February 16, 2009
JK Shin, the newly-appointed head of Samsung’s mobile communications division, was in bullish mood as he paraded a range of new touch-screen handsets at the company’s press conference at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week.
“We are confident that we will grow during 2009,” he said, “despite the economic downturn.”
Among the new touch-screen phones Samsung was displaying in Barcelona was the ‘Ultra’, a full-touch slider phone, and OMNIA, Samsung’s first Symbian full-touch handset capable of delivering high-definition video.
Samsung is hedging its mobile OS bets by manufacturing phones for Windows, Symbian and Linux, as well as using its own proprietary mobile OS. Shin sees no problem for Samsung in spreading its R&D efforts across multiple mobile OS platforms. “If there is a market for these handsets then we have to answer,” he said.
Having a wide range of touch-screen handsets, which caters for different demographics, is something which Shin sees as key in making Samsung stand out from other touch-screen handset manufacturers. By the end of 2009, the Korean vendor expects to have around 20 different touch-screen models in the market.
But there was no Android-based device on display from Samsung, which is now slated for launch later this year. The touch-screen device using Google-developed OS is available via T-Mobile USA, which launched the first-ever Android device (G1), manufactured by Taiwan-headquartered HTC, in October 2008. T-Mobile subsequently made G1 available in the UK in November 2008 and has plans to extend that to more of its European operations this year. Initial reports indicate the G1 is selling well. Other than touch-screen handsets, Shin envisages strong growth coming from smartphones and emerging markets. Samsung reports that 2008 revenue from emerging markets grew by 35 percent compared with 2007.
Richard Windsor, analyst with Nomura Bank, does not share Shin’s optimism that smartphones will be a source of strong growth and argues that many manufacturers are making the mistake of relying too heavily on this segment for expansion. “My discussions with members of the mobile phone industry lead to me believe that many internal estimates are relying on 10-20 per cent growth,” he said in a recent research note. “I calculate that smartphone shipments will grow by just 0.8% to 187m units [in 2009] from 185m units in 2008. Furthermore if everyone is making smartphones it means that there will be more competition, faster price erosion meaning heavy losses for all but the biggest and strongest companies.”
Other than continued progress on the hardware front, Samsung is shoring up its software and application development efforts. Shin also announced that Samsung was extending its mobile developer programme – Samsung Mobile Innovator – to support Java and Windows Mobile. Samsung Mobile Innovator already supports Symbian.
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