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How Does Samsung Feel About a Large iPhone?

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On Samsung's (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF  ) most recent earnings call, an analyst pressed Samsung's management about what it thought about the potential impact of a large-screen iPhone from Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) on Samsung's high end business. While, of course, Samsung wasn't going to say too much, the response that Samsung's management did give was pretty interesting.

Samsung believes that it "owns" the category
Samsung's management opened with an initial comment claiming that it doesn't like to comment on specific competitors. This makes sense, particularly as Samsung is still likely vying for Apple's A-series chip manufacturing business and it is very likely that Apple is a major display customer. That said, the company did have the following to say:

If you look at the shipment of the Note products which most recently launched (inaudible) Note 3, each new generation has greatly outsold the previous generation and I believe this reflects the market awareness that large smartphones equals Samsung.

This is certainly true, and it is likely that with Samsung's brand awareness/marketing might, Apple will need to fight hard to gain share. That being said, while Samsung has found itself going up against the likes of LG and HTC in the "large" smartphone space today, none of these competitors has the brand loyalty/clout that Apple has. Indeed, there is very likely some serious pent up demand for "large" iPhones that could prove to be a headwind to future Galaxy Note/S sales growth (especially as the high end slows down).

Differentiating with displays
The Samsung executive continued with the following:

Our strategy therefore is to offer more differentiated displays within the large display smartphone market and also have differentiating user experiences such as the S-Pen and multi window function in order to further strengthen our leadership in the large face smartphone space.

Samsung's in-house display panel design and manufacture is certainly a major plus when it comes to trying to differentiate and in terms of having a good cost structure as a "supplier" to the smartphone/tablet products. While Apple really pushed the "retina display" idea, Samsung has really taken it and run with it. To put this in perspective, Samsung's Galaxy S4 sports a 1920x1080 display in a 5-inch package and the S5 is rumored to be a 5.24-inch display with a whopping 2560x1440 resolution – absolutely crazy!

That said, the Apple iPhone 5s, even with its meager 1136x640 resolution 4-inch display seems to be selling like hotcakes, much to the chagrin of Samsung. Perhaps there's more to the equation than simply "display specs" (although Apple really needs to innovate here as it does sell the "luxury" product).

Foolish take
Will Samsung gain back share with the S5 and the likely Note 4 at the end of the year? It'll be tough in the face of the purported Apple competition which should never be underestimated. That being said, Samsung does seem to at least be following its core corporate strategy and one that has been great to the firm during this smartphone boom: build a ton of variants and cater to the broad market while at the same time trying to capitalize on the much more profitable high end.

Only time will tell if Samsung's high end ultimately has staying power in the face of a more aggressive set of Apple launches, but whatever the outcome, 2014 should be a very interesting year for all investors and industry observers.

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Ashraf Eassa

Ashraf Eassa is a technology specialist with The Motley Fool. He writes mostly about technology stocks, but is especially interested in anything related to chips -- the semiconductor kind, that is. Follow him on Twitter:

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