Samsung, Not Apple, Could Start the Next Great Smartphone Trend

Although Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF  ) is often derided for copying Apple  (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) , the South Korean handset maker has been responsible for at least one major trend in the smartphone industry: the phablet. Samsung's original Galaxy Note was the first popular over-sized phone, and many of its competitors (like LG, Sony, and HTC) have followed with similar devices.

Samsung could be planning to do it again: Its recently unveiled Galaxy Round will be the first smartphone with a curved display. Like phablets, curved displays could become the next big thing.

Curved displays and over-sized phones
At first glance, Samsung's Galaxy Round may seem ridiculous. Who on earth needs a curved phone? The flat-slate design has served the market quite well over the last five years; putting a curve in the device seems pointless.

Ultimately, that might turn out to be the case. Offhand, I can think of a number of problems Samsung's curved phone might present: imagine the phone easily rolling off a car's dashboard, or struggling to fit into an arm-band accessory.

But at the same time, the curved form factor could present some advantages. The screen on Samsung's Galaxy Round may be less likely to crack when dropped, while it could be easier to fit the device into a pocket.

At any rate, I would remind incredulous readers to consider early reactions to Samsung's original Galaxy Note. BGR's Jonathan Geller called the phone "too big," and predicted that buyers would be "laughed at" and would be "unhappy" with their over-sized device.

In retrospect, Geller is the one worth laughing at. Samsung's Note went on to sell millions, and its follow-up, the Note 2, was even larger and sold more. Other companies jumped on the trend, and Apple is rumored to have a phablet in the works.

Google's open model vs. Apple's closed ecosystem
When it comes to smartphone operating systems, Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) and Apple take a very different approach. While Google has chosen to give Android away for free, letting dozens of different manufacturers release handsets running Google's operating system, Apple has remained in control of iOS, keeping it confined strictly to its own device.

As a company, Apple has always emphasized the closed hardware/software model, arguing that it allows for a better user experience. In contrast, Google's model is similar to the one long-championed by Microsoft: Google focuses on software, while its partners do the hardware.

There are many drawbacks to Google's strategy. For one, mobile developers are less likely to support Google's operating system -- the variety of hardware configurations makes it more difficult to code for than Apple's iOS. Also, there are many cheap, junky Android phones that weaken the image of Google's operating system.

But what Google's model does allow for is increased hardware innovation. Android handset makers, in their quest to compete against Apple and each other, have introduced a number of new concepts. In addition to Samsung's phablets and now curved phone, there's Sony's lineup of water-resistant devices, LG's phone with its rear-mounted buttons, and Motorola's fully customizable casing.

Sure, Apple pioneered the slate concept and has popularized other features, like its new fingerprint scanner, but because Apple has to make both devices and software, it simply can't move as fast as its numerous Android rivals.

The next big thing?
Samsung's curved phone could turn out to be the next big thing, or could just be another goofy concept that everyone quickly forgets about. Either way, it serves to highlight the company's willingness to innovate with its hardware.

That rapid pace of hardware innovation -- employed by Samsung and other Android manufacturers -- underscores Google's greatest strength when it comes to its mobile strategy. Apple is already criticized for failing to follow the phablet trend in a timely fashion; will curved phones be the next big thing Apple misses out on?

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Read/Post Comments (14) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On October 10, 2013, at 3:20 AM, skippywonder wrote:

    Does anyone have reliable sales figures for phablets? There is no real proof that this is a trend worth following or anything that Apple "missed out" on. Even if Samsung did sell "millions", that is not "tens of millions each quarter" which is how many smaller phones sold by both Apple and Samsung.

    Innovation is more than just doing something different -- it is doing something different that actually solves a problem or makes possible the previously impossible. There is no support for the notion that a curved screen (made by anyone) is actual innovation. Innovation is quote rare, and no minor tweaks to existing products don't count either. Improvement is nice and even necessary. But innovation is something altogether different. So far, I haven't seen anything from Samsung that fits that bill. Not a curved screen phone and not a fugly watch.

  • Report this Comment On October 10, 2013, at 4:09 AM, AndySmith79 wrote:

    Innovation is not something Apple has not excelled in either. One could even argue they have not done any innovating because about every product they have made has been a concept ripped off from another source.

    The statement that for something to be innovative it has to solve a problem or make something possible is incorrect. Innovations can come in product improvements. This has been seen since the the beginning of time.

    There are a lot of Apple fanboys out there who buy something just because it says Apple. This group of suckers pays a huge premium for that name because its "cool" to have something from Apple. I have found most of their products lagging in technology. A great example is the iPhone's joke of a camera.

