Are Apple and Samsung still at the top of their game?

Athenians battling Sparta, France versus England, cats chasing mice – history is littered with enthralling rivalries. In this article however, I’d like to draw your attention to a struggle – as fierce as any in the past – that is playing out very much in the present. 

The prize for the victor is no less than majority user interface control over how most of our planet, in the near future, will access the internet whilst on the move. The battle of course is between two titans of consumer electronics – Apple and Samsung.

When they’re not issuing one another with writs for patent infringement, they’re locked in a technology arms race to win our hearts, minds and thumbs. Their respective annual flagship product launch is typically supported by a dizzying marketing budget guaranteed to whip up both media and public into a frenzy of anticipatory excitement.

A very 21st Century battle

The most loyal brand fans might never be compromised, but there are throngs of promiscuous consumers that can be tempted to switch smartphone allegiance. They might not however substitute their current handset for Apple or Samsung; both brands are increasingly having to contend with new challenger entrants, especially those from China.

Acquiring new or even conquest-winning customers from rivals takes hundreds of millions of marketing dollars and endless man hours which are invested to analyse the market. However, we’re not aware of any public study that has measured the scale of smartphone brand defection. Granted, IDC’s quarterly market share figures give us some idea, but given that Samsung has a far greater range of devices in the market, the data appears skewed.

Traitors?

At Qriously our core technology measures mass opinion in real time to make digital advertising more efficient. We decided to use the mass opinion capability of our platform to investigate the scale of Apple & Samsung brand promiscuity amongst Apple and Samsung handset owners.

Using mobile banners in apps, we served two questions to UK owners of Apple and Samsung devices. In our first question we asked each handset owner how likely they are to upgrade to their existing manufacturer’s latest flagship device; in our second question, we set out to understand how likely consumers are to defect to their rival’s latest handset – either the iPhone 6 or Galaxy S5 depending on which handset the respondent currently owns.

Our survey commenced March 2014 and the data collected allowed us to create an index of opinions gathered across 25,000 UK Apple and Samsung handset owners. The results are certainly surprising.

Overall, neither Apple nor Samsung handset owners want to switch to the main rival brand. We asked 6,350 Samsung handset owners if they were going to upgrade to an iPhone 6 – 50 per cent said they would ‘not under any circumstances’ consider it, while 27 per cent said they would and 23 per cent remained undecided.

It was a similar answer from iPhone users when it came to upgrading to the Samsung Galaxy S5 – 42 per cent said it was ‘highly unlikely’, with just 30 per cent saying they would and 28 per cent are undecided.

While initially reassuring for both brands, Tim Cook and Boo-Keun Yoon shouldn’t start celebrating their customers unwavering loyalty just yet. We asked the same number of Samsung and Apple users if they would consider upgrading to their current brand’s latest devices and the responses weren’t exactly champagne-cracking stuff. Just 36 per cent of current Samsung users would consider the new Galaxy S5, while 36 per cent said they wouldn’t and 28 per cent remained undecided.

Apple fared slightly better. A very slim majority – 36 per cent – of existing customers said they’d choose the iPhone 6 when it launches, 35 per cent said they will not and 29 per cent remain undecided.  

Do these lacklustre figures represent the arrival of peak-phone with consumers feeling that new models now only offer marginal benefits? Moreover, consumers have invested heavily in their smartphones and many are likely to be far from having explored their handset’s full feature set; upgrading now then may feel premature to many consumers and this might help explain some of the tepid reception to the new handsets.

The rise of a new challenger?

As well as asking existing iPhone and Samsung owners, we also asked owners of other Android smartphones if the big two manufacturers would be at the top of their wish lists. The answer? It seems not.

We asked 5,900 Android (ex. Samsung) owners if they’d upgrade to the iPhone 6 and 54 per cent told us in no uncertain terms, ‘No way’. When we asked a further 5,900 Android owners if they’d upgrade to the Samsung Galaxy S5 52 per cent said ‘No way’. The remainder of respondents across both surveys were split evenly between fence sitters and secured converts.

The demise of big mobile phone brands like Nokia (RIP), Motorola (bought by Google then by Lenovo) and Blackberry has long been attributed to the rise of Apple and Samsung, but might a new breed of challengers be now going for the leader’s jugulars? The same IDC figures I mentioned earlier showed that that while Samsung and Apple still ship the most smartphones globally, the likes of Huawei, Xiaomi, Lenovo and LG are increasingly closing the gap.

Either way, one thing is certain – despite the massive marketing machines that have powered both brands to their dominant positions, neither can afford to take a breather. The modern consumer market has an insatiable appetite for the new-shiny-thing that genuinely makes their life better/easier and it will discard that which begins to taste over familiar.

RIM, owners of the Blackberry brand, and Nokia, were both once the darlings of the mobile phone industry but they neglected to spot the upward disruption driven by Jobs’ visionary genius. Apple and Samsung understand this phenomena very well and will no doubt be studying very closely the mistakes made by the mobile phone brands that were once thought unassailable.

Chris Bourke is commercial director of mobile advertising firm Qriously.

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