Samsung Emerges as Android Phone, Tablet Frontrunner

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2011-06-06

Samsung Emerges as Android Phone, Tablet Frontrunner

Perception and market share in the market for mobile devices can change fairly quickly unless you're Apple, which has enjoyed rock-solid launches of the iPod music player, iPhone smartphone and iPad tablet.

For devices based on Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) now ubiquitous Android mobile operating system, it's another matter.

After Motorola Mobility (NYSE: MMI) CEO Sanjay Jha made the strategic decision to bet the company on Android in 2008, the company was the first big phone maker to bet big on Android in 2009, launching the Motorola Droid smartphone. Motorola was again first out of the gate with an Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" tablet, the Motorola Xoom, this past February.

The inaugural Droid smartphone captured commercial and critical success, selling millions of units and thrusting Android into the limelight as a viable alternative to the 100 million-plus-unit-selling iPhone.

The Xoom, on the other hand, was not nearly as well received and has sold only a few hundred thousand units compared to 20 million-plus iPads. Motorola also signaled some struggles when it delayed the delivery of its Droid Bionic 4G smartphone on Verizon Wireless to this summer.  

These gaffes have helped Samsung emerge as something of the Android hardware standard bearer, analysts agreed.

Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin said that while Motorola benefited hugely from the marketing investment that Verizon made in their initial Droid launch, its products on other carriers-excepting the Atrix on AT&T-have been lackluster sellers.

Golvin agreed that Samsung is taking the Android mantle.

"They have incredible scale, and having made the initial investment in their internal Android software skill they are able to apply that scale-that's apparent in their execution of customized versions of the Galaxy devices for every carrier," Golvin told eWEEK.

Samsung's Android ascent started in 2010 when the company sold more than 10 million Galaxy S smartphones in 2010, helped by the bright, crisp Super Amoled screen technology.

Samsung's Galaxy S II sold 1 million units in a month in the company's home country of Korea.

Motorola Under Siege by Samsung, HTC

This has led to a great build up in anticipation for the S II in the United States, where it is currently slated to launch on Verizon Wireless, AT&T and Sprint this summer.

*"I would tend to agree on the potential that Samsung has to become the leader in the Android segment overall," Gartner Research analyst Carolina Milanesi told eWEEK, noting that Android has helped Samsung double its market share to10.8 percent share, compared to 4.3 percent from this time last year.

"Their brand and geographical reach are stronger than Motorola's and they have more funds that they can use not just for R&D but for advertising, too."

The tablet market is another matter because it is a little too young to name a non-iPad winner. Android tablets such as the Xoom and early Galaxy Tab, as well as the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook and forthcoming HP TouchPad and others all have a shot at gaining decent share. However, Samsung may have the inside track on the first major Honeycomb tablet.

"With the first Galaxy Tab (a 7-inch, Android 2.2 model) they succeeded in what in my opinion was a pure marketing exercise of being seen as the only alternative to Apple and they are now building on that by delivering a much more competitive portfolio," Golvin said.

Indeed, Samsung is rolling out its Galaxy Tab 10.1 on Verizon (4G) and T-Mobile (WiFi) this month. This slate, which is thinner and lighter than the iPad 2, has been touted since the company and Google gave away 5,000-plus custom versions at Google I/O last month.

Gartner Research analyst Ken Dulaney called the Galaxy Tab 10.1 "impressive," adding that Samsung has great verticalization of components and solid industrial design.

If the Galaxy S II and Galaxy Tab 10.1 (soon to be followed by an 8.9-inch "tweener" model), do as well as the media hype and consumer demand indicate, Motorola could have quite an uphill battle on its hands with Samsung and HTC, which has cranked out one hot phone after another.

The company's HTC ThunderBolt 4G on Verizon may have contributed to the Droid Bionic's untimely delay. Moreover, Sprint is launching the HTC Evo 3D 4G smartphone and HTC Evo View 4G 7-inch Android 2.3 "Gingerbread" tablet June 24.

It will be interesting to see how Motorola, which has admittedly bet the company on Android smartphones and tablets, punches back this summer.

Updated to reflect that Milanesi works for Gartner.

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