com/samb), a 3D sens­ing cam­era, and in-dis­play fin­ger­print scan­ning—but with it will prob­a­bly come a price tag that tops $1,000. And I’m not sure the mar­ket is there for a pre­mium An­droid phone that costs that much. It’s not just about

the best any­more. If peo­ple are go­ing to spend $800 on a phone that’s not an iphone, they want to know that they’re get­ting fea­tures they can’t get any­where else. And most An­droid phones aren’t of­fer­ing that.

VALUE VER­SUS PRICE

It used to be that the pre­mium An­droid phones were so far ahead of the pack, it would take years for the rest of the field to catch up. That’s not the case any­more. The re­lent­less pace and com­pe­ti­tion has nar­rowed that gap sig­nif­i­cantly. You can walk into a Ver­i­zon store to­day and find a $450 phone with a big HD screen, re­spectable pro­ces­sor, and de­cent cam­era. Even fea­tures like wire­less charg­ing are start­ing to trickle down into much cheaper phones.

Even de­sign is less of a fac­tor th­ese days. Phones like the Nokia 6.1 and the Oneplus 6 are us­ing pre­mium ma­te­ri­als in mid-range phones, and the S9’s all-glass In­fin­ity Dis­play isn’t quite as lus­trous or lust-wor­thy as it once was. The lat­est Sam­sung smart­phone used to turn heads, but now it’s just an­other hand­set on a sea of shiny rec­tan­gles. Even the Pixel phone, which comes with Google’s stamp of ap­proval and the promise of three years of soft­ware up­dates, is strug­gling to gain much trac­tion. And its high en­try price is the big­gest rea­son why.

It’s not that pre­mium doesn’t mat­ter any­more, but the line be­tween the pre­mium An­droid phones and the midrange is get­ting thin­ner and thin­ner. The new Oneplus 6, for ex­am­ple, costs $529, and has the same Snap­dragon 845 pro­ces­sor, 6.2-inch dis­play, and 6GB of RAM as the S9+, which costs $400 more. The cam­era might not be as good, but it isn’t $400 worse. Oneplus says it sold more than a mil­lion phones ( go.pc­world. com/1mil) in less than a month, a drop in the bucket com­pared to Sam­sung and Apple, but still sig­nif­i­cant.

Th­ese days, the best value might be found in last year’s phone. The Gal­axy S8 is es­sen­tially a cheaper S9. The orig­i­nal Pixel ( go.pc­world.com/pxl1) takes pictures that are just as good as the Pixel 2. Peo­ple just aren’t buy­ing the new­est pre­mium An­droid phones like they once were, and the next in­no­va­tion, even if it’s the fa­bled fold­ingscreen phone ( go.pc­world.com/fold), might not be enough to bring it back.

The Gal­axy S9 (right) changes the place­ment of the fin­ger­print sen­sor, but oth­er­wise it’s vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal to the S8 (left).

The Oneplus 6 looks and acts like a phone that costs $800.

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