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Apple's iPhone 6 Could Steal Samsung's Best Customers (But It Probably Won't)

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) will release two new versions of the iPhone this September, according to Japan's Nikkei. The report follows widespread speculation from several other outlets and a number of sell-side analysts.

Notably, the iPhones will sport larger screens than Apple's current flagship: one will offer a 4.7-inch screen, while the other will clock in at 5.5-inches -- Apple's first foray into the phablet space, a market long dominated by Google's (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) biggest hardware partner, Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF  ) . By offering a similar-sized product, Apple could be poised to steal many of Samsung's (and Google's) best customers.

ISI Group projects a monster upgrade cycle
Analysts at ISI Group have big expectations for the iPhone 6. According to Brian Marshall, the iPhone 6 will be the "mother lode of all upgrade cycles," prompting both Apple loyalists and longtime Samsung fans to make the switch.

It's easy to see why ISI Group would make such a projection: Although most of Google's share of the smartphone market comes from the low end, there is a significant group of buyers that choose high-end Android phones, mostly from Samsung. In 2013, Samsung sold at least 50 million Galaxy S4s and Note IIIs worldwide. These phones are powered by Google's mobile operating system, but cost as much (or even more) than Apple's high-end iPhone.

Why would buyers choose these phones? The biggest reason (no pun intended) is screen real estate -- if you want your smartphone to have a screen larger than four inches, you've no choice but to go with a smartphone powered by Google's mobile operating system.

There might be more to it than a larger screen
But the big screen isn't the only reason some buyers choose Samsung's phones. And even if that was the only reason they purchased a Galaxy in the first place, they might find it difficult to switch.

According to Business Insider, Samsung has built up a great degree of customer loyalty in recent quarters. In fact, about 58% of Samsung owners who upgraded last year opted for another Samsung device. That's notably less than Apple -- when it comes time to upgrade, more than 80% of current iPhone owners choose another iPhone, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.

But it's arguably more impressive, because unlike Apple, Samsung doesn't control the Android operating system that powers its phones. It's relatively easy to switch from a Samsung Galaxy S3 to a rival HTC One, for example, or Google's own Nexus 5 -- purchased apps, movies, and music easily carry over, as the Android operating system remains constant across Google's many hardware partners.

It's worth noting that, like Apple's iTunes, Google's rival Google Play store seems to work just as well at trapping consumers. Unfortunately, Google doesn't break out the revenue derived from Google Play, but last quarter it did say that it was contributing meaningfully to the company's revenue growth, and the search giant has been aggressively advertising Google Play in recent months.

Perhaps the most concrete evidence of Android lock-in is the rate of iPhone upgrades at major carriers: Historically, about 80% of AT&T's smartphone sales have come from Apple's phone; at Verizon, it's only about 50%. Until 2011, AT&T had exclusive rights to the iPhone in the U.S. -- Verizon customers who wanted a smartphone had to make do with something powered by Google's operating system. That trend has continued: T-Mobile, which didn't get the iPhone until last year, saw only one-fifth of its customers choose Apple's smartphone.

The iPhone 6 could be big, but not that big
While a bigger iPhone obviously has the potential to steal many of Samsung and Google's customers, I wouldn't count on it. If Apple offers up a larger screen, it could catalyze a huge upgrade cycle, but perhaps not as big as analysts at ISI Group anticipate. Owners of Samsung's high-end Galaxy smartphones have reasons to stay loyal beyond just the screen size.

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Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On March 30, 2014, at 6:43 AM, Interventizio wrote:

    I don't buy Samsung's loyalty build-up. I am a satisfied owner of Samsung products, but I'd switch to LG or whatever if they had a better product. With Apple, it's a different story, but not for too long, if Apple doesn't spit out a new kick-ass product.

  • Report this Comment On March 30, 2014, at 7:56 AM, Chiam wrote:

    Sam always is negative on Apple but here is where he is wrong.

    The new iPhone could be a great phone or not. If it is and there is a bigger screen, when people want or need to upgrade, they might choose the new iPhone6. Why?

    The numbers of users of Android higher quality phones is still huge. There has to be alot of people who preferred Apple but they wanted or needs a bigger phone. I know people who live on their Phablet for business and recreational use.

    Those people could switch back. But Sam is right (hurts to say that) that it is not easy to do so. But what Apple has to do is create a product that is so great that the choice is rendered easier. The 6 will be that phone. Why

    2 sizes. Smaller footprint for the 4.7 inch phone making it more comfortable to hold. Lighter and thinner. Better battery usage. Better quality screen. Non scratching screen from sapphire.


    How. Take the iPhone 5 and the Galaxy 3. Both the same year phones. Gazelle will buy the Galaxy for $ 80 and the iPhone for $ 240 (decent condition). You don't have to buy a screen protector for $ 20. That is $ 260 dollars saved.

    One additional aspect is that the iPhone when older gets upgraded with the new OS as soon as it is released meaning the phone stays newer than older Android phones that don;t always get upgraded immediately or perhaps never.

    Did Sam mention that many iPhone users will throw in the towel and get a new phone right away as they will just want a bigger screen now? This will be the mother of all upgrades. The phone will bet those that can't afford it to buy it.

    That is if Cook comes out with it. He could still have a 4 inch phone. Cook is the worst CEO ever.

  • Report this Comment On March 30, 2014, at 10:53 AM, bobbydig wrote:

    Why are the new Android phones so boring. No innovation, no new features ( gimmicks don't count) , come with dated processors and Kit Kat is a better candy than an Android OS. hehe

    You can bash Tim Cook all you want, but his products are selling in records numbers. Please world, show me ONE ANDROID that is out selling the iPhone 5s.

    The only thing Android has over Apple is screen size. Once the iPhone gets a larger screen, Android sales will decline. No one really wants an Android.

  • Report this Comment On March 30, 2014, at 12:42 PM, ImCassius wrote:

    I have an Iphone 5 and I would love to have a larger screen. Rumor has it at 4.7" however, if Apple chooses to stay with a small screen in iPhone 6 than I WILL get an Android with a larger screen even though I've make a lot of iTunes purchases on music and apps. If Apple can't figure it out then the hell with them

  • Report this Comment On March 31, 2014, at 11:04 AM, yousaidwhat wrote:

    I don't see an Iphablet changing anything, those who want apple will continue to buy apple those who want android will buy android, it's really that easy for the majority of consumers. Battle lines were drawn years ago between ios and android.

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Sam Mattera

Sam has a love of all things finance. He writes about tech stocks and consumer goods.

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