  • Report this Comment On October 10, 2013, at 4:44 AM, st0815 wrote:

    Whether the Galaxy Round is a worthwhile product remains to be seen, however it's existence demonstrates something beyond the product itself: It shows that Samsung can make things which no other company can produce commercially.

    That's good news for the company.

  • Report this Comment On October 10, 2013, at 5:35 AM, FreeRange1 wrote:

    The entire premise of this "article" is laughable.

  • Report this Comment On October 10, 2013, at 5:45 AM, b4unewme2 wrote:

    Innovation purely for the sake of bragging rights is a waste of resources. Samsung appears to be doing this. The curved screen solves no market demand or specific problem. Moreover, when pictures of people holding gigantic phones to their faces start to appear, it will be fodder for comedians and a Samsung marketing failure. Innovation combined with Marketing genius is what translates into a great company. Apple, not Samsung, has that combination of talents. I would not advise anyone to underestimate a great AMERICAN company like Apple. The best of Apple is yet to come.

  • Report this Comment On October 10, 2013, at 5:46 AM, FSKI82 wrote:

    Really?!?!?!?!? A curved screen that costs over a grand for a phone and has very limited availability is "innovative." Also I love the part that a curved screen "MAY" not break as easy....so maybes are innovative? Also, I read on other sites that the curved screen take away some of the functionality that flat screens offer.

    I really think we need to really discuss the definition of "innovative" is since this article and the writer seem to make no points toward "the next big thing." Just sounds like garbage to me......

  • Report this Comment On October 10, 2013, at 5:48 AM, FSKI82 wrote:

    @st0815: My only comment to you is that a company that makes something that isn't massively produced to the public and is insanely expensive - it doesn't matter what the product is...it is a fail....you need people to buy it.....

  • Report this Comment On October 10, 2013, at 6:20 AM, Buzzy43 wrote:

    @AndySmith79

    Your remarks are unsubstantiated fluff not usable to asses product quality and therefore, not worth considering as one makes an investment decision about a company. For ex.:

    "A great example is the iPhone's joke of a camera."

    Here is a thorough 10 page review of the 5s camera by someone who knows what they are talking about:

    http://connect.dpreview.com/post/7518611407/apple-iphone5s-s...

  • Report this Comment On October 10, 2013, at 7:01 AM, TheDudeATL wrote:

    This is such BS... What about the flop of the Samsung Smartwatch? Really? You are delusional and just full of fluff as another reader put it. So what, they have a curved phone. What does that really do for you?

  • Report this Comment On October 10, 2013, at 7:05 AM, tge63 wrote:

    @Buzzy43

    Well said!! I've been using the iPhone for years and a "sucker" I am not. While I do think most of apples products are somewhat overpriced, the technology just amazes me. It's sad that there are people that will listen to comments like that of AndySmith79 and will probably not experience something as good as Apple.

    Thanks for the review, it was a good read.

  • Report this Comment On October 10, 2013, at 7:27 AM, Mentallect wrote:

    Samsung has started the next evolution of smartphone technology. Apple has been hoarding cash instead of using an adequate amount for R&D.

  • Report this Comment On October 10, 2013, at 8:43 AM, HurricaneAlley wrote:

    Samsung Fanboy? How much will samsung devices be worth in a year? i can sell my year old iPhone 5 for at least $400 today. this fact alone tells me apple has the most versatile well built phone on the market.

  • Report this Comment On October 10, 2013, at 8:47 AM, fauxscot wrote:

    It seems a stretch that the "next big thing" is a curved screen.

    I think it's more likely that the NBT is a 64-bit processor.

    I also observe that prior NBTs have come out of Cupertino, not Redmond and certainly not Seoul. No one knows how many phablets Sammy sold. They don't release numbers, as does Apple. We are left to make speculative arguments devoid of data, as this author did.

    Last, this isn't a character flaw. If you like your Android or IOS it's because you have your valid reasons. Everyone optimizes. A choice doesn't necessarily reflect on intellect, so the 'fanbois' and "iSheep" and similar crap serves to put YOU in a bad light, not the people you denigrate. Cut it out.

    Debate the merits, where they exist.

  • Report this Comment On October 10, 2013, at 10:26 AM, st0815 wrote:

    @FSKI82 - you need to use your imagination.

    There will be other applications where curved screens will come in handy, and bendable displays are in development, too. Once you can fold and unfold your device to be either phone-sized or tablet-sized, this will be very useful. They are not there yet, but they are much closer to that than any competitor. It's hard to miss the potential of that.

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