Samsung's (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) upcoming flagship, the Galaxy S6, is one of the thinnest smartphones it's ever released. At just 6.9 mm, it's on par with Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone 6 -- a svelte phone capable of fitting into the tightest pockets.
But that thin profile comes with a price: battery size.
Samsung's latest phone sports a battery that's almost 10% smaller than its predecessor. That's unusual for the Korean mobile giant, as Samsung had previously made it a point to increase the battery capacity for each of its prior Galaxy handsets.
It might also have been a mistake. According a recent poll from the Huffington Post, if given the choice, consumers would overwhelmingly prefer a thicker phone with a longer-lasting battery.
In a survey conducted in partnership with YouGov, HuffingtonPost found that almost three-quarters of adults (73%) preferred a thicker phone with a larger battery. In contrast, only 12% preferred a thinner phone with lesser battery life.
Obviously, the survey's findings are somewhat flawed -- "thicker" is a completely relative term. It's hard to believe that consumers would accept an additional inch of thickness if it meant just 30 extra minutes of battery life, for example, particularly because 62% of the survey's respondents somewhat paradoxically identified a phone's thinness as at least a "somewhat" important attribute.
When it comes to battery, Samsung has always had the advantage
But that doesn't mean Samsung made the right decision. Although the Galaxy S5 is certainly thicker than Apple's iPhone 6 (a 1.2mm difference) it's far from unwieldy. In chasing Apple's design, Samsung may have sacrificed one of its greatest selling points.
Last summer, Samsung ran an ad campaign emphasizing its phones' superior batteries, and dubbing owners of Apple's iPhone "wall huggers." The iPhone 6 offers a full day of use in most conditions, but third parties have consistently found that Samsung's Galaxy S5 lasts longer. Samsung's phone also benefited from a removable battery, allowing owners to recharge their phone to 100% in a mere instant. That feature has been lost with the Galaxy S6: in addition to being smaller, its battery is now fully sealed.
In contrast, Apple has never offered a removable battery, nor has it made it a point to significantly increase the battery capacity of the iPhone. Samsung may be betting that Apple's experience will translate to its own customers -- but many of those customers may have chosen Samsung's Galaxies precisely because of their batteries.
Until third parties begin extensively testing the Galaxy S6, it's hard to say exactly how much Samsung sacrificed. To its credit, it added support for wireless and rapid recharging, but those improvements may be overshadowed if its battery life proves shorter.
If the Galaxy S6 disappoints, battery could be the reason
Profit from Samsung's mobile division has been in free fall over the last few quarters, as competition from Apple at the high-end has put pressure on sales of its flagship smartphones. To reverse the trend, Samsung needs the Galaxy S6 to be a success.
With its thin profile, the new design is sure to attract attention when it arrives on store shelves next month. But consumers may have preferred a slightly thicker S6 with a larger battery instead. If sales of the Galaxy S6 prove disappointing, it will be difficult to isolate one specific factor, but changes to its battery philosophy should stand at the forefront.