In a market saturated by similar looking smartphones sporting similar specs, Samsung's (OTC:SSNLF) Galaxy Note Edge has broken the mold with an elegant 5.6-inch curved AMOLED screen which flows off the right side of the device. While it's debatable whether the "edge" is just a gimmick, Samsung has noted that it can be used for special widgets and tickers.
The Note Edge -- which is powered by a 2.7 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 805 processor and 3GB of RAM -- is equipped with a 16-megapixel rear-facing camera, a 3.7-megapixel front-facing one, a beefy 3,000 mAh battery, and can be used with the S Pen stylus. Samsung hasn't announced the official launch prices yet, but U.K. retailer Clove Technology recently listed the Edge at £650 ($1,055) with VAT (value added tax) included -- making it slightly more expensive than the iPhone 6 Plus, which costs £619 ($1,005) with VAT included in the U.K. Using those prices as a rough guide, the Edge should cost around $900 unlocked in the U.S.
However, there's a lot of confusion regarding this sleek device's global availability. Although Samsung and U.S. carriers previously stated that the Edge will launch globally in the fourth quarter, a conflicting report from ZDNet Korea claims that it will only be available as a limited release device in South Korea.
Despite this uncertainty about the Edge's future, the bold device reveals a lot about Samsung's future, and how its business no longer simply follows in Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) footsteps.
Throwing darts at every promising new market
Samsung is still the largest smartphone maker in the world, with a 25.2% market share compared to Apple's 11.9%, according to IDC's second quarter numbers.
But a year ago, Samsung controlled 32.3% of the market, compared to Apple's 13%. Samsung lost market share to cheaper Chinese competitors like Xiaomi, which launched high-end handsets for mid-range prices by spending nearly nothing on marketing. That competitive pressure crushed Samsung's earnings last quarter, when its mobile division posted a 30% year-over-year decline in operating profit.
Faced with a declining market share and narrowing margins, Samsung is unleashing a wave of zany devices which basically toss darts at every kind of newly hyped technology.
With the Edge and new TVs, Samsung is testing demand for curved displays, which some industry watchers have criticized as a marketing gimmick. With the Gear VR and Gear Blink, Samsung is laying an early claim to the virtual and augmented reality markets. Over the past year, Samsung has launched a blitz on the wearables market with six smartwatches and a modular reference design, Simband, for third-party developers to create their own devices.
Yet there is a method to this madness -- each of these markets has the growth potential to justify product launches. Transparency Market Research claims that the curved TV market will grow from $140 million in 2013 to $8.4 billion by 2019. EON Reality believes that the augmented and virtual reality markets, which are worth nearly nothing today, will respectively be worth $660 million and $407.5 million by 2018. ON World believes that global smartwatch shipments will rise from 4 million in 2013 to a whopping 330 million by 2018.
Some of these market projections might not come true, but Samsung clearly doesn't plan to miss a major technological shift, as Nokia, Motorola, Microsoft, and BlackBerry did when the iPhone launched seven years ago.
The crazy ones and the predictable ones
Under Steve Jobs, Apple launched its famous "Think Different" campaign, which stated, "Here's to the crazy ones -- the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes." Yet today, Samsung seems a lot crazier than Apple.
Under Tim Cook, Apple has become one of the "predictable ones." The company introduced the iPad Mini, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 5c, and Apple Watch to appease market demands for a smaller tablet, a phablet, a "cheaper" iPhone, and a smartwatch. Products were no longer launched to disrupt the market -- they were launched to follow it.
One could argue that Samsung isn't really disrupting the market with new products either, and that it's just grasping at straws to stay relevant. It might also be unfair to criticize Cook for sticking with what works -- 10 million iPhones sold in three days clearly means that Apple doesn't need to sell VR headsets or curved phones anytime soon. However, it's hard not to admire Samsung's bold, crazy bets to diversify its business away from traditional smartphone sales.
A Foolish final word
The Samsung Galaxy Note Edge might simply fade away as another failed form factor, or it might encourage other smartphone makers to experiment with similar designs. But either way, it's arguably more creative and original than anything Apple has unveiled recently, and strongly hints at more unique designs from the company in the near future